Our first taste of the 2021 Ford Bronco was all too brief. Almost a year after the debut, a full day of bopping about in the hills outside Austin, Texas, followed by a morning of trail work revealed a remarkably capable off-roader that sacrificed very little for its fantastic on-road manners. But that short sample spin in the Bronco left us with plenty of questions.
The biggest of those was how would the Bronco fare in the real world. Ford's carefully curated route from ATX to its Bronco Off-Roadeo revealed precious little about the vehicle's highway manners, just how good it really is on rough tarmac, or how tolerable it'd be in traffic. Are the roof and doors difficult to put on and off? And what about the dreary EPA fuel economy? To answer these questions and others, we lined up a second spin in the Bronco, borrowing a rare First Edition model for a week of motoring in metro Detroit.
While this time served as an opportunity to further explore the Bronco's abilities as a daily driver, the timing – the week of the Woodward Dream Cruise – also provided a perfect opportunity to see just how popular Ford's long-awaited revival would be with the general public.
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Gallery: 2021 Ford Bronco First Edition: Review
Our rating system only finds the Bronco's interior and exterior design to be an 8, but to the folks of metro Detroit, this new vehicle is clearly a 10. From neighbors wandering over and poking around to the countless people at Ford's Woodward Avenue base where we parked the Bronco when we weren't cruising, passersby couldn't get enough of the Bronco. It's not that difficult to see why.
The boxy proportions are perfect on our two-door tester – the four-door model will unquestionably be the volume body style, but for sheer looks, you need to sacrifice practicality. It's all perfectly balanced, with the long hood, short wheelbase, and arrow-straight beltline complementing the rounded wheel arches and restrained character lines. Our First Edition adds some unique graphics, but in our opinion, this style tweak mars the Bronco's otherwise pure design.
The First Edition cabin treatment doesn't really work either, with black-and-blue leather upholstery (also available on the Outer Banks) clashing with too many of the Bronco's paint colors. Unless you order Area 51, Antimatter Blue, or one of the monochrome shades, you'll see an unpleasant mish-mash. That said, material quality on our pre-production First Edition felt higher than on the vehicles we drove in Austin, which is certainly a win for Ford.
One other point we weren't really able to consider in Austin: how the Bronco looks stripped down. Removing the roof and doors has an undeniable effect on this SUV's aesthetic, but it's not always a positive one. Yanking the thick doors reveals sizable sills and jambs that mess with the Bronco's lines – unlike the Jeep Wrangler, the Bronco looks arguably worse without doors. And speaking of that roof, our tester did exhibit some of the scaling that's afflicted early customer units, which Ford is (rightly) addressing with replacement hardtops.
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• Seating Capacity: 4
• Seating Configuration: 2 / 2
• Cargo Capacity: 22.4 / 52.3 Cubic Feet
There's no question the Bronco is a more comfortable and pleasant daily driver than a comparable Jeep Wrangler. Even fitted with 35-inch tires as part of the First Edition's standard Sasquatch package, the Ford has dramatically better on-road manners. Michigan's rough roads did elicit some poor body-on-frame manners, particularly on the bigger bumps, but the effect of those imperfections on the steering and overall stability was far smaller than what you'll find in a Jeep.
Where an impact reverberates through the Jeep's steering rack, forcing the driver to hang on for dear life, the Bronco simply shrugs these annoyances off. And on smooth roads, especially at interstate speeds, the Ford requires few course corrections despite its knobbly, oversized rubber.
One of our prime complaints in Austin was the amount of wind noise that crept through the removable hardtop and frameless side windows. While both the Bronco we drove in the Lone Star State and the one we tested in Michigan were pre-production models, it seems Ford has managed to tighten the tolerances since our first drive in June. While wind noise remained an issue here, it was on par with what you'd expect from a hardtop Wrangler. Road noise, thankfully, remains as hushed today as it was a few months back.
A week in the Bronco's 10-way power front seats has us taking back our critiques from the Austin drive – over several hundred miles and many hours sitting in traffic on Woodward Avenue, these chairs made a far better impression. There's a good level of support, with adequate side bolstering that kept us planted and assuaged our concerns about doors-off cornering. The seating position is quite good, too.
Our concerns over the tight second row remain, though. It's a knees-in-the-chest kind of place, although legroom is adequate at a claimed (but unbelievable) 35.7 inches. If you plan on hauling more than one other person, buy a four-door Bronco. Neither body style will address the Bronco's smallish cupholders, though. Considering the popularity of vacuum-sealed Yeti canteens with the Bronco's target customer, it's confounding that Ford added cupholders that are just a hair too big for the relatively slender bottles.
• Center Display: 12.0-inch Touchscreen
• Instrument Cluster Display: 8.0-inch
• Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: Yes
The heart and soul of the Bronco's tech suite is Sync 4, the latest version of Ford's infotainment system. Rendered on a gorgeous, bezel-less 12.0-inch display on the First Edition (an option on the Outer Banks and Badlands), it's a quick and clever setup that adopts a clean, minimalist aesthetic that kind of flies in the face of the Bronco's design. That inconsistency aside, Sync 4 is one of the best infotainment setups you can get from a mainstream brand.
The same is not true of the Bronco's semi-digital instrument cluster, which pairs a reconfigurable 8.0-inch display with an analog speedometer that's largely useless. Offset to the left and faced with a large digital speedo that sits more naturally in the driver's eyeline, we wish Ford would just bite the bullet and add a full digital suite here.
Something like the Mustang's 12.3-inch instrument display would also resolve the limited reconfigurability of this 8.0-inch unit – drivers can adjust information shown on the far right of the screen, but the menus are inelegant and occasionally confusing. The only way to change that info is via the rubberized buttons on the steering wheel, which are awkward to work with your thumb and, likely because of waterproofing, have a rubbery, cheap-feeling action.
One tech item we'll recommend without reservation, though, is the available Bang and Olufsen audio system. That's less because the 10-speaker setup is especially good and more because the Bronco's standard six-speaker unit is so underwhelming (one of the compromises that comes with removable doors). The optional speakers are bass-heavy and struggle with clarity when it comes to music with major mid and high notes. And because there are no speakers on the doors, no amount of fiddling with the balance can help the front-heavy sound. Still, they’re a marked improvement over the tinny and hollow six-speaker arrangement that comes standard.
• Engine: Twin-Turbocharged 2.7-liter V6
• Output: 310 Horsepower / 400 Pound-Feet
• Transmission: 10-Speed Automatic
We already know the Bronco rocks when it comes to slow, technical off-roading, so we focused our performance testing on real-world driving while mixing in some high-speed running on dirt roads.
Our V6-powered Bronco impressed at highway speeds, with ample passing power. That's little surprise, considering the accessible output of its twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 and the smart behavior of the 10-speed automatic. We've sampled this pairing in other Ford products before, and it's just peachy here. Off-the-line performance is a strong suit, too. The gearbox is quick to engage and after the slightest whiff of lag, the turbos spool and the V6 revs eagerly.
Handling on paved roads is excellent, with the independent front suspension giving us plenty of confidence that the Bronco will go where we want and expect it to. Mid-corner bumps do cause some skittering, but it's noticeably less dramatic than in a Wrangler and even bigger potholes or expansion joints rarely impact steering inputs.
Stow the doors and roof and the Bronco's body remains surprisingly rigid. Opening up a Wrangler is the fastest way to compromise the already limited handling. The Bronco, though, felt nearly as stable and confident with the doors/roof off as with them on. Handling is still cumbersome, but the directness and precision of the steering, even with 35-inch tires, is remarkable.
At the same time, the Bronco will happily bound down washboard roads at speed. You really need to be cooking for the impacts to overwhelm the chassis' ability to absorb them, especially with our tester's standard Sasquatch pack, which adds upgraded Bilstein shocks and a high-clearance suspension. Reach that point and the Ford will start to move around unpleasantly. The heroic steering makes corrections relatively easy, though.
• Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 1
• NHTSA Rating: Not Rated
• IIHS Rating: Not Rated
Driver safety might seem like a low priority on high-performance vehicles, be they track cars or off-roaders, but we appreciate an automaker keeping them in mind. The Bronco offers a full suite of Ford Co-Pilot 360 active safety technology, and it's all standard on the First Edition. You'll find full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic high beams.
The Bronco's lane-keeping assist does an admirable job, although the level of intervention could be quite a bit higher, especially considering the large rubber. The well-mannered ACC system performs well, though, managing speed smoothly and not jumping on the brake or accelerator too aggressively when traffic conditions change. The Bronco also has a killer set of LED headlights – we just wish the automatic high beams came on a bit more often.
• City: 17 MPG
• Highway: 17 MPG
• Combined: 17 MPG
The Bronco is so heavy, boxy, and square that it makes a barn look aerodynamic. And packing a moderately powerful twin-turbocharged engine, of course fuel economy is going to be lousy. The EPA rates the twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 in the Sasquatch-spec SUV at 17 miles per gallon in all three cycles. You will struggle to hit those numbers.
In fact, during our week of driving, we burned through a tank of fuel in short order and saw around 15 miles per gallon over several hundred miles of driving and what felt like several hundred hours of cruising. The small hint of good news is that the EcoBoost engine runs on regular fuel, so we'll take this opportunity to apologize to our accounting department for filling up on the good stuff.
• Base Price: $28,500 + $1,495 Destination
• Trim Base Price: $59,055
• As-Tested Price: $60,055
Prices for the 2021 Ford Bronco start at $30,640 for the imaginatively named Bronco Base – that figure includes a $1,495 destination charge, which Ford charges on all trims. Charging $2,140 in added fees is absurd, though, and rivals what many ultra-luxury brands charge for shipping. Getting into our First Edition tester would have required a total of $60,055 had you placed an order in July 2021 when the Bronco debuted. Nowadays, these limited-edition models are going for far more than that.
The closest analog to our test model is the Badlands trim with the Sasquatch package – that paring starts at $48,325 for a two-door model. The V6 engine adds $1,895, and you'll need the $5,085 Lux package to match all the equipment on the First Edition. You'll be going without the graphics, the First Edition badging, and the black-and-blue leather upholstery with this approach, but an out-the-door price of $55,600 is quite a bit easier to swallow.
Were we configuring a two-door Bronco, that $55,600 spec covers all the bases. We'd consider downgrading from the Lux package to the High package and saving $2,295. That'd require giving up a lot of equipment, though, from the upgraded audio system and heated steering wheel to the adaptive cruise control, and we're not sure that's a worthwhile sacrifice. Then again, Broncos are rarer than hens' teeth at dealers (many of which are charging premiums) and the order banks are backed up until the end of time, so hey, at least you'll have plenty of time to make up your mind.
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Gallery: 2021 Ford Bronco First Edition: Review
2021 Ford Bronco First Edition