The Ford Bronco has returned. That’s no news at this point, but after finally spending some time with the First Edition, I can say the hype is almost entirely justified. The Jeep Wrangler finally has a worthy opponent, and we put it to the test to see just how well it stacks up.
Out of Spec Score: 81/100
Ford hit it out of the park in the design department. The new Bronco brings back what we loved about the old models, joining the ranks of the retro-modern offerings of today’s market. The circular headlight design is what immediately grabs attention, especially on the upper trims with the full LED circle with appended LED line slicing into the grill. The grill itself carries the name “BRONCO” across the front, as if you had to question the beast before your eyes.
The entire body is very squared off and a bit beefed up beyond the likes of a Wrangler, the most direct competitor to the Bronco. The hood and quarter panels are a bit wider, and the body itself tapers in less than the Wrangler. Fenders in contrasting black coordinate with the top, bumpers, and most wheel options. Then there are a variety of colors to choose from, as well as a 2-door or 4-door configuration. Our testing unit was the 4-door First Edition, essentially top-of-the-line in a beautiful deep Lightning Blue.
Also unlike the Wrangler, the Bronco features mirrors affixed to the body rather than the doors, so they can be removed and mirrors retained. The doors are also frameless, so they can all be stored in the trunk when removed along the upper front roof panels. I will always love a Wrangler with doors removed, but the Bronco does make it a bit more seamless of an experience. Doors on or off, the Bronco carries tremendous presence down a road, up a trail, or sitting still in a driveway.
To set proper expectations, one must remember the caliber of vehicle the Bronco exists to be. It bears no interior resemblance to a Land Rover or luxury overlanding models, but it still manages to squeeze ahead of the Wrangler in the overall interior fit and finish. The material feel is also a slight improvement, though still rugged and to-the-point. You won’t find many soft-touch points, but it does seem very easy to clean.
The dashboard is useful, with mounting points and even USB-A and USB-C ports to charge accessories such as a GoPro. The word BRONCO is blatantly presented on the passenger side dash, and there are plenty of grab handles for those intense trail moments.
The seats are quite comfortable, this being outfitted with the black leather option. Rear seats don’t boast incredible room but perfectly useful for most occasions and even trips. On the road, it was impressive how quiet the interior is, though maybe quiet isn’t the best adjective. It is less loud, compared to other modular-type off-roaders. But the sound still proliferates through big tires and doors more than that of a 4Runner, for example.
The higher-powered twin-turbo 2.7L V6 sends 330 horsepower and 415 lb-ft torque through a 10-speed transmission. Alternatively, with certain models you can opt for a turbo 2.3L inline-4 with 300 horsepower and 330 lb-ft torque. With the 4-door and automatic transmission, I do question the capability of the power plant to drive the full-size Bronco, though I have not tried it directly. But it is worth noting the 2-door bronco with 2.3L and 7-speed manual is a full 1,000 pounds lighter than the 2.7L automatic of the example we tried.
Suspension is another notable matter on the Bronco. All trims receive H.O.S.S. (High-speed Off-road Suspension System) tuning, but Bilstein dampers, sway-bar disconnect, and Sasquatch packages are optional extras. The base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, and Outer Banks bundle the Bilsteins with the Sasquatch package. The Bilsteins come standard on Badlands, Wildtrak, and First Edition models. The sway bar disconnect system is only available on the Badlands and First Edition models as standard equipment.
We took the Bronco on snowy trails and found the locking differentials and sway bar disconnects result in a very comfortable and engaging ride all things considered. Beyond the aforementioned technology offered, you’ll also find Easter eggs such as Trail Turn Assist, which resulted in a very useful method of handling tight turns. Once activated, it locks the inner rear wheel and drags it to allow a very tight turning radius on a trail with loose terrain. Trail Turn Assist is named aptly, as it should not be attempted on a standard asphalt road. Don’t ask how we know…
Storage capacity is impressive, with over 35 cubic feet behind the second row, or over 77 cubic feet with rear seats folded flat. The space behind the second row is intentionally the perfect size to stow the doors and front roof panels. The 2-door variant is smaller, but still retains the space for doors and roof panels behind the second row, nearly 25 cubic feet. Then with second row folded, the 2-door yields an impressive 52 cubic feet.
The doors have netting to carry a few things, but there are definitely fewer interior storage nooks than a typical SUV. But the dash board does have the “shelf” for gear or easy-access items when on trails, and there are ample tie-down locations.
Gas mileage is obviously not a strong suit with a box-on-wheels, but it’s also not abysmal. The (barely) more eco-friendly 2-door manual can achieve up to 20 city, 21 highway mpg as stated by EPA. While the 4-door with Sasquatch package, larger engine and automatic like our test unit drops it to 17 mpg across the board. However, our 70 mph highway efficiency loop indicated 19 mpg, impressive for the caliber of vehicle.
Technically, the Bronco is up with the times. Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto make the cut, and there is an optional 12” SYNC infotainment system that is larger than the cabin really needs. The driver gauge cluster consists of a physical dial for speedometer and a screen for additional information. It’s not bad, but I wish it would allow a bit more customization, such as using the physical dial as a tachometer instead, or a fully digital gauge cluster. Though it turns out that was reserved for the upcoming Bronco Raptor.
Our example featured the upgraded B&O 10 speaker system. It’s good, very decent, but not incredible in any way. Lower volumes are executed well, but higher limits cause the bass to become imprecise and the overall image is less clear. But if you love the 12” of screen real estate, you should certainly opt for it.
There are a number of auxiliary power switches above the rearview mirror for additional accessories. The aftermarket for the Bronco is large, something even Ford highlighted in their unveiling of it. Adaptive Cruise Control is available for the automatic option, with lane keep assist but no lane centering. Overall it hosts an impressive amount of technology that would be hard to explain to Bronco owners in the 1970s. It’s not particularly state of the art, but for an adventure-minded off-road vehicle or for modern Ford owners alike, it brings an impressive suite.
In my honest opinion, the new Bronco is better than a Wrangler, in nearly every way. Material feel, fit and finish, drivetrain calibration, and even the looks sway me every time. It’s not way better, only slightly better, but in nearly all measurable ways. The Jeep does have the 4XE and 392 options, both outliers but impressive in their own niches. I do hope Ford brings electrification to the Bronco eventually, but as it stands, it intrigues the masses.
There are many small considerations I value, including being able to remove doors without mirrors coming with them. Frameless doors make for easy removal without ample muscle or assistance. I would personally choose a 2-door model with the 2.3L and 7 speed manual. Unfortunately, that prevents the inclusion of premium 12” infotainment and speaker system, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I have never been smitten with the idea of owning a Ford until now. I’ll be keeping my eye on the Bronco market for the foreseeable future.
- Exterior design 9/10
- Interior design 8/10
- Materials 8/10
- Build quality 8/10
- Comfort 7.5/10
- Capacity 8/10
- Acceleration 8/10
- Handling 8/10
- Efficiency 6/10
- Connected services 9/10
- UI/UX 8/10
- Active Safety 7/10
Editor’s Assessment 8.7/10
- Value 8/10
- Market placement 8/10
- Editors Influence 10/10