2021 Ford Bronco is serious competition for the Jeep Wrangler
For most of the last 75 years, Jeep has pretty much owned the hard core off-road market. There have been competition contenders, including the original Ford Bronco, but from the CJ-2 on through to the newest Wrangler Unlimited models, Jeep has always survived and thrived.
But now Ford has come out with a vehicle that can really compete with the Wrangler on-road and in the hills. The 2021 Ford Bronco has had a lot of hype, and generally speaking the reality lives up to the advertisement.
First, the Bronco looks like a real off-road vehicle. It's big and square and Ford has done a great job merging the utilitarian good looks of the original Bronco from the 1960s with modern design. One of the most important things is that the Bronco is available as a short-wheelbase two-door or a long wheelbase four-door. So you can choose the size that meets your needs. Either way, you get a generous cargo area in the back.
Bronco buyers get several roof options, but Northwest buyers will probably lean towards the molded plastic hardtop. These are removable panels that provide a bit more sound and temperature insulation than the standard canvas soft top. The two-door model comes with the plastic roof as standard equipment, but it costs $695 extra in the four-door. The plastic roof is not without its issues — it creaks quite a bit on our rough Northwest roads — but on the whole it's the right choice for our climate.
Inside, the Bronco is quite comfortable and offers plenty of space. Ford gives you a choice between a seven-speed manual transmission and the 10-speed automatic gearbox that comes with the Ranger pickup truck. The seven-speed is crisp and precise, and not at all like the big clunky manuals that used to come in trucks. Honestly, it's really a six-speed, plus a special extra-low gear labeled "C" for crawl. If you've ever driven a manual transmission pickup from the 1960s or earlier, they used to come with ultra-low first gears suitable for farm work. This is basically the same thing, but designed for off-road use. You also get a full dual-range four-wheel-drive system with low-range gears and the ability to put the Bronco into Automatic all-wheel-drive mode on the highway.
Under the hood, Ford placed its remarkable 2.3-liter four-cylinder Ecoboost engine. This is good for 300 horsepower in the Bronco, and it provides plenty of power. You can also order the 2.7-liter turbocharged Ecoboost V6 with 330 horsepower if you want a little more. However, the 2.7-liter engine only comes with the 10-speed automatic transmission.
On the road, the Bronco feels great. As I mentioned, it's got some creaks over the bumps, but if you wanted a quiet ride you wouldn't even be shopping for a vehicle with a removable roof. My only regret is that I didn't test-drive the Bronco on a beautiful summer weekend. I'd have those top panels out and an Oregon OHV sticker on the bumper. But as a winter vehicle, the Bronco works out very well. I took it over the coast range in the rain and it's sure-footed and easy to drive.
So if you're one of the many enthusiasts who have been waiting for the new Bronco, I don't think you'll be disappointed. The base trim starts right around $30,000, which is actually pretty affordable for an off-road capable SUV, so there's very little reason not to indulge yourself with a new Bronco this year.
2021 Ford Bronco Black Diamond
Base price: $38,795
Price as tested: $40,985
Type: Midsize SUV
Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (300 hp, 325 lbs-ft)
Transmissions: 7-speed manual or 10-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 20/22
Overall length: 189 inches
Curb weight: 4,997 pounds
Final assembly: Wayne, Michigan
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