Bucking Bronco sure to give Jeep’s Wrangler off-road competition …
Ford’s new off-road worthy Bronco is loaded with impressive features, but it is a bucking Bronco to be sure.
For younger drivers the Bronco name may be new as there hasn’t been one for 25 years. But it was a major competitor to the Jeep CJ-5 and Toyota Land Cruiser in the 1960s and early ’70s when it was a rugged short-wheelbase Jeep-like vehicle. Then it grew to massive SUV proportions before being scrapped in 1996.
This new version is a true off-roader targeting Jeep’s Wrangler, and again with a short wheelbase. As a daily driver it’s a butt pounder and re-arranger of internal organs, but off-road, well, that’s where Bronco wants to be. For folks needing or wanting a daily driver know that there is a Bronco Sport that weighs 1,200 pounds less and rides on the Escape platform. It’s a delight and still reflects the Bronco styling, round headlights and all.
Really it’s sad that Ford’s misguided management of the 1990s dropped Bronco as it was a viable option to Jeep. Consider this the result of a 25-year marketing lesson.
The tested Iconic Silver 2-door Advanced model with Wildtrak package clears the ground by 8.4 inches and boasts a 2.7-liter EcoBoost turbo V6 creating 330 horses and a torque rating of 415. That makes this the top-end big Bronco and its price matches all that muscle, starting at $48,475, with delivery. Options brought it to $53,650.
Note that mine was a 2021 model, which came out late last year, the smaller, lighter Bronco Sport being first off the assembly lines. Prices are up $800 for 2022, the rear-drive base model listing now at $30,795, including delivery. There are five trim levels after the base, including Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands and this Wildtrak.
In short, the Bronco seems just as off-road worthy as a Jeep Wrangler, but is more powerful with more precise handling. It’s also way noisier on the road and with a bouncier ride than a Jeep.
Watch the video: Mark Savage reviews the new Ford Bronco Wildtrak – YouTube
This Bronco features Ford’s fine 10-speed automatic transmission that makes for smooth shifts, but a 7-speed manual also is available for those wanting to control their power applications when crawling over rocks and wading through muck.
There are eight drive modes here, which Ford labels GOAT, as in Goes Over Any Terrain. Settings are Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery (rain and snow), Sand, Mud/Ruts, Rock Crawl and Baja (for the desert). Those last three settings are meant for serious off-roading, while the others may be used in more typical driving situations, such as at the beach, on wooded trails or when the weather turns Wisconsiny.
Turning that GOAT dial is easy to select any of these and there also are buttons there for just engaging the on-the-fly 4-wheel drive, automatic, high or low.
Other off-road goodies include Trail Control that is like cruise for off-roading, setting the crawl speed at a low level, plus something called Trail One Pedal Drive where the accelerator is both that and brake as it brakes the vehicle once you take your foot off the accelerator. Think of driving an electric golf cart or maybe a snowmobile where there’s engine braking once the accelerator is disengaged.
But the coolest feature, and most useful, is the Trail Turn Assist that’s engaged via a button on the dash. This cuts Bronco’s turning radius off-road, holding the inner turning wheel’s brake to pivot the Bronco quickly. Loved it and Jeep needs to figure this out post haste to add to its Wrangler. I used it several times in high brush off road and Bronco almost does a 90-degree turn to head the opposite direction, again, at low speed. Bravo!
To be honest, Bronco was way more fun off-road than on. Its squarish design means it functions like a brick passing through the air at highway speeds, plenty of wind noise around the roof and giant A-pillars. Also the doors have frameless windows so they wobble when being closed and add to the wind noise.
But worse, I think, was the banshee howl of the giant 35-inch off-road tires. I could barely talk to a passenger or hear the radio, which had to be cranked if rolling at more than 30 mph.
Those tires and the off-road favoring suspension also makes for a bouncy truck ride that makes a Wrangler feel tame as Jeep has worked for years to get its off-roader to behave better on road.
Power here is excellent though, the 330 horses beating Jeep’s 3.6-liter V6 by 45 horsepower and the turbo giving monster boost. Bronco crushes Jeep’s non-turbo torque rating by 156. That’s a ton! Bronco also will tow up to 3,500 pounds, as will a Wrangler.
Inside the water-resistant (and heated) seats were gray with camouflage black inserts, the doors trimmed in black and tan along with brushed metal inserts. All the grab handles are blue and black, the main ones being at the dash’s end, not on the A-pillars as so many are in SUVs and Jeeps. The A-pillar types seem easier to use, more intuitive and best when using the running boards to climb into a Bronco or Jeep.
Bronco wins the screen wars with a 12-incher in this Wildtrak edition. That’s part of the $3,590 Wildtrak equipment group that also includes a heated steering wheel, 360-degree camera, wireless charger, Bang & Olufsen stereo upgrade, navigation system and smart cruise control, plus a variety of electronic add-ons.
Everything functions well here. I’d just add a flat-bottom wheel to free up some knee room, especially important when off-roading. Auxiliary switches are overhead here and the off-road toggles for locking the front and rear dif and engaging Trail Turn Assist are conveniently atop the dash.
Safety is well covered, as you’d expect, with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system, and the smart cruise in the Wildtrak package.
Bronco also offers, like Jeep, that the front roof panels are removable to create a more open-air driving experience. The doors also are removable, which is why the mirrors aren’t mounted on the door frames. Here’s the rub on the roof panels, at least in this model with roof rails. It’s easy to loosen the panels, but I couldn’t figure out how to slide them off as the roof rails prevented raising the panels more than an inch or so, trapping them.
I admit to not trying to work these things loose as the temp was in the teens, or lower, most of my test drive. But be forewarned that if you have roof rails ($365 extra here) roof panel removal will be difficult.
One thing Bronco doesn’t offer, that Jeep does? Well, the windshield will not fold down over the hood. Wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.
Something the Bronco has that Jeep doesn’t? Trail sights, the black trim atop the front fenders. Look sort of like gun sights, but apparently could help you keep the Bronco aimed properly on a dusty or rocky trail.
Bronco seats are fairly tight, so if you’re a wide-bottom check these out for comfort before a purchase. Rear seat room also is limited in this 2-door model, and the rear seats fold down, but not exactly flat. If you need more cargo space go with the 4-door Bronco as it offers 50% more cargo room than the 2-door. Wasn’t easy to crawl into those rear seats either, but something kids might enjoy.
Bronco’s rear hatch is like a Jeep’s as it opens like a door and is split so the window folds up once the tailgate is open. That gate is heavy too as the full-size spare, like a Jeep’s, hangs there.
Honestly I was surprised at Bronco’s gas mileage as this thing weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. I managed 18 mpg with 60% of my driving at 40 to 60 mph. The EPA rates Bronco at 18 mpg city and 20 highway, about the same as a Wrangler.
For the record the base Broncos feature a smaller, 2.3-liter turbo I4 engine that makes 300 hp and generates 325 lb.-ft. of torque and gets up to 22 mpg, highway. The lower trim levels also feature an 8-inch info screen instead of the 12-incher here.
Jeep has a serious competitor, finally, and again!
FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Bronco 2-door Advanced 4×4
Hits: Off-road ability matches rugged looks, Trail Turn Assist a gem, excellent turbo power, nimble handling, 8 drive modes. Big info screen, heated wheel and water-resistant seats, running boards, wireless charger, and doors and front roof panels are removable, like Jeep. A 7-speed manual available.
Misses: Horribly noisy interior, bucking Bronco ride, roof rails block easy removal of roof panels, giant A-pillar, frameless door glass rattles when shut, windshield doesn’t fold down, split rear hatch opens like door and super heavy with big spare tire on it.
Made in: Taylor, Mich.
Engine: 2.7-liter EcoBoost turbo V6, 330 hp/415 torque
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Weight: 4,975 lbs.
Wheelbase: 100.4 in.
Length: 173.7 in.
Cargo: 22.4 – 52.3 cu.ft.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 18.0 (tested)
Base Price: $48,475 (includes delivery)
Wildtrak equipment group 354A (360 camera, Sync4 w/voice recognition, AppLink, 911 Assist, 12-in. screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, smart cruise, LED approach lights, navigation system w/live traffic & route guidance, front park sensors, B&O stereo w/10 speakers & subwoofer, LED mirror lights, evasive steering assist, heated steering wheel, wireless charger), $3,590
Cargo area protector, $120
Tube step power coated, $395
Towing capability, $595
Keyless entry keypad, $110
Roof rail w/crossbars in black, $365
Test vehicle: $53,650
Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage