2021 Ford Bronco Road Test Review: Iconic History Joins Advanced Tech

2021 Ford Bronco Road Test Review: Iconic History Joins Advanced Tech

Pros

Extremely Capable Off Road

Perfect Blend of Classic Styling with Modern Tech

Wide Range of Trim Levels and Features

Cons

No V8 Engine Available (yet)

Rudimentary Gauge Cluster

Not Great Fuel Efficiency

Let’s be honest, the Ford Bronco’s return could capture headlines and energize enthusiasts even if its design, engineering, and performance were less than stellar. 

But we’ve known for over a year Ford nailed the design, merging the original Bronco’s iconic styling and proportions with today’s technology, including LED lighting and modular, easily-removable body panels. And Ford has released plenty of information regarding the Bronco’s advanced performance features, including dual electronic locking differentials, multi-stage Bilstein shocks and up to 8 driving modes that cover a wide range of on and off-road conditions. So we know Ford went all in on the Bronco’s engineering pedigree.

That leaves performance, which we just tested on the twisting pavement and multiple off-road courses in the hill country surrounding Austin, Texas. We can now answer the most important question regarding the revival of this storied SUV: Does the new 2022 Ford Bronco live up to its celebrated history as a capable and charismatic SUV?

How Good is the New Ford Bronco Off Road?

The short answer is: very. Ford clearly understands the powerful off-road heritage the Bronco brings with it. More importantly, the automaker clearly recognizes the powerful global brand image Jeep and Land Rover have built around the concept of off-road capability. Ford itself has been cashing in on the Raptor’s 4×4 appeal for over a decade. Why not extend that franchise to the new Bronco?

Even a casual look at the Bronco’s bare chassis that Ford had on display during the launch program confirms this SUV’s mission. The fully boxed, high-strength steel chassis features seven crossmembers and utilizes a solid rear axle managed by coil springs and links. The solid rear axle is paired with an independent front suspension with coil springs and optional multi-stage Bilstein dampers engineered to deliver extreme off-road capabilities and composed and comfortable on-road ride quality.

Those Bilstein dampers are part of the Bronco’s Sasquatch Package, featuring an electronic front stabilizer bar disconnect along with the industry’s first factory-available 35-inch tires. With that much tire height, plus a class-leading 10 inches of front and rear suspension articulation, the new Bronco offers up to 11.6 inches of ground clearance, a 43.2-degree approach angle, a 37.2-degree departure angle, and a 29-degree breakover angle. It can also ford up to 33.5 inches of water.

The Sasquatch Package is offered on every version of the Bronco, meaning you don’t have to step up to the top trim to benefit from the large tires, advanced Bilstein shocks or stabilizer bar disconnect technology. And while every new Ford Bronco includes standard four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case, plus front and rear Dana differentials, the optional 4×4 system adds electronic locking differentials with an auto mode for on-demand engagement between 2-high and 4-high settings. Underbody skid plates to protect the Bronco’s engine, transmission, transfer case and fuel tank are also available on higher trim models, along with side rock rails and modular steel bumpers to protect the lower body panels.

All this 4×4 hardware can be paired with an impressive list of technology to further elevate the Bronco’s off-road arsenal. Ford calls the Bronco’s various driving modes in its Terrain Management system the “G.O.A.T. Modes” (Goes Over Any Terrain), with up to seven available: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl. There’s also a “Trail Toolbox” with electronic off-road aids like Trail Control (cruise control for low-speed off roading) and Trail Turn Assist, which can leverage the brake system to lock up one rear wheel and drastically reduce the Bronco’s turning radius during tight off-road maneuvers.

Our off-road adventure in the new Ford Bronco allowed us to test every one of these technologies, and they all work exactly as described. In the spirit of the “right tool for the right job” approach, it feels like there’s a Bronco solution for any problem you might encounter when leaving the pavement. Scaling a steep hill? Put it in 4-low. Does the hill have loose dirt and sand on it? Lock the front and/or rear diff and put it in “Sand” mode. Does the hill include deep ruts with jagged rocks? Put it in Rock Crawl mode and disconnect the front sway bar (and use the Bronco’s available exterior cameras to navigate those rocks). Do you want to ensure you maintain momentum going up the hill? Put it in Trail Control and set a 3 mph crawl speed.

How Does the New Ford Bronco Drive?

With so much off-road focus you might think the Bronco suffers when driven on boring old pavement, but it doesn’t. With confident steering, comfortable seats and minimal wind and road noise it’s on par with your typical midsize truck in terms of steering precision and overall cabin refinement. That’s a good thing, BTW, particularly given its capabilities.

From the driver’s seat, the new Ford Bronco offers a straightforward interior design, including a standard 8-inch central touchscreen or an optional 12-inch screen on higher trim models. The gauge cluster uses a fixed speedometer next to a multifunction LCD screen for tracking engine RPM, 4×4 settings and Trail Control modes. This panel looked a tad rudimentary to our eyes, but gets the job done in terms of conveying information. Above the gauge cluster is another colorful display showing which G.O.A.T. mode is currently engaged (these are controlled through a large dial in the center console). Finally, a row of buttons on top of the dash allow quick access to locking differentials, sway bar disconnect and Trail Turn Assist settings on Broncos with those features.

The Bronco’s seats are high off the floor, aligning with the SUVs tall, upright styling. This seat design, along with the tall windows on every side, provide excellent outward visibility, something you want when off roading but is not a bad thing in city driving, too. We’ve seen plenty of creative SUV rooflines in recent years as competitors try to outdo each other in the “cool styling” department, often at the expense of outward visibility. Here’s to classic design that happens to offer real-world, functional benefits. We should note that while accessing the rear seat in the two-door Bronco is a bit challenging due to the step-up height, there’s functional legroom once you’re back there. If you plan on transporting more than two occupants on a regular basis, go for the 4-door model.

How Fast is the New Ford Bronco?

The new Ford Bronco offers two engine and transmission choices. The larger, turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 delivers 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain gives the Bronco quick acceleration from a dead stop and plenty of passing power at highway speeds. It’s also got an encouraging exhaust note when floored. A smaller, turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost four cylinder is the standard Bronco engine, with 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque driven through either a 10-speed automatic or 7-speed manual transmission. The four cylinder engine offers more than enough power and torque for on and off-road driving, but without the same freeway speed passing power and throaty exhaust of the V6.

Does the New Ford Bronco Get Good Gas Mileage?

Fuel economy for the 2.3-liter is 20 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined in the lower trim levels, but falls to 18 mpg in models with the Sasquatch Package. The V6 gets 18 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined, unless it’s paired with the Sasquatch Package, where fuel efficiency drops to 17 mpg. The good news is there’s minimal hit to fuel mileage if you want the larger engine. The bad news: no version of the new Bronco will be winning points with the EPA.

How Much Does the New Ford Bronco Cost?

The new 2021 Ford Bronco starts at $31,490 for a two-door model and $36,190 for a four-door model, with both prices including a $1,495 destination charge. A base Bronco comes with standard four-wheel drive, the 2.3-liter engine and 7-speed manual transmission on two-door models or the 2.3-liter engine and 10-speed automatic on four-door models. The Terrain Management system with five G.O.A.T. modes, 16-inch steel wheels wearing 30-inch P255/70R16 all-season tires, Sync4 with the 8-inch touchscreen, LED headlamps and cloth seats are also included in the base Bronco. The larger V6 engine, more advanced 4×4 system and Sasquatch Package with 35-inch tires can all be added to any trim that doesn’t haven them as standard.

Six additional Bronco trim levels are available, starting with Big Bend and going up through Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak and the limited production First Edition models. Many of the features previously discussed, including the more advanced 4×4 system, additional G.O.A.T. modes, the Trail Toolbox technology, exterior cameras, a Bang & Olufsen audio system and leather seating, are either optional or standard as you climb the Bronco trim ladder (and spend more money). Ford reps told us there will also be over 200 dealer-installed Ford accessories available for the Bronco’s launch, making it easy to personalize the new SUV when it arrives in the coming weeks. More in-depth information about the various trim levels is available in this previous Forbes story on the Ford Bronco.

As an off-road enthusiast you’ll be hard pressed to find a more capable vehicle than the new 2021 Ford Bronco. And if you’re a fan of the classic model, but want one with 21st century convenience and safety equipment, even as a primarily pavement-driven SUV, the new Bronco doesn’t disappoint. It would seem plenty of people reside in both camps, as Ford received 125,000 orders and will be working to catch up for at least a couple years. If you haven’t already ordered a new Ford Bronco you’ll either have to wait awhile or up your offer to dealers. Probably both.

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