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The all-new Bronco looks, feels and drives like it is ready to take on the world.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The 2021 Ford Bronco looks like a serious off-road vehicle — and it is, with a rugged four-wheel-drive system and underbody protection.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.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The spare tire for the 2021 Ford Bronco is hung on the tailgate, where you don't have to move your gear out of the cargo bay to reach it.

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.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - Despite its old school looks, the 2021 Ford Bronco is available with practically every advanced automotive technonolgy, including modern safety systems.

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.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The front bucket seats in the 2021 Ford Bronco are well bolstered to hold the driver and passenger in place over rough trails.

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.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The rear seats in the 2021 Ford Bronco are large enough for three adults.

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

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The 2021 Ford Bronco has enormous cargo space, and those with the removable plastic roof include fabric bags to hold and protect them.


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