Review: New Ford Bronco looks like 1970, drives like 2021
The 2021 Ford Bronco is an off-road-focused sport utility competing directly with the Jeep Wrangler with impressive all-terrain specs and retro styling. Harking back to the 1970s and 1980s when the Ford Bronco reigned as truck-SUV legend, the new 2021 model marks the fifth generation for the Bronco and a return of the nameplate after a 25 year hiatus.
At a Glance
- Retro styling is on point
- Well-matched turbocharged powerplants
- Excellent off-road credibility and real-life capability
- Good on-road handling for a dedicated off-roader
- Poor fuel economy, but upcoming electrification is a real possibility
Like the original Bronco of old, the compact design of the 2021 Ford Bronco takes aim at the Jeep. Where the smaller Bronco Sport takes on the Jeep Renegade and its old nemesis, the Blazer, this larger Bronco aims for the Wrangler in such a way that some have dubbed it the “Wrangler killer.” That might be a bit extreme, but this new Bronco does live up to its off-road hype.
The 2021 Bronco has both a two- and four-door option, removable roof panels, removable doors, and a list of off-road goodies. Currently offered in two powerplants, both turbocharged, and in varied packages that each build on the others for extremity, the Bronco was a gamble for Ford that seems to have paid off.
Styling for the new Bronco is solidly tied to 1966, aiming for that first-generation of the SUV in looks without getting too kitschy about it. Unlike other failed throwbacks like the PT Cruiser or the cringe-inducing HHR, this Bronco hits a style mark that resonates. Its flat face, high stance, boxy looks, and flat hood turn the clock back decades, while its modern capabilities and surprising efficiency keep it anchored in the 21st century.
The base engine for the 2021 Ford Bronco is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that outputs a fast-paced 300 horsepower (220.6 kW) and 325 pound-feet (440.6 Nm) of torque. Those are impressive numbers for such a small engine. That power runs to a 7-speed manual transmission or a 10-speed automatic. Upgrading means no manual transmission, but jumps to a 2.7-liter V6 turbocharged to provide 330 HP (246 kW) and 415 lb-ft (562.7 Nm).
The larger engine, which we drove, certainly brings the torque. Towing doesn’t change with either powerplant, though, and is maxed at 3,500 pounds (1,588 kg) in both the two- and four-door Bronco. So while it doesn’t upgrade towing capability, the larger engine does make off-road adventure easier thanks to those higher torque values. Either engine is great for the Bronco, though, with plenty of power for the kind of things an off-road-centric SUV like this are made for.
Speaking of off-road, the Bronco comes in seven flavors, all of which include four-wheel drive. The Base model starts everything off with 16-inch steel wheels, tow hooks, a removable hardtop on two-door models and a removable soft top on four-door models. A digital instrument cluster, power-adjustable front seating, 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and five-mode terrain management system are all standard. Hill-start assist, automatic emergency braking, and trailer sway damping are also included. From the Base model up, things only get more dirt-centric as the trim levels add grab handles, more terrain management modes, bigger wheels and tires, skid plates, rock rails, rubber floor mats, side steps, LED lighting, a disconnecting front stabilizer bar, pre-wired auxiliary switches, and a whole lot of other things. The Sasquatch package, available for several Bronco trims, brings beadlock-capable wheels, 35-inch mud-terrain tires, locking front and rear axles with a shorter final drive ratio, a suspension lift, and modified fender flares to accommodate.
Our test drive Bronco was a First Edition with the Sasquatch package added. We got quite familiar with the bank of off-road controls found above the infotainment screen on the flat of the dash. These include differential locks, sway bar disconnect, and a traction control toggle. Off-road drive modes augment the standard 4x4 modes are on a push button atop the transfer case gear selector. That rotary selector pages through 2-High, 4-High, 4-Auto, and 4-Low. 2-High makes for rear-wheel drive, 4-High for most off-road needs, 4-Lo for hardcore off-roading at low speeds, and 4-Auto for a sort of all-wheel drive experience with rear-wheel bias.
When equipped with the 35-inch tires and Sasquatch package, the Bronco has a 43.2-degree approach angle, 29-degree breakover (2-door, 26.3-deg 4-door), and 37-degree departure angle. The Bronco’s total vehicle width is 86.2 inches (218.9 cm) with the mirrors and its track is 65 inches (165.1 cm). Its height is 71.9 inches with the hardtop and 73 inches with the soft top (182.6, 185.4 cm). Ground clearance is 11.5 inches (29.2 cm). Even without the 35-inch tires, though, these specs are pretty good, thanks to an 8.3-inch (21 cm) base ground clearance.
All of this adds up to impressive off-road cred for the new Bronco. With the exception of the windscreen not folding down, the Bronco matches the Wrangler in almost every measurable way. The Sasquatch package gives the Bronco the Rubicon treatment as well, upping the ante in the most extreme factory-direct off-road option. In the real world, our 2021 Ford Bronco tackled every trail, hill, and obstacle that we’ve traversed in the Jeep. We noted some undercarriage scraping on the downhill portion of a rock climb where a Wrangler wouldn’t, but also felt the measured grunt of the turbochargers on the uphill side where the Jeep had to wind to higher RPM to get the torque flowing.
On the road, the Ford Bronco is relatively smooth and mannered. It’s no highway star, of course, but it isn’t janky like off-road vehicles of old. For those looking to tow the Bronco, it is capable of flat towing out of the box, making it a perfect RV companion.
And for those wondering, yes, there will eventually be a Bronco plug-in to compete with Jeep’s 4Xe model, and we could also see a battery electric Bronco as well, given the hints of late from Ford executives to that end. Probably based on the architecture used to create the Ford Lightning pickup truck and the upcoming Ford Expedition EV. Until then, though, the 20-22 mpg highway rating of the 2021 Bronco four-door in its off-road packaging will have to do.
Product Page: 2021 Ford Bronco