• 2021 Ford Bronco

FIRST DRIVE: 2021 Ford Bronco

Move over Jeep Wrangler, here comes the Bronco.

Dan Heyman By: Dan Heyman August 16, 2021
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After what feels like eons of waiting due to delays – microchip-related, pandemic-related, act of God related, you name it – the Ford Bronco has finally made landfall in Canada. Not the unibody Bronco Sport, mind, but the body-on-frame Bronco, minus the Sport.

It shares a platform with Ford’s Ranger pickup, but unlike that truck the Bronco gets two engine options – a four-cylinder and a six-cylinder, both turbocharged, measuring 2.3 litres and 2.7-litres, respectively – whereas the Ranger makes do with the four-banger only. Power is rated at 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque for the 2.7-litre four-banger, and 330 hp and 415 lb-ft for the V6. Available transmissions are a seven-speed manual – yes, you read that right! – and a 10-speed auto, although the manual is only available when paired with the four-cylinder.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What is this non-Sport Bronco all about?

Well, on the surface, it’s a rebirth of a legend that first got its start in 1966, not long after another famous Ford – the Mustang – made its debut. In many ways, the Bronco is very much like the Mustang; it was more of a – if I may – workhorse than the Mustang was but the kids loved it, it came as both a convertible and hard-top and has since gained quite the cult following. The models in Zoolander drove one, a certain notable athlete was quite publicly chauffeured in one and even famed one-time Ford rallyist Ken Block had one custom-built for his wife.

Ford obviously knows about all this because this new Bronco is an absolute feast for the eyes especially when equipped with the 35” tires and wider fenders that some of the more hardcore trims get as standard (there are six trims in total, ranging from $40,499-$56,494 for the two-door and $45,499-$59,994 for the four-door). Whether in two-door or four-door form, the Bronco has presence for days.

2021 Ford Bronco

2021 Ford Bronco

If you know anything about the old Broncos, you will recognize many bits; the headlight lenses, grille and most obviously, the big “BRONCO” scripting across the front grille. That’s just one of the grille types; there are a few to choose from. It’s all taken to the nth degree here, though; it’s like everything that made the original Bronco what it was has been expanded here, almost to cartoonish levels. Not that I mind; it’s wide, bright and large, and in charge.

In fact, even though that like the Jeep Wrangler – the two are inextricably linked, and likely will be for as long as they’re on this earth – it has a barn door-style tailgate (with an also-opening glass partition), a big-tired off-road version, a manual folding soft top on five-door models and removable body panels, the Wrangler – even in Rubicon form — is the tamer-looking of the two.

Stepping inside, there’s also a whole load of blocky bits. From the shifter, to the broad dash ahead of you and the handholds wrapped in Day-Glo orange (not to mention the optional digital camo look on the seats), it’s an event inside. Hard to miss the big “BRONCO” scripting ahead of the passenger; kind of like what’s done in the Mustang, just expanded.

It’s also surprisingly tech-laden inside the Bronco. The infotainment display measures in at 8- or 12-inches and becomes a handy forward and down-facing camera that automatically activates when you select 4 low or the Rock Crawl, Mud/Rut or Baja drive modes. That way, you can more easily see the rocks, branches and ruts you come across while off-roading in hi-def and pass safely over them. I’ve sampled other off-roaders that have tech like this but the size of this particular display adds to its effectiveness, and I found it a little more natural to use as a result. There’s also a digital gauge cluster, 360-degree backup cam and Ford’s latest SYNC infotainment as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

2021 Ford Bronco

Regarding the tops: four-door models come standard with a soft top, while the two-door truck get a hard top. Both look fine, but I found the hard top-equipped two-door to be the louder truck of the two on the highway, likely a result of the fact that there are more surfaces for noises to bounce off of when you have the hard top. Also note that at the time of writing, Ford has promised to replace all hard tops on the Bronco due to an issue with water and humidity. No word as to how long that’s going to take.

We’ll get to the off-road characteristics in a minute, but it’s actually the Bronco’s on-road attitude that was almost more of a highlight for me.

It was more of a highlight because for all the things the Wrangler is – cool, hip, cultish, ultra-capable off-road – it is far from a regal ride on the highway. Or even the city way. Jeep has remedied that a little with the introduction of the 4xe hybrid, but if the Bronco is going to pull buyers away from the Jeep, being able to show and prove on more “normal” roads will do it many favours and for all its toughness, the way the Bronco acts on the highway is much closer to your traditional SUV than the Wrangler is. Bumps are better metered out, it’s quieter (but is still very square-shaped; you’re going to have wind noise) and since the engine is turbocharged, it’s a heck of a lot quieter than most of the engines the Wrangler comes with. Further than that, the Bronco somehow just feels that much more drum-tight than does the Wrangler, even though it has all those Jeep-like removable panels and soft tops. Actually, in Sasquatch form (that’s an option package available on all trims, and comes standard on the Wildtrak), the Bronco does one better by allowing you to pop off the fender flares like those tear-off Adidas pants college athletes used to wear.

2021 Ford Bronco

Ford has provided that option because it knows that for all its on-road comfort characteristics, those that buy the Bronco are going to want to off-road it and they’ll gladly sacrifice some mud-stained trousers for fenders that don’t get in the way when it comes to moving through tight, rocky trails – all the better to see the tires with.

We spent plenty of time off-roading these during our drive, including a hood-deep water feature to test the truck’s claimed 33.3-inch fording (Ford-ing?) depth. Plowed through that baby just fine, did the Bronco, as it did the off-camber “moguls” during another part of our journey.

It was here that we really got to see the effects of the disconnecting stabilizer bar, which comes as standard on the Badlands trim. We were instructed to perch ourselves atop of the moguls, leaving a wheel in the air and hitting a button mounted atop the dash to disconnect the sway bar. Once done, we felt the entire chassis relax and the truck drop down as it settled more comfortably on the terrain. It’s a very unique feeling and once done, the Bronco could scamper across the loose terrain completely uninhibited and feeling pretty unstoppable.

In addition to that, we tried the Trail Turn Assist feature which, when activated, brakes the inside wheel while turning, thereby shortening the turning radius. It’s an eerie feeling to be sure you’re going to clip that tree trunk during a turn, only to have the rear brakes step in and swing you ‘round. You’re not going to get any Ken Block-style pivot-on-the-spot moves, but when attempting certain ultra-sharp turns on our off-road course, it was a big help. The feature, of course, makes morse sense for the four-door, whose wheelbase measures 2,949 mm to the three-door’s 2,550 mm. Which, by the way, has the three-door feeling quite a bit more agile than the four-door.

Most of this falls under the auspices of the HOSS suspension system, which stands for “hi-speed off-road stability suspension” and makes use of independent suspension up front and a sold five-link rear axle; the former is what the Ranger pickup gets, while the latter is unique to the Bronco. As a result, the Bronco is covered for any kind of terrain (its “GOAT” drive mode nomenclature means “goes over any type of terrain”, after all) and as result, should be adaptable to a number of different driving styles and vehicle use cases.

2021 Ford Bronco

But is it too many use cases?

There are those six available trims, and when you count the two body styles that number stretches to 12. Then, throw in the Sasquatch package (17-inch black beadlock capable wheels, off-road tires, e-locker front and rear axles, special Bilstein-equipped high clearance suspension, fender flares) and the fact that there are three additional packages – Mid, High and Lux – that you can get on the various trucks and it all gets a little confusing. I think they could have trimmed all this a little to make the buying process a little easier as it’s asking customers to do a little more trim-walking than they might otherwise.

Of course, once all that is done, they will be treated to one heck of an off-road vehicle. It’s not a Jeep Wrangler but then, it doesn’t have to be because as much as these two are variations on a theme, they are surprisingly different in one important way: the Bronco is the newer vehicle, and it feels it. With its one-pedal off-road driving option (set the cruise control while off-roading, and all you have to worry about is the steering), Trail Turn Assist, big infotainment display and so on the Bronco is the more digitized of the two, the Wrangler more analogue and old-school and for certain buyers and off-roaders, that’s right on the money. Off-road and fun-vehicle enthusiasts should just be happy that these both exist.

2021 Ford Bronco

BODY STYLE: Five-door or three-door full-size luxury SUV

DRIVE METHOD: Front engine, four-wheel drive
ENGINES: Four-cylinder turbo, 300 hp, 325 lb-ft of torque / V6 turbo, 330 hp, 415 lb-ft of torque

FUEL ECONOMY CITY/HIGHWAY/COMBINED (AT): 12.8/11.6/12.2 L/100 KM
TRANSMISSION: 10-speed automatic, 7-speed manual

Max CARGO CAPACITY: 6682,197 L

TOWING CAPACITY: 1,461-1,588 kg (3,220-3,500 lbs.)

Pricing: $40,499-$59,994

WEBSITE:  Ford Bronco

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