2021 Ford Bronco: Does It Live Up To The Hype In The Real World?
The most heavily anticipated new car in ages, Ford's new Bronco has to perform. Does it?
Ford's Bronco is a legend, with five generations sold between 1966 and 1996. Competing with the Chevrolet Blazer for much of this run, the Bronco was a hit for off-road drivers who wanted truck-like usability with a hatch covering the back half. After OJ Simpson infamously took one for a spin during LA rush hour traffic in 1994, sales figures soared, but Ford canceled the model in 1996, replacing it with the bigger Expedition SUV.
Since then, drivers have demanded a new Bronco, and after teasing us for the past few years, Ford gave in. Ford announced the sixth generation Bronco, as its champion to enter the arena versus the iconic--and sales figure dominating--Jeep Wrangler. Making a substantial investment, Ford developed the Bronco with an all-new, unique platform.
The revival hasn't come without some hiccups, as production delays and supplier issues slowed the rollout of Ford's new Bronco, angering deposit holders and eager automotive reviewers alike. Now that the Bronco has hit the streets, I had to find out if it could live up to some massive expectations.
The Key Specs
Every Bronco comes with a High-Performance Off-Road, Stability, Suspension (HOSS) System for optimum stability and control for thrilling off-roading at speed. With seven different trim levels to spec how nice you want your Bronco inside or how confident you want to be off-road, Ford has something for everyone. My tester was an Outer Banks spec, which has more styling and tech more suited to daily driving, while still offering good off-road capability. Ford's EcoBoost 2.3-liter 4-cylinder comes standard, producing 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque with premium unleaded (dropping to 275 horsepower and 315 lb-ft if you opt for regular octane). Upgrade to the 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 and you'll benefit from 330 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque with premium petrol (or 315 horsepower and 410 lb-ft on regular grade).
Exterior measurements for the 4-door Bronco are 190 inches long, 73 tall, 76 wide, with a 116-inch wheelbase. Compared to the Jeep Wrangler 4-door, inside the Bronco has an advantage in front passenger hip, shoulder, and legroom, but has 1 inch less headroom. Rear seat passengers will see nearly identical specs in the Bronco and Jeep, with the Ford having better hip room. In Outer Banks trim, the Ford Bronco has a 4,558-pound curb weight. When you need to haul a bunch of stuff, depending on which trim and engine you choose, the Bronco has between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds of payload capacity, paired with a 3,500-pound trailer towing capacity. I'll take a deeper dive into the off-road specs later in this review.
Base price for the 2-door Bronco starts at $29,995, with 4-door models starting at $34,695, with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder (like you get in the Ford Ranger I tested) and four-wheel-drive standard. With Rapid Red paint, the 2.7-liter V6, the Lux interior package, a removable hardtop, storage bags for the top and doors, cargo area protector, keyless entry keypad, roof rails and crossbars, and leather interior, the total MSRP for this tester hit $52,860.
Impressive As A Daily Driver
Ford's engineers invested loads of R&D into tuning the Bronco to be great to drive on-road versus its Jeep competition. In doing so, the Bronco gets an independent front suspension, rather than a solid front axle, with twin alloy A-arms and long-travel coil-over springs. One major benefit of this is smoother steering, while also utilizing a rack-and-pinion setup, which provides a much more connected, stable feel. A definite advantage for the Bronco versus the recirculating ball configuration on a Jeep. The return to center sensation is minimal, and there's little play in the steering wheel as you're driving on city streets.
Reducing unsprung weight is another benefit of the independent front suspension, allowing the front suspension to offer good performance with less stress on the assembly. I also appreciate how minimal the Bronco's body roll is when taking corners, and think the damping is perfectly compliant for a car you'll spend more time driving along city streets than ripping up trails. The Bronco's rear suspension features a solid axle with variable rate long-travel coil springs with five locating links to make it stronger off-road.
The turbo V6 is punchy, with the 10-speed automatic keeping the revs in the power band while managing fuel consumption. The V6 may only have a slight horsepower advantage over the base 2.3-liter 4-banger, but the torque increase is a healthy 90 lb-ft. The 4-door Bronco has a 20.8-gallon tank installed, so fuel range is improved over the 2-door model, which only gets a 16.9-gallon tank. In base, 2-door, 4-cylinder form, the EPA estimates 21 MPG combined, and in the 4-door V6 Bronco I drove, I achieved just 14 MPG, even though the EPA estimates 19. The MPG estimates take a hit as you add more off-road kit too, so don't expect economical figures if you opt for the Sasquatch package.
Cabin comfort is great, thanks to the upgraded leather interior and the Lux package, which adds adaptive cruise control, a 10-speaker B&O audio system, evasive steering assist, heated steering wheel, universal garage door opener, two additional front row USB-C ports, voice-activated satnav, and a wireless mobile charging pad. The interior definitely moves the Bronco upmarket versus its direct competition. I had a (Jeep Wrangler owner) friend ride in the back seat, and he was impressed with how much space he had. The extra plug and USB charging point mounted in the back of the center armrest is nice too. Cargo volume in the back is good for a vehicle of this size, and if you need to tote camping gear, bikes, or anything else involving your recreations, Ford has over 200 available dealer-installed accessories to keep you happy.
After a week of driving the Bronco, I'm stunned how comfortable and civil it is on the streets, and easily could see people buying this as a daily driver without compromising anything. The street ride quality isn't as refined as the much more expensive Land Rover Defender I reviewed earlier this year, but it's better than the handling of the Mercedes G550 I tested recently.
An Off-Road Menace
As I mentioned in the daily driving advantages, Ford giving the Bronco an independent front suspension made it great on the street, but in other vehicles this can sometimes reduce capability when you escape the pavement. Hardcore Jeep fans will scoff that their solid front axle will allow for greater articulation and off-road capability, but Ford insists its engineers developed an independent front suspension that sacrifices very little with regard to articulation and trail tackling.
A Dana AdvanTEK M190 independent front suspension comes standard, with an optional Dana M210 with a Spicer Performa-TraK electronic locking differential. Out back, Bronco gets a Dana 44TM AdvanTEK M220 solid rear, and offers a Spicer Performa-TraK electronic locking differential. If you want to lock or unlock your diffs, Ford supplied easy buttons atop the center of the dash. Making good use of this kit is made easy with the Bronco's off-road G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) modes, Trail Control system, and its 1-pedal drive system, allowing you to focus on your throttle inputs while the software sorts out what the hardware underneath you needs to do to best tackle any terrain.
The 10-speed automatic transmission makes daily driving more simple, while taking some of the thinking out of your off-road adventures, but if you select the 7-speed manual, there's a 6.588:1 ratio crawler gear installed. In standard form, the manual transmission sports a 79.92:1 – crawl ratio, and the automatic gets a 57.19:1 spec. Opt for the advanced 4x4 setup, and you'll get a super-tight (best-in-class) 94.75:1 crawl ratio with the manual transmission, and get a 67.80:1 ratio in the automatic, to improve the Bronco's rock crawling prowess.
The Bronco sports 35.5º approach, 29.7º departure, and 20º breakover angles, and 8 inches of suspension travel in the front, with 8.7 inches of travel out back. In Outer Banks trim--which I tested--Ford equips the Bronco with 32-inch Bridgestone Dueler A/T RH-S tires wrapped around 18-inch wheels, which are decent for trails covered in sand or gravel, but aren't wildly capable if you're the serious rock crawling type or want to plow through deep mud. With the standard rubber fitted, the Bronco gets 8.3 inches of ground clearance, but bumps up to 11.5 inches with the 35-inch tires.
Bronco's infotainment screen enables the parking camera to engage a front view for rock crawling, helping prevent you from destroying the undercarriage. People who want to capture video of their off-road endeavors will appreciate the dash's screw-in base to mount a GoPro or phone, paired with USB-C and USB-A ports to keep devices charged while you record. Opt for a Big Bend or higher trim level, and the infotainment system comes loaded with topographic trail maps and guides.
Stats on paper are great, but I wanted to see how the Bronco performed off-road, so I took it to Hidden Falls Adventure Park, about an hour outside of Austin. Hidden Falls is a massive complex, with dozens of trails to take off-road vehicles of all sorts, and provides amateurs and pros a big variety of trails to test their vehicle's capabilities. With a group of friends that included an FJ Cruiser, 90s Mitsubishi Montero (with some off-road upgrades), a GMC Canyon AT4, and a pair of fourth-generation Toyota 4Runners with beefier tires, the Bronco was going along with some good comparisons. Keeping in mind that this Bronco had the more street-friendly Bridgestone Duelers installed, I didn't attack any of the four- or five-diamond trails. I'm also an amateur off-road driver at best, and am much more comfortable on canyon roads and racing circuits, but wanted to see what the Bronco could do in this giant playground.
Over several hours of trail running, rock crawling, and mud splashing, the Bronco didn't break a sweat. As we traversed several rocky surfaces, my friends were blown away watching me take this factory-delivered Bronco--with its non-hardcore tires and lack of skid plates--over some seriously technical and rugged terrain with ease. What stunned me was how composed the Bronco was over jagged rocks and extreme compression as I crept over more complicated trails. I won't deny the G.O.A.T. modes, intelligent four-wheel-drive, and 1-pedal driving didn't make my work easier, but the Bronco was exceptional in this environment. Plenty of upgraded Jeep owners I met along the trails were not only curious to check out the Bronco, but were astounded how easily this machine was crawling up massive rocky hills right along with them.
Should your weekends involve rock crawling more than errand running, I suggest ticking the Sasquatch package option box. Spend the extra $4,995, and you'll get 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels with 35-inch Goodyear Territory mud-terrain tires, electronic-locking front and rear axles, 4.7:1 final drive ratio, high-clearance suspension, position-sensitive Bilstein shocks and high-clearance fender flares, 10-speed automatic transmission with Ford's Trail Control system. The beefier tires definitely give you more confidence through mud and over rocks, but the uprated shocks will help cope with high-travel situations and prevent bottoming out. If you DGAF about daily driving comfort, the hardcore Badlands trim level gives the Bronco a unique heavy-duty suspension that includes a front stabilizer bar disconnect (with the push of a button) that allows even greater articulation, while getting marine-grade vinyl-trimmed seats and rubberized washout flooring.
Did a Jeep Bro thing.
A Bunch Of Positive Details
Like the F-150, the Bronco gets Ford's Sync4 infotainment system, which is intuitive and functional, and I appreciate the wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay. Bronco also gets a cool digital interface for the instrument cluster, that has several ways to display your vehicle's data. Switchgear in the Bronco is nice, with the same climate control panel used in the F-150, and the steering wheel controls are designed with rubbery coverings, to keep them from getting damaged when your hands are dirty from playing off-road. Same goes for the texture of the optional door keypad, which allows you to lock the key inside the car, and open the Bronco's doors with a PIN you create when you're done going for a run, hike, or bike ride and don't want to worry about losing your key.
It's easy to overlook the hooks mounted to the front of each side of the Bronco's hood, but those points serve multiple purposes. One cool point is that they allow you tie-down points if you strap a kayak or board to your roof, and need anchor points. The other function those hooks provide is as sight lines at the corners of the Bronco when you're off road, so you don't have to guess where your edges are.
One awesome advantage the Bronco has over the Jeep Wrangler is revealed when you want to remove your doors. Ford knows that Jeep owners make a tough decision when pulling their doors off, because the Wrangler has window-framed doors. The Bronco boasts class-exclusive frameless doors, so when it comes time to remove them, unscrew two bolts with tools Ford supplies in a neat kit, detach the wiring clip, and slide the doors into bags designed specifically per door. When you're done playing on the trails, pop your doors back on, and drive home in comfort.
Storage in the Bronco allows first-row roof panels to be stowed away onboard on two-door models, while up to four items can be stored in the rear cargo area of four-door models, including all four doors, or two doors and two front roof panels. Lifting the panels or doors is a task for one person, with the front doors weighing about 60 pounds, and the rears weighing around 45 per, and Ford designed grab handles into the underside of every door. Each door bag also has indications for the order in which to stash them away in the Bronco's cargo area. This is really smart.
Ignore the MPGs. I left the car running for over an hour when I was out shooting it on the first day.
A Couple Point Deductions
At freeway speeds, there's significant wind noise in the cabin, and I attribute much of this to the roof rack's optional cross rails paired with the optional removable hardtop. If you aren't planning on securing equipment to the roof, ditch those rails or skip the option entirely. If you're commuting on the highway more often, you're going to feel plenty of turbulence once you exceed 70 MPH, which isn't great. This is the trade-off with the Bronco's rugged exterior design. Another flaw in the Bronco's exterior design is the lack of rain channels on the roof. When I took the Bronco for a splash through a huge mud puddle, I got soaked with muddy water when I opened the door to step out and take pictures. Not cool, Ford.
I always appreciate side steps on truck-like vehicles, but the Bronco's are mounted too close to the door edge, so you're basically stepping up into the car to get to them, and it boosts you up too high when you enter the vehicle. If they hung lower, they'd be great for entry, but would risk scraping when you're rock crawling. Yes, this is a trivial gripe. If you plan to take the Bronco off-road regularly, ditch the Bridgestone Dueler tires in favor of a meatier all-terrain set. I didn't test the more hardcore Sasquatch package's 35-inch rubber, but those won't be great if the Bronco is your daily driver.
This New Bronco Is The Real Deal
Ford took its time bringing the Bronco back into our lives, and in doing so it invested tons of time and money into making damn sure this beast is as badass off-road as it is civil during your daily driving. Far too often off-road vehicles spotted on the road are all hat and no cattle, riddled with aftermarket parts that give their no-talent owners little benefit on the trails, and instead litter our planet with brodozers.
Knowing it's going head-to-head with the massively popular and profitable Jeep Wrangler, the Ford Bronco had to hit the market with a no-compromises off-road machine that took advantage of big gripes Jeep owners have. In this effort, I think the Bronco is a massive success that won't take long for the public to recognize.
This all-new Bronco is enjoyable on the road, instills confidence when you escape the concrete jungle for your favorite off-road park, and provides cabin comforts you expect from more expensive off-road SUVs. Jeep is about to lose a chunk of market share, and Ford is going to laugh all the way to the bank because this Bronco is an exceptional package in every way.
When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.