We Hit The Dirt in the 2021 Ford Bronco: First Drive
Photography by Harry Wagner and courtesy of Ford
The Ford Bronco is the most hotly anticipated new 4×4 on the market in years, and it is easy to see why. In addition to a name and look that harken back to the original Bronco of 1966-1977, Ford has loaded the new Bronco with features to finally offer a worthy competitor to the Jeep Wrangler. Or have they?
Toyota tried to take on the mighty Wrangler in 2007 – the model year that both the Wrangler JK and FJ Cruiser duked it out for supremacy. From sales numbers to aftermarket support though, the FJ Cruiser never matched the Jeep Wrangler. And like the FJ Cruiser, the Ford Bronco utilizes an existing chassis (with independent front suspension) with a retro body and huge rollout (for the FJ Cruiser it was the Trail Team, for the Bronco it is the Off-Rodeo).
Will the all-new Bronco succeed where the FJ Cruiser failed? We finally got the opportunity to spend some time inside a new Bronco and find the answer. Check out our First Drive in the 2021 Ford Bronco!
We like the rubber floor mats and large drain plugs in the floor of the Bronco. This allows you to take it out in any terrain with the top and doors removed and just hose out the interior when you get home. All of the electronics have been relocated or sealed in order to ensure they are not damaged by water.
What Makes the Bronco Different?
There are several things that make the Bronco more like the Wrangler than the FJ Cruiser though, starting with the removable top. You can also get a Bronco with front and rear locking differentials and a disconnecting sway bar, just like a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. And unlike a Wrangler, you can order a Bronco with 35-inch tall tires, beadlock-capable wheels, and a manual transmission with a granny gear (much like the low gear on old NP435 and T-18 4-speed manual in the original Early Broncos).
There are seven Bronco trims to choose from, which can be a little overwhelming. They include the Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Black Diamond, Badlands and Wildtrack. All trim models are available with the Sasquatch Package, which adds 35-inch tall tires, Bilstein shocks, locking differentials, and bigger fender openings. Think of it as Ford’s equivalent of the Rubicon Wrangler, a trim package that Toyota never offered in the FJ Cruiser.
We rode in a First Edition (which are already sold out) with the Sasquatch Package with third generation desert racer Shelby Hall behind the wheel. The first thing that we noticed was how comfortable the seats were in the Bronco and how quiet it was inside for having a removable top. Hall explained that the hard top comes off in segments to make it easier to remove and to store compared to a one-piece top.
The next thing we noticed was the power output from the optional 2.7L EcoBoost twin turbo V6 engine, which exhibited zero turbo lag and pushed us back in the seat thanks to the 400 ft-lbs of torque on tap. The engine is mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission that held power to redline when Hall had the G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Terrain) set to Baja mode. All Broncos have different driving modes that can be selected for specific terrain to adjust steering response, shift points, and how much wheel spin is allowed. These include Sand, Slippery, Sport, Eco, and Normal. Depending on which trim level you choose, more driving modes are available, including Mud/Ruts, Rock Crawl, and Baja.
The First Edition that Hall took us for a spin in had all eight modes, and she spent most of the time in Baja mode as we drove through whooped out roads at speeds that would be uncomfortable in a stock Wrangler. We also drove over sand dunes and through rocky trails, where the locking differentials came in handy. Some distinctions that set the Bronco apart include the ability to engage only the front locker without engaging the rear, which is helpful on tight trails where a locked rear axle tends to push the vehicle straight. Another feature called Trail Turn Assist, similar to the Off-Road Turn Assist found on the Toyota Land Cruiser, is the ability to lock up one rear wheel and essentially pivot around that corner for incredibly sharp turning. The increase in maneuverability with these features is particularly helpful on the longer four-door Bronco.
Speaking of Toyotas, the FJ Cruiser was innovative for the use of Crawl Control, but the systems are loud and unrefined compared to the Trail Control found on the Bronco, which operates under a similar premise. And never before have we seen Trail One-Pedal Driving, which the Bronco uses to replicate left-foot-braking in order to allow precise control when in Rock Crawl Mode. Surprisingly, the One-Pedal is only available with the automatic transmission, although the feature would be particularly helpful with a manual transmission when attempting to juggle three pedals without the vehicle moving backwards on the trail.
From an aesthetics perspective, the two-door Bronco definitely has more in common with the original Bronco that inspired it than the four-door does. And we have to confess that everything looks better on a big set of BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM3 tires.
Two Door or Four Door?
A new two-door Bronco has a 100.4-inch wheelbase, is 173.7 inches long from bumper to bumper, is 79.3-inches wide, and weighs 3,467 pounds. For reference, the original 1966 Ford Bronco had a 92-inch wheelbase, was 152.1-inches long overall and 68.8-inches wide, and only weighed 2880 pounds. Looks can be deceiving, as the new Bronco has dimensions that more closely match the 1980-1996 TTB Broncos that used a 104-inch wheelbase, were 180.4 inches long, and 79.3 inches wide. If you do most of your exploring alone or with just one other person, we would opt for the more maneuverable two-door Bronco.
The 2021 Bronco is even larger in four-door trim, with a wheelbase of 116.1-inches and an overall length of 189.4-inches. Ford is clearly gunning for the four-door Wrangler, which outsells the two-door at a rate of ten to one. For comparison, a four-door JL has a wheelbase of 118.4-inches, an overall length of 188.4 inches, but is six inches narrower than the new Bronco. That narrower width is useful on the trail, but the Bronco provides two inches more shoulder room for front seat passengers and one inch more than the Wrangler Unlimited for rear seat passengers. That might not sound like much, but the extra room is useful – particularly on long trips.
What We Would Add
While the Bronco can be optioned from the factory with rock sliders, steel bumpers, and skid plates, we expect that plenty of people will order stripped down models in anticipation of customizing their Bronco to their own specific needs with aftermarket bumpers and rock sliders. We expect aftermarket wheels and mud-terrain tires to be popular with Bronco buyers as well, and 37-inch tall tires seem to fit with minimal modifications. Time will tell how well the drivetrain lives up to larger tires, and hopefully RCV offers axle shafts for the Bronco in the near future. Even if you order a top-of-the-line Badlands or Wildtrack, there is still plenty of aftermarket product to make your Bronco more capable, from auxiliary lights that can be wired into the factory upfitter switches to freezer fridges and even roof top tents to get out there and explore.
The rear of the Bronco has plenty of space in both two-door and four-door trim for items such as a fold down tailgate and cutting board, drawers, a freezer fridge, and more. The aftermarket is already ramping up production on Bronco-specific products that should be available by the time Broncos start arriving on dealership lots.
You’ll want to make sure you stay tuned here at 4 Wheel Parts, your Bronco Headquarters for your next adventure!