Ford Bronco Badlands: Off-Road Badassery Defined
Wanna be a baller, shot caller, 33-inch meats on this rock crawler.
After several months in the wild, the all-new Ford Bronco has received plenty of praise from owners and motoring journalists alike. A properly sorted truck platform that can go damn near anywhere while being civil on the street, the Bronco got high marks from me, when I reviewed its more city-friendly Outer Banks trim level over the summer. I made sure to give the new Ford Bronco a solid examination during that test, putting plenty of city miles in addition to loads of off-road hours on the truck.
By no means was the Outer Banks model a slouch in the rocky terrain of a favorite off-road park, but that setup is more focused on being the mall crawler that occasionally gets dirty. I wanted to see how the more hardcore Bronco performed where it mattered, so I rang up the people at Ford, and they sent the Badlands model my way for some proper analysis.
The Good Stats
The Bronco has two engine options no matter how many doors you prefer, with a base 2.3-liter turbocharged four cylinder and the manual transmission, and a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 as an upgrade. The bigger engine provides 330 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque if you fill the tank with premium unleaded, and offers 315 horses and 415 lb-ft if you opt for regular unleaded. While the V6 option is stout, the EcoBoost 4-banger is a bit more tame, offering a decent 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque when using 91 octane, and 275 horsepower and 315 lb-ft when using 87.
Ford offers the new Bronco in two- and four-door bodies, including soft or hard top options, with a full slate of trim levels to hit the sweet spot for any driver. Selectable four-wheel-drive comes standard on the Ford Bronco, with your choice between a 10-speed automatic or 7-speed manual (with a crawl gear) available in the four-cylinder model, and the V6 has the 10-speed auto as its only transmission (which was the setup in the Outer Banks model I reviewed earlier in the year). This two-door Badlands model was equipped with the smaller 2.3-liter engine, hooked up to the 7-speed manual.
The 2-door Ford Bronco has a base price of $29,995, with 4-door models starting at $34,695, with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder as the standard engine. Add a couple thousand to the sticker price if you want the V6. In rugged Badlands trim, this Antimatter Blue tester didn't add the seriously hardcore Sasquatch off-road package, but opted for the 3,500-pound towing package while adding an accessory cargo protector, keyless access keypad, roof rack and cross rails above the removable hardtop, and partial leather and vinyl black seats to hit a total MSRP of $52,060. That figure is nearly identical to the more powerful and more nicely equipped four-door Outer Banks model I reviewed this summer, and is level with the starting price of the luxurious and capable Land Rover Defender 90 I had last month.
Reasonably Civil In The City
The Ford Bronco won't try to disguise the fact that it's a proper truck underneath its attractive rugged body, but it's surprisingly comfortable for cruising around town. The standard four-cylinder engine has punchy low-end torque, met with some close-ratio gears in the manual transmission, but the power isn't fantastic if you're covering more freeway than city miles. Not as composed as the ride provided by the Land Rover Defender 90's air suspension, the traditional shocks and independent front suspension in the Bronco provides a remarkably compliant ride when dealing with bumpy concrete streets in the city.
Even with 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 rubber fitted to its 17-inch wheels, the Bronco Badlands doesn't dish out a beating during your commute or on errand runs. If you're rarely traveling off the safety of pavement, you may want to opt for an Outer Banks model that gets more city-friendly Bridgestone Dueler tires. Turning corners in the Bronco is simple, thanks to a steering and suspension setup that manages dynamics much better than I expect in something so ready to be a blast off-road.
Considering it's more focused on being rugged and cool, Ford gives the Bronco a moderately-appointed interior, that delicately balances cost-saving materials with a design that provides decent cabin comfort and cool looks. The Badlands model's partial leather and vinyl seats aren't as nice as the Outer Banks trim I enjoyed this summer, but they aren't too spartan. Heated front seats and steering wheel are a nice touch when it's chilly outside. If you want to get a seriously refined and trimmed cockpit in your off-roader, you'll have to spend a bit more to upgrade to a Land Rover Defender.
Thankfully Ford carries over the switchgear and center controls you'll recognize from the full-size F-150 pickup, which also utilizes the new Sync 4 infotainment system in a big 12-inch touchscreen that has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. I appreciate the rubber-coated buttons throughout the interior, which keep dirt and sand from getting trapped under the controls when you take the Bronco off-road.
The Confident Explorer
Bringing the Bronco back to the market was a big risk for Ford, knowing it had to provide enthusiasts with an exceptional off-road machine. Thankfully the Bronco Badlands is fantastic when you leave the comfort of paved roads in search of less stable terrain. Cool branding makes Ford's G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) Modes exciting on paper, but the setups make figuring out how to dial in the Bronco foolproof. Each mode will correctly pick whether the Bronco needs to be in two- or four-wheel-drive, locks the differentials accordingly, enables the hill descent control, and allows the right amount of slip if you're playing on sand, rocks, or mud. Equip the Bronco with the 2.7-liter V6 and its automatic transmission, and Ford also provides one-pedal driving (which I enjoyed using when I tested the Bronco Outer Banks)
Buy a First Edition or Badlands trim level, and the Bronco comes standard with front and rear locking differentials that are optional on all trim levels. Ford's advanced 4x4 system is standard on all but the base model Bronco, coupled with a 3.06:1 low ratio, allowing easier engagement of the 2-way transfer case that gives more competent grip when the surface isn't so grippy. In Badlands trim, the 7-speed manual flexes a 94.75:1 crawl ratio in addition to a proper crawl gear below 1st gear, and the 10-speed automatic still has a healthy 67.80:1 crawl ratio. The Badlands equipment also includes steel bash plates under the front and rear of the Bronco, keeping its vital parts safe from rocks you encounter on the trails. Trail turn assist is a cool feature that works with the locking diff to make tighter turns a breeze.
A DanaTM AdvanTEK® M190 independent front suspension is standard up front with a Dana 44TM AdvanTEK M220 solid differential out back. The front suspension also includes twin forged A-arms with long-travel coil-over springs with HOSS-tuned heavy-duty dampers, and the rear suspension has a 220 mm solid rear axle with long-travel, variable rate coilovers with HOSS-tuned heavy-duty dampers. The Bronco Badlands also gets upgraded with a detachable front sway bar, allowing for even greater articulation in demanding conditions. Opt for the Sasquatch package, and Ford will upgrade the durable suspension with Bilstein position-sensitive dampers with end-stop control valves.
Approach, breakover, and departure angles are 35.5º, 21.1º, and 29.8º respectively, which bump up significantly if the Bronco is optioned with the Sasquatch package's 35-inch bead lock capable wheels and tires. All Broncos sport a 33.5-inch fording depth, in case you need to cross a bit of water, and boast 8.4 inches of ground clearance in standard trim, which bumps up to 11.6 inches with the 35-inch rubber fitted. All of these figures are marginally less than the Land Rover Defender 90 I took off-road offers. The figures and equipment sheet might be impressive, but I had to find out just how much more capable the Bronco Badlands was off-road compared to its nicer Bronco Outer Banks sibling and the legendary Land Rover Defender 90.
To keep the playing field level, I took the Bronco Badlands to Hidden Falls Adventure Park, which is located about an hour northwest of Austin. In this environment, I found out where the extra off-road kit in the Badlands setup went to work. Covering the same stack of trails I did previously, the Badlands kicked ass with ease. Around most of the paths covered, I simply picked the Baja G.O.A.T. Mode, which selected the 4H drivetrain, turned on the front camera that converts the infotainment screen into a massive front view, and tapped the button atop the dash to disconnect the front sway bar. If speeds exceed 20 MPH, the Bronco will automatically reconnect the front sway bar, but will unhook it again once you're back down to slower speeds. This feature came in extra helpful when I was driving faster on smoother trails between more demanding stretches when having that extra flex allowed came in handy.
The Bronco Badlands' upgraded suspension, more aggressive tires, and tighter gears made crawling rocks ridiculously simple. The crawl gear is awesome, but it's not as if using the normal 1st or 2nd gears won't provide enough confidence when ascending up somewhat demanding rocky hills. While driving a stick is cool in many conditions, I actually prefer having the automatic take away one complication when my average-at-best off-roading skillset is put to the test. The extra power and torque from the Bronco's optional V6 is a welcome upgrade too. Even with the lesser engine and manual gearbox selected, the Bronco Badlands kicked ass all over these rocky Texas Hill Country trails. Not once did I come across a situation where the Bronco couldn't dominate the rocks, and I gave it some seriously challenging off-road action. An amateur off-road driver will be astounded by how the Bronco makes having a blast so simple.
"And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer."
Some Notable Highlights
Ford nailed the styling of the new Bronco, and the two-door body is my choice. The rugged look is perfectly proportioned, and the rear occupants and cargo volume aren't terribly compromised by only getting two doors. The rear passengers may gripe about getting in and out of the Bronco's back seats, but if you aren't often taking friends or kids along for a ride, ditch the four-door Bronco. I also like how the new Bronco has a modern take on a classic look, pulling off that job better than Land Rover did with the new Defender (which also looks quite good).
To give outdoorsy types more functionality, Ford was smart to set up the Bronco's exterior with plenty of hookups. The top of the front fenders have useful hooks that not only function as tie-downs, but double as indications for the corners of the Bronco's body when you're wandering off-road. To capitalize on the massive aftermarket supply of off-road parts, Ford has hundreds of factory and dealer-installed accessory options at your disposal, and was smart to set up tons of pre-drilled mounting points that all use one of two or three fasteners all over the Bronco. Even the interior has pre-amped accessory switches above the rearview mirror, so that you don't have to damage the interior when adding more lights and features outside the Bronco. Those who want to record their adventures will appreciate the GoPro mount and extra charging ports atop the dash.
Ride quality on the street is the biggest advantage the Bronco holds over the Jeep Wrangler, and it's obvious Ford took its time engineering this new off-roader to address nearly any gripe a Jeep driver has. An independent suspension up front pairs nicely with a modern rack-and-pinion steering system, and it pains me that Jeep refuses to spend the money to engineer and install these in the Wrangler. I don't want to hear a single Jeep driver talk about off-road capabilities over an independent setup, as the Bronco had zero issues attacking demanding trails alongside modded Jeeps during my tests. Ford also gives the Bronco frameless doors that allow drivers to quickly detach and store the doors on-board, rather than ditching them on the trails. Side mirrors are mounted to the cowl, rather than the doors, so that Bronco owners can see clearly all along the sides when storming off-road.
A Few Point Deductions
Cool, tough looks have some trade-offs. Because of the boxy shape, the Bronco is an aerodynamic challenge, sacrificing fuel economy and cabin composure. At just 21 MPGs, the 2.3-liter Bronco could be more economical, and the wind noise from the hardtop and roof rack is intrusive at speeds over 60 MPH. A new roof design is being rolled out, but a bit more interior insulation would do the Bronco some favors too.
The cargo area does employ a split tailgate feature, but you have to open the lower door half completely to allow the trim edge of the glass top to lift up. I wish Ford allowed the glass to open independently from the door part, for easier loading of smaller items. I like that Ford allows the driver to toggle between several views and data layouts in the instrument cluster, depending on what sort of driving conditions you're exposing the Bronco to, but I wish it was bigger with better resolution.
The Best On- And Off-Road Experience For Your Money
Ford rolled out one seriously good off-road machine with the new Bronco, and did so while addressing all sorts of demands the off-road driver has in addition to making it respectable to drive on the street. With a nice enough interior, the Bronco can serve nicely as a daily driver, but if you're not wandering along the trails more than a couple times per year, opt for the nicer setup in the Bronco Outer Banks trim level. If the fit and finish isn't enough to satisfy a luxury off-road driver, a few grand more will put a nicely equipped Land Rover Defender in your driveway.
I think the Badlands two-door hardtop model with the 2.7-liter V6 and the 10-speed automatic is the perfect setup, thanks to hardware that improves off-road capabilities without sacrificing too much as a city car. Those who want even more terrain-conquering features will likely spend about $5,000 more to opt for the Sasquatch package. Thankfully Ford has a handful of trim levels to choose from, and there's a perfect Bronco for nearly any budget and driver. Even if you're a total newbie, make sure to take the Bronco on off-road adventures often, rather than wasting all the of its potential.