The 2022 Bronco is now on sale and features some lineup and equipment packaging changes and options versus the 2021 model I drove. Visit ford.ca or your local Ford dealer for further details.
I realize the Ford Bronco wasn’t the inspiration behind the adage, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, but I think it’s a pretty darn good fit.
I mean, just look at this thing. A blind person could see what the Bronco is for. I kid, but only slightly.
Now, I will spin some words here talking about its relative merits, but the Bronco is one of a handful of vehicles that really doesn’t need a great deal of exposition. You see it, you get it. Right? Right.
Colour me as one of those who when I first saw a photo of the new Bronco in 2020, which is back in Ford’s lineup after a 25-year absence, knew exactly what it was about: off-roading.
Sure, you can drive a Bronco around town in two-wheel drive, but the happy place for this SUV begins where the pavement ends. More on that shortly.
First, some Bronco basics. The most obvious of which is it can be had with either two or four doors, just like its primary competitor, the Jeep Wrangler. Second, just like the Jeep, Bronco doors and roofs can be removed for the ultimate Baja experience.
The other thing worth mentioning is from a product positioning standpoint. Ford has elected to apply the Bronco name to two product lines: the ultimate off-roader seen here, and a more civilized version, known as the Bronco Sport, which has off-road capability, but also shares chassis underpinnings and powertrains with the mall-friendly Escape crossover.
You can certainly take the Bronco to the mall and for grocery runs (which I did), but you should also hit the trails too (which I also did). I’ll let you guess which scenario was more fun.
At any rate, the Bronco is built on a platform shared with the Ranger mid-size pickup and is available with two engines and two transmissions.
On the engine front, all grades except the Wildtrak are fitted with a standard 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder (275 hp / 315 lb-ft) with a 2.7-litre EcoBoost V6 (315 hp / 410 lb-ft.) available as an option. For the Wildtrak, it’s V6 only. Both engines run fine on regular gas, but premium fill-ups will extract more power: 2.3 – 300 hp / 325 lb-ft; 2.7 – 330 hp / 415 lb-ft.
As for gearboxes, it’s either a seven-speed manual and 10-speed automatic. Of note, the manual can only be paired with the four-cylinder engine, while the automatic can be had with both.
My tester is a range-topping Wildtrak two-door, so it comes with a standard V6, but the bigger engine is available as an option on the other five models.
Standard chassis kit for Wildtrack includes electronic-locking front and rear axle, high-clearance suspension, 4x4 with automatic on-demand engagement, and electronic traction control. The Sasquatch Package, which adds 17-inch beadlock capable wheels, 35-inch all-terrain tires, front and rear-locking differentials, Bilstein position sensitive monotube shocks, 4.7 final drive ratio and high clearance fender flares, is also standard issue.
On the inside, a push-button starter, remote start system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, four USB ports (two front, two rear), two 12-volt chargers and six beverage holders are among the many items that are standard in the Wildtrak cabin.
Because the Bronco is so without pretention, I’ll try to be brief: you’ll either dig it or you won’t, there’s no in-between. Personally, I think its box-on-wheels, Tonka-toy looks suit its mud-splattered, off-road character. Ford designers have leaned into its heritage just enough – jacked-up stance, round headlights and smattering of Easter eggs (Est. 1966 stencilling on the lower windscreen) – to appeal to a broad section of consumers, including those that remember older Broncos and those who don’t. I think the right balance has been struck – the Bronco should look cool, and it does.
Inside, there’s enough comfort and technology (12-inch infotainment display, heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, USB ports, wireless charge pad, etc.) sandwiched in between its many rubberized grab handles, cup holders, storage cubbies and wipeable trim panels to justify its near $70K price tag. But I’d argue that none of that stuff is why one buys a Bronco, and Ford realizes that. The interior needs to be just civilized enough to compete with the Wrangler, and on that score, it’s mission accomplished. There isn’t a lot of room for cargo or passengers, but the interior suits the vehicle: ruggedly handsome and highly functional.
Okay, time to get down to brass tacks: driving impressions.
Off-road, this thing is as fun as it gets. Its automatic on-demand 4x4 with G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any type of Terrain) terrain management system, which has seven modes, makes off-roading a blast. In addition to 2HI, 4LO and 4HI, the 4x4 system has a 4AUTO setting that continuously varies torque delivery to the front wheels for better off-road traction via a two-speed electromechanical transfer case.
And I needed every bit of extra grip I could get on the trail I was on which was beginning to melt, but still had a good eight-10 inches (203.2 – 254 mm) of snow and slush on top of a muddy base. I varied the G.O.A.T. mode selector between slippery and mud / ruts which, along with a locking rear diff (mud / ruts), helped get me through the deepest snow. That, and 35-inch all-terrain tires and the highest ground clearance (11.6 inches / 294.6 mm) in its class!
The one other feature that I found to be quite useful off-road is the front-facing camera, which provides a clear view of the road trail ahead that is otherwise obscured by the Bronco’s long hood and high ride height. The heavy-duty modular front bumper and steel bash plates ($1,000) also seem like a good investment based on my experience.
For as much fun as the Bronco is off-road, its status as a trade-off vehicle becomes more apparent on tarmac. All-terrain tires are great on snowy trails but are quite noisy on pavement, while the Bronco’s ride can be jittery and bouncy over frost-heaved and broken roads. Swapping out the all-terrains for quieter SUV rubber helps, of course, but doing so defeats the Bronco’s off-road mission. With that said, the turbocharged EcoBoost V6 provides a snappy throttle response and returns acceptable, but not great, fuel consumption.
In the end, I like the Bronco. I wouldn’t necessarily want to drive one everyday, but for off-roading on weekends, it doesn’t get much better. Plus, it looks cool and can be ordered to be as basic or as loaded as you like. The two-door is short on space and its wheelbase makes a jittery ride all but unavoidable, but if that’s a real issue, pick the four-door. Or the Bronco Sport, if you’re looking for a Bronco more suited to everyday driving.
Either way, the Wrangler now has some serious competition, and that’s a win for the consumer.
2021 Ford Bronco Wildtrak
Front-engine, four-wheel-drive, 10-speed automatic transmission
2.7-litre turbocharged V6 (315 hp / 410 lb-ft; 330 hp / 415 lb-ft w/ 91+ octane)
(Regular 87) 14.0 / 13.9 / 13.9 L / 100 km city / highway / combined
1,481 / 634 litres (52.3 / 22.4 cu-ft) (behind first / second row)
MAXIMUM TOWING: 3,500 pounds (1,587 kg)
$56,494 base / $69,529, as tested, including freight, excl. taxes
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.