Cars and Trucks

Tested: 2021 Ford Bronco First Edition Goes Big, Sticks the Landing

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

From the September 2021 issue of Car and Driver.

So much of life streams by un­noticed. And then there are moments when your entire being flinches to attention, your senses hyperstimulated until the world goes stop-motion. We had one of those experiences during the brief yet agonizingly long time that started with the tread blocks of our Ford Bronco’s 35-inch-tall Goodyear Wrangler Territory MT tires releasing their grip on the sand in Michigan’s Silver Lake State Park off-road playland. From that instant until the dual-reservoir Bilstein dampers bottomed out after 8.7 inches of travel, our overwhelmed neurons frantically calculated the odds that we had overcooked it. The Bronco wasn’t concerned. It landed impressively, incredibly, and almost impossibly softly, shrugging off this provocation as if it were a steel and aluminum cape.

With more than 125,000 orders waiting to be delivered, the new Bronco clearly has this country captivated. Two-door models, back after a quarter-century hiatus, come only with a hard top. The first-ever four-door variants have a standard soft top, but buyers can spec a rigid roof. Either way, the top, the doors, the fender flares, and even the fenders are easily removable. Propulsion comes from one of two familiar Ford engines: a 300-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four or a 330-hp twin-turbo 2.7-liter V-6. Both are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, but the four-cylinder can also be had with a new seven-speed Getrag manual.

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

HIGHS: Unlikely on-road refinement with mega off-road capability, tough-truck extroverted looks.

In addition to the base model, Ford offers five trim levels with outdoorsy names (Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, and Wildtrak) plus a loaded First Edition, which we tested. Entry pricing spans from $29,995 to $62,605, and as that range climbs, feature content and off-road capability generally increase. But we appreciate that even the lowliest Bronco can be had with the hardcore Sasquatch package (included in some trims, $2495 or $4995 in others), which adds locking front and rear differentials, a shorter final-drive ratio, and the big 35-inch all-terrain rubber.

In a subtle jab at its cross-town rival, Ford had Goodyear scrub the name Wrangler from the outer sidewall of those tires. The off-road rubber starts singing at about 30 mph. Between 65 and 70 mph, wind noise overpowers tire roar. Even with the extra sound-deadening material on our First Edition’s hard top, at 70 mph, the Bronco summons 73 decibels of interior racket, which is no quieter than a V-6-powered Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. The Bronco’s frameless windows shrink the size of the doors, allowing them to be stowed onboard in the cargo area. But everything is a compromise, and at speed, you hear a lot of wind noise at the seals. Also, when someone tugs a door handle, the indexing glass doesn’t drop quickly enough and often snags on the weatherstripping.

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

LOWS: Poor fuel economy, limited range, just as noisy at speed as a Wrangler, interior isn’t $60K nice.

In pretty much every other way, though, the Bronco is far more refined than the Wrangler. Even on our car’s squirmy off-road-oriented tires, the Ford is miles ahead when it comes to steering precision, thanks largely to its more sophisticated independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion setup. We say this having done one of the most inappropriate things you could do with a Bronco outfitted with all the available off-road gear: We threw it down a twisty road at max attack speed, where we’re certain we were carrying velocities that would have put a Wrangler in a ditch.

We’re talking relative refinement here, of course. Big stabs at the brakes bring dramatic dives from the Sasquatch’s soft Bilsteins, making it seem like the grille wants to smooch the pavement during the long, 197-foot stops from 70 mph. Body roll when cornering is less dramatic, but 0.71 g of lateral grip on the skidpad is only slightly better than what we managed in the last Rubicon we tested. Telltale body-on-frame structural dithers come through the steering wheel, yet they’re more muted than the Jeep’s. This first application of Ford’s next-generation mid-size-truck platform makes for remarkable polish, even with this off-road bent. The Bronco can’t, however, match the on-road moves of the unibody Land Rover Defender.

The Bronco is immediately recognizable without being cloyingly retro. The two-door model with the Sasquatch package’s big tires has ideal proportions.

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

VERDICT: Buckle up, Jeep.

The Sasquatch package takes a toll on straight-line swiftness. The shorter axle puts the Bronco in fourth gear by the time it hits 60 mph. We made our quickest sprint using a second-gear start to eliminate one of the those time-sucking shifts. Our 6.3-second run eclipses the 60-mph times of Wranglers with either a V-6 or a turbo four even though the Bronco carries hundreds more pounds of weight. The Wrangler’s naturally aspirated six has better vocals, though. We wish the Bronco had more audible fury than a muffled grumble with a strong airflow backing track.

There’s almost never a universal consensus on styling, but the Bronco is about as close as vehicles come to a unanimous hit. Ford pays homage to the original Bronco of the mid-1960s, yet the new truck doesn’t come off at all dated. While the two-door packs incredible visual wallop, the four-door mutes those spot-on proportions with its additional 15.7 inches of wheelbase and overall length. And this flamboyant box simply doesn’t look right unless it’s wearing one of the more aggressive tire packages.

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

To distinguish it from the smaller and cheaper Bronco Sport that launched last year, many have taken to calling this SUV the Big Bronco. And big it is. Line it up nose to nose with a Wrangler and it’s immediately obvious that the Ford is wider. That width provides a welcome amount of knee- and elbowroom for front-seat occupants.

Just because you need rear-seat space doesn’t mean you should head straight for the four-door. The extra length goes almost entirely to the cargo hold. The four-door has more than 50 percent more storage volume than the two, yet it offers a mere 0.6 inch more rear legroom. Even this six-foot-five evaluator found sufficient space in the back of the two-door.

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

Although there are some nice touches in the cabin, such as a splash of contrasting color on the vent-control tabs and on the grab handles at either end of the dash, the interior is plain in places, with vast expanses of black plastic on the doors. Ford’s steering-wheel leather isn’t as nice as Jeep’s, and call us old-fashioned but we’d prefer a mechanical tachometer to the Bronco’s cartoonish digital display.

Ford has gone to great lengths to make the Bronco approachable off-road, too, with a drive-mode dial that adjusts the four-wheel-drive system and, where equipped, the front and rear electronically locking differentials and the front anti-roll-bar disconnect. It also modifies throttle response and steering effort. Just choose the surface you’re on and go. Ford offers various off-road-oriented features, including one called Trail Turn Assist, which grabs the inside rear brake so the Bronco pivots around the dragging tire, reducing the diameter of its turning circle by as much as 40 percent.

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

The bucking Bronco represents what it feels like when you nail the brakes. Other than the nosedive and cabin roar, this beast is housebroken.

Even among off-road brutes, the Bronco’s efficiency is substandard. This is the rare gas vehicle that, in many trims, gets the same EPA fuel economy on the highway as in the city. Broncos with the V-6 wearing the 35s are labeled at 17 mpg city and highway. We got 18 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop, which equates to just 300 miles of range, both poor results and worse than every Wrangler we’ve tested save one, a two-door 2.0T Rubicon.

After the time-altering leap, plus slogging through bumper-deep water, scaling mud-slicked rock faces, and making some awful scraping noises while the underbody skid plates did their thing, what impresses us most about Ford’s reimagined Bronco is that it’s a friendly and refined softy—particularly on the road, where the majority of buyers will be driving most of the time. Don’t tune out and let its greatness pass you by.

Marc UrbanoCar and Driver

Dialogue

Ford, you nailed the dynamics and styling, putting the Bronco so close to retro perfection. But give me better sound insulation, because I’m old and can barely hear. Also, you claim to wrap the steering wheel in leather, but you may want to call your supplier; I didn’t think animal skin could feel this plasticky. You spent money developing seldom-used switchgear that’ll combat the elements but skimped on the one thing I touch every time I drive this $60K vehicle. Top-spec Wranglers have quality leather for the helm. The Bronco should too. —K.C. Colwell

The steering isn’t just good for a big body-on-frame off-roader rolling on knobby all-terrain tires. It’s good compared with countless pickups, crossovers, and sedans. I have no idea how Ford pulled this off, but Jeep better figure it out quickly. Thanks to the Bronco, hardcore off-roaders no longer have a reason to tolerate the Wrangler’s 1940s-era slop. —Eric Tingwall

2021 ford bronco dimensions

Illustration by Pete SucheskiCar and Driver


Specifications

Specifications

2021 Ford Bronco First Edition

Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door wagon

PRICE

Base/As Tested: $58,410/$59,410

Options: towing package, $595; Rapid Red paint, $295; entry keypad, $110

ENGINE

twin-turbocharged and intercooled V-6, iron-and-aluminum block and aluminum heads

Displacement: 164 in3, 2694 cm3

Power: 330 hp @ 5250 rpm

Torque: 415 lb-ft @ 3100 rpm

TRANSMISSION

10-speed automatic

CHASSIS

Suspension, F/R: control arms/live axle

Brakes, F/R: 12.2-in vented disc/12.1-in disc

Tires: Goodyear Wrangler Territory MT

LT315/70R-17 113/110S M+S

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 100.4 in

Length: 173.7 in

Width: 79.3 in

Height: 75.2 in

Passenger Volume: 97 ft3

Cargo Volume: 22 ft3

Curb Weight: 4975 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS

60 mph: 6.3 sec

1/4-Mile: 15.0 sec @ 91 mph

100 mph: 19.5 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.

Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 7.4 sec

Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 3.4 sec

Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 4.4 sec

Top Speed (gov ltd): 106 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 197 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.71 g

C/D FUEL ECONOMY

Observed: 15 mpg

75-mph Highway Driving: 18 mpg

Highway Range: 300 mi

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/City/Highway: 17/17/17 mpg

C/D TESTING EXPLAINED

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