*Lead photo: Garry Sowerby
Ford has this thing about horses – Mustang, Bronco and Pinto. The marketing department is cashing in on the value of those brand names, which date back more than half a century. First it was the second use of the Mustang name, attached to a four-door all-electric hatchback – the Mustang Mach E.
Now the Bronco name has resurfaced attached to a pair of newcomers.
There are two versions of the 2021 Bronco. The Bronco Sport (click here for my review of that model) is built in Mexico and based on the FWD Escape Crossover platform. It comes with 1.5-litre three-cylinder or 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engines.
Built in Michigan, the 2021 Bronco is based on the Ford Ranger’s body-on-frame T6 architecture. It comes with either a 2.3-litre four-cylinder or a 2.7-litre V6, both turbocharged engines. Both are available in two or four-door body styles and all-wheel-drive is standard across the board.
The subject of this review is the Bronco. Our tester was the four-door version. The two-door rides on 2,220-mm wheelbase and has seats for four. The four-door has seating for five, thanks to a 400-mm longer wheelbase. In addition to slightly more legroom, the four-door has 30-mm more hip room, 715 cubic feet more cargo space behind the first row, and 374 more behind second row.
All models get a split tailgate, the hinged upper half swings up for access without having to disturb anything on the cargo floor.
Trim levels include Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, and Wildtrak at prices ranging from $40,000 – $65,000. The Outer Banks tester rested mid-pack. Thanks to almost $10,000 in options, it topped out at more than $60,000.
The Bronco is a crossover with legitimate off-road chops – more than anything else in the category not wearing the Jeep name.
This is a good news / bad news scenario. If you are in the market for a crossover that will spend most of its life on the road, doing daily everyday chores – ferrying people around between home, school, shopping, work etc. with the occasional weekend trip down a trail, there are better choices. Many of them will be found in the same Ford store alongside the Bronco.
But, if your lifestyle involves frequent or even occasional forays well off the beaten path, the Bronco knows few, very few, equals. It has the clearance, protection and mechanical goods that separate the real stuff from pretenders.
As a crossover destined for urban and suburban daily duty, the Bronco has decent interior space with great headroom thanks to a square roofline and upright sitting position.
The rear seat is slightly cramped in terms of both leg and shoulder room. The cargo area is impressive for such a small vehicle.
The ride quality is exemplary thanks to the independent rear suspension.
There are a number of neat features specific to off-road use, including the ability to remove the doors and roof, with provision to store them in the cargo area. An up-to-date infotainment system uses a 20-cm screen and the latest version of Ford’s Sync software. This includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and voice-control, supplemented by actual buttons for volume and station selection.
The quality of materials is below average for this class of vehicle. Fit and finish are excellent but appropriate to its off-road abilities. There is an industrial feeling. Because the doors are removable, the glass is frameless and they rattle when closed. The power window and mirror controls had to be relocated – to an awkward location on the center console.
The 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine provides decent performance with lots of low-end grunt. But fuel mileage is miserable!
I averaged 13.4 litres/100 km on the highway, 14.2 in the city in cold weather! The EcoBoost engine provides very little Eco, but lots of Boost. The combination of more than 5,000 lbs., and the aerodynamics of a brick is obviously not conducive to economical driving.
That same upright /square shape, frameless windows and the removable roof panel mean this is a noisy vehicle at highway speeds, with lots of wind and road noise despite the ‘no charge sound deadening headliner’.
OK, enough about the on-road shortcomings. I should point out the Bronco is immensely superior to the Jeep Wrangler on the highway. The ride is better, the steering VASTLY superior and comfort and convenience at a different level. Where the Jeep has solid axles at both ends, the Broncos have independent front suspension and the Bronco is independent at the rear as well.
The Bronco does not take a back seat to the Jeep when off the beaten path.
The engineering team benchmarked the Wrangler during development of the Bronco pair. A back-to-back comparison on rough terrain would be necessary to differentiate the two. Suffice it to say the Bronco comes with the goods for such a comparison.
From approach and departure angles to under-body cladding and wheel travel, the Bronco has the goods.
A large G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Terrain) mode selector knob dominates the center console. Appropriate electronic aids are engaged depending on purpose and conditions – Sand, Slippery, Sport, Eco, and Normal.
A full slate of safety and driver-assistance features includes standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist.
The Bronco isn’t the most sophisticated, efficient, quiet or comfortable crossover in a very crowded segment. BUT it can go where all but a few others fear to tread.
FACTS & FIGURES – 2021 Ford Bronco Four Door Outer Banks
As tested: $63,824 including freight
Pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking, lane keep system, blind spot information with cross traffic alert, reverse sensing system
Sync 4, FordPass Connect
LED headlights, Heated power mirrors, powder-coated tube steps, front tow hooks, second row and tailgate privacy glass, dual zone automatic temperature control, intelligent access with push-button start, remote start, terrain management system with six G.O.A.T. modes, auto dimming mirror, two smart charge USB ports, tilt & telescope steering wheel, power windows, heated front seats, six-way front seats, off road Trail Control and Trail Turn assist, block heater, electric parking brake, 18-in high gloss black aluminum wheels with matching spare wheel and tire, trailer sway control, perimeter alarm
Outer Banks package (30-cm LCD touchscreen, 360-degree camera, Lux package, adaptive cruise control, B&O audio system with navigation, heated steering wheel, wireless charging pad), $3,759; HD modular front bumper, $1,000; moulded-in-colour hardtop, $795; storage bags for top and doors, $450; cargo area protector, $150; front and rear floor liners, $200; keyless entry keypad, $250; brush guard, $150; roof rail with cross bars, $495; leather/vinyl trim, $2,295.
Turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder, 310-horsepower, 325 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel. 10 speed automatic transmission, advanced all-wheel-drive. NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 11.7/10.7
Length, 4,810 mm; width, 2,189 mm; wheelbase, 2,950 mm; weight, 2,370 kg
Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee and Compass, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan