The ’21 Bronco is finally here and, if the reception around our first-drive location in Austin, Texas, was any indication, highly anticipated. The Bronco has hit the scene in a way that riding on the back of a zebra in our skivvies couldn’t have caused more of an entrance. The last vehicle we drove that drew this much onlooker attention was the Hummer H2 way back in the early 2000s.
We spent a weekend behind the wheel of the Bronco—which was designed and engineered to take on the Jeep Wrangler directly—and feel like we have a pretty good idea of where it excels and where it might fall short. So, is the Bronco going to be the proverbial nail in Jeep’s coffin? Read on to find out.
Based on the next-generation Ford Ranger architecture, the Bronco has an independent front suspension; a solid axle rear with coilover shocks; and is available in five trims, two body styles, and with two engine and two transmission options. Like the Wrangler, it is a convertible, with either a hard or soft top, and the doors come off. Unlike its prime competitor, though, the windshield doesn’t fold.
We worked with Ford to get a little extra seat time in the new Bronco and were offered a two-door hardtop, in Badlands trim with the 35-inch-tire Sasquatch package, the 330hp and 415–lb-ft-of-torque 2.7L EcoBoost V-6 and 10-speed automatic combo in the Area 51 color. Our well-optioned Bronco had a starting price of $42,095 and added Equipment Group 334A ($5,085), 2.7L EcoBoost ($1,895), 10-speed ($1,595), Sasquatch Package ($2,495), Cargo Area Protector ($120), Towing Capability package ($595), Keyless Entry Keypad ($110), Brush Guard ($300), and Roof Rails with Crossbars ($365). Adding a destination fee of $1,495 brought our as-tested price to $56,150. We were also able to get some additional seat time in a four-dour, 2.3L four-cylinder EcoBoost (300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque) manual-trans-equipped Wildtrak and a fourdoor 2.7L Badlands Sasquatch.
Our first impressions are that the Bronco feels roomy and open, especially with the halo rollcage that doesn’t have any center bar. Those who are used to Ford materials and control layouts will feel right at home. The major changes are window and mirror controls that are on the front face of the center console, easily falling within reach, and the shifter (in either manual- or automatic-equipped vehicles)right where your hand expects to find it. All the four-wheel-drive-centric controls (lockers, sway bar, traction control, Trail Turn Assist, and such) are mounted high on the dashpad, while the transfer case shifter and G.O.A.T. (Go Over Any Terrain) Mode selector are housed on the center console. An oversized 12-inch display dominates the dash and really feels gratuitously big for the interior. Seats, covered in water-, UV-, and mold-proof marine-grade vinyl don’t feel cheap or plasticky. Ford even took the time to place fun Easter eggs all over the Bronco, making for smile-worthy moments as you come across them.
Because Ford decided to go with a longer front door on the two-door model and use a frameless design that allows for easier removal and more compact storage, visibility out the side of the giant windows is exceptional and ingress and egress to the rear seat is surprisingly easy. Thanks to a generous 100.4-inch wheelbase, even the second row has plenty of passenger space for such a short vehicle.
Driving the Bronco is a genuinely enjoyable experience, especially with the roof removed. The view out the windshield is a throwback to the Early Bronco with that wide, flat hood and the raised-up fender edges, while corner visibility is exceptional thanks to the Trail Sights, which can double as tie-downs, on the corners of the hood. Rear visibility isn’t quite as good thanks to the smaller windows and raised beltline behind the front doors. Wind noise is comparable to a Wrangler, and the Goodyear (don’t call them Wrangler) Territory tires give an audible thrum on the highway.
Directional stability, especially on the twodoor, is exceptional, with precise steering and rock-solid tracking down the roadway, making easy work of long drives on the highway. The Bilstein shocks are tuned to more of the firm side while still being compliant and comfortable and the Bronco feels good on twisty roads. This is one four-wheel-drive vehicle that can hustle up a mountain road on the way to your favorite wheeling spot without fighting excessive understeer the whole way.
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