After a 25-year hiatus, the full-size Ford Bronco is back. The original “sports-utility vehicle” pays homage to its predecessors via boxy proportions, round headlights, and short overhangs, while introducing cutting-edge convenience and off-road technologies. Like the first Bronco of the 1960s, this reborn model is aimed squarely at the Jeep Wrangler.
An off-road icon, the Jeep Wrangler is now in its fourth generation (JL). The current bodystyle was introduced in late 2017 with more creature comforts and all-terrain goodies than before. The 2021 model year brought plug-in hybrid and V8-powered variants to expand appeal. Prior to the Bronco’s return, the Wrangler was the only “convertible” SUV on sale, though it remains the only truck with a folding windshield.
Engines + Platforms
Both the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco utilize body-on-frame platforms designed to flex more readily off-road and offer greater ground clearance than unibody solutions. However, while the Jeep Wrangler employs solid axles front and rear, the Bronco uses an independent front suspension. In practice, the Wrangler exudes confidence off-road, but lacks the Bronco’s on-road comfort and steering feel.
Ford mates the Bronco with a choice of turbocharged engines and standard four-wheel drive. The base four-cylinder produces 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque and can be equipped with a seven-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission. An upgraded six-cylinder develops 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque and is paired exclusively with a 10-speed automatic.
Jeep counters with a wider variety of attractive powertrains. An entry-level six-cylinder produces 285 horsepower and can be equipped with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic – the sole transmission choice for all other powertrains. The Wrangler’s available turbocharged four-cylinder develops less power (270 hp) but more torque (295 lb-ft). An optional six-cylinder diesel delivers 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. Fuel-conscious off-roaders can choose a plug-in hybrid alternative with 375 hp and 21 miles of all-electric range. Power-primed buyers will appreciate the available V8 engine good for 470 hp and a thunderous soundtrack. Four-wheel drive is standard in every configuration.
Design + Off-Road Chops
Its design has softened since inception, but the Wrangler retains a rugged aesthetic. Its flat panels, seven-slot grille, and pronounced fenders are instantly recognizable. Owners are free to remove doors, disassemble the roof, and customize their trucks with an assortment of OEM and aftermarket accessories. Pop culture has also triggered a wave of blinged-out, spotless speed bump warriors to contrast traditional winch-laden adventure specials.
The Bronco treads between contemporary and classic design, with a heritage grille, handsome light signatures, and all-terrain accents. Beating the aftermarket to the punch, Ford offers a vast selection of factory parts to tailor the Bronco to owner appetites. Like the Wrangler, the Bronco is equipped with removable doors and convertible roofs. Like its front suspension, the Bronco has a more sophisticated demeanor than its Wrangler foe.
When it’s time to get dirty, both rigs come prepared with available locking differentials, mud-terrain tires, two-speed transfer cases, skid plates, recovery points, and more. Equipped with the Sasquatch package, the Bronco wears 35-inch tires on beadlock-capable wheels and sports an improved 4.7:1 final-drive ratio. Jeep answers with the Xtreme Recon package for its Rubicon and Willys Wranglers; included is a set of 35-inch tires on beadlock capable wheels with a 1.5-inch lift. Each truck will overcome just about any obstacle put in their respective paths, but the Bronco looks better doing it.
Features + Price
The Bronco starts at $30,795 for a Base two-door hardtop and peaks at $50,970 for a Wildtrak four-door soft top. Jeep’s Sport two-door soft top Wrangler costs $30,665, but that figure swells to $76,235 for the Rubicon 392 four-door hardtop.
Though their starting figures appear competitive, standard features between the Bronco and Wrangler vary drastically. Ford loads the Base Bronco with LED headlights, power windows, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, five drive modes, and automatic emergency braking. The Wrangler Sport is comparatively spartan, forgoing air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and smartphone integration.
The Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco have each earned reputations for incredible off-road capability, though the new Bronco is a more agreeable companion on-road. Add to that an even greater dose of “cool” than the Wrangler, and the Bronco affirms its upper hand.