Ford Bronco vs. Expedition - How Ford's New Off-Roader Fares Against the SUV That Once Took Its Place in the Lineup
The mid-’90s was a pivotal time for Ford. In response to a shifting landscape that saw buyers looking increasingly for comfort over off-road agility as they now viewed the SUV as a logical extension of the once revered station wagon, the company brought the 30 year production run of its revered Bronco to a close and, despite the understandable protests of the model’s fans, the move could be justified — in terms of logic, anyway.
A sobering oil embargo that drove up gas prices and led to odd/even rationing might have still been in the rear window, but even that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Bronco enthusiasts at the time. Bronco production hit its zenith in 1979 with a plentiful 104,000 units rolling off the assembly line.
But as we know, nothing remains constant in the automotive world. The Bronco’s stellar popularity would gradually erode through the years and by the time the early ’90s rolled around, that peak figure would give way to sales figures that barely reached the 30,000 mark. Ford had seen the proverbial writing on the wall and not long after the last Bronco rolled off the assembly line in 1996, retooling at the Wayne Assembly Plant began for its replacement, the Ford Expedition.
Ford’s planning was nearly seamless; there was almost no downtime between the Bronco’s production finale and the opening curtain for the Expedition. Despite both models being members of the same SUV automotive class, they were decidedly dissimilar in many respects. The Expedition, which would take over the Bronco’s place on the Ford SUV menu, was refined and practical in terms of its ability to transport families and large groups in relative style and was an undeniably good looking ride.
It still is, in fact, and while the Expedition’s recent production total of around 77,000 is far from dominant by today’s standards — by comparison its Ford stablemate, the Explorer, routinely sees production runs nearly three times higher — Expeditions are still easily spotted patrolling the asphalt.
Since the Bronco is slated to return shortly — despite a seemingly endless array of delays — it seems like a good time to look at these two models, side by side, and chart their relative weaknesses and strengths. After all, despite all the excitement surrounding the new Ford Bronco, buyers will no doubt want to know if it really is the SUV most suited to their wants and needs. How much everyday comfort will they be sacrificing in the name of exhilarating off-road agility? Will the Bronco really prove to be all that superior to the Expedition once the two models head off-road?
For the sake of comparison, we’ll look at the 4-door Bronco next to the Expedition. This will put this side- by-side examination in a more practical light, since buyers opting for the 2-door Bronco likely wouldn’t have been in the market for an expansive vehicle like the Expedition, anyway. Also, to be fair, the Expedition has never been positioned as an actual off-roader, despite its 4-wheel drive configuration, but since its price tag means most buyers wouldn’t be adding such an off-roader to their garage arsenal to take its place alongside it, there’s a good chance that the Expedition would see at least limited action beyond the asphalt.
By the same token, the new Bronco carries a substantial price tag itself, and while its cost may be totally warranted, that will also mean that Bronco owners will be expecting their new ride to perform double duty as a conqueror of rugged terrain on the weekends and well-mannered transport during the week.
So with both the 4-door Bronco and Expedition required to show some versatility, let’s see how they fare in terms of those standards by which we generally measure comfort and ability.
A Lap Around the Exterior
There’s a lot that goes into the impression a car makes, but it always starts with that initial impact made at first glance. Both the 4-door Bronco and Expedition are “specialty” vehicles of a sort — in that they admittedly aren’t for everyone and certainly not for those pondering the purchase of a sports car or mid-sized cruiser. Nonetheless, would-be buyers aren’t going to be willing to endure a harrowing driving experience brought on by an unwieldy, oversized ride and exterior dimensions play a big part in that equation.
There’s a fairly marked difference in length between the 4-door Bronco and the Expedition and, despite the former’s decidedly more outdoorsy identity, it’ll be far easier to navigate into city parking spaces. At 189” long, the Bronco comes in a full 21” shorter than the Expedition which, for a frame of reference, is about as long as the most compact of the Ford F-150s. Because the overhang in front and back is fairly substantial on the Expedition while it has been minimized to provide maximum agility on the Bronco, the difference in wheelbases is far less, with the Bronco’s 116” measurement coming in just a half foot shy of the Expedition’s. Both are stout, robust looking rides and carry the width that comes along with it — about 76” for the Bronco and 80” for the Expedition.
The upshot? From behind the wheel, the Expedition is likely to feel like more of a chore to drive in everyday situations, since its greater length means more vehicle to account for and its greater width will make it feel like there’s a bit less margin for error between lane markers.
On the other hand, in the curb appeal department, the Bronco takes it, hands down. We can easily see those spy shots of the 4-door Bronco jumping off the page and onto the asphalt, turning the head of every onlooker it may pass in the process. The Expedition is a good-looking ride, but it has remained essentially unchanged for quite some time and isn’t likely to capture all that much attention.
Beyond the Doors
Climb inside and you’ll see plenty of evidence that these two vehicles were designed for different endeavors and yet both remain viable as full-time options. While each vehicle is configured to seat 5 passengers when the Bronco is compared to a base-level Expedition, the Expedition’s capacity increases to 7 or 8 — depending on whether or not there are captain’s chairs up front — when its available third row is factored in.
Not at all unexpectedly, the Expedition enjoys a marked advantage in the spaciousness of most of its interior dimensions, but it’s probably not as much of a gap as you might think. Front and rear headroom, for example, are fairly close, with the Bronco’s 40.8” front and 40” rear tallies almost dead even with the Expedition’s 42”/40”. As far as legroom is concerned, that gap starts to widen — the Bronco’s 43.1” up front brings it to less than 1” behind the Expedition, but in back the latter enjoys a 5” advantage (41.5” vs. 36”) that backseat passengers are likely to notice. Factor in lateral dimensions like shoulder and hip room and things get more one-sided. The Bronco gives up 8” and 8.5” in front and rear shoulder room, along with 6” and 7” in front and rear hip room, respectively.
Looking at these figures, we can conclude that, if ferrying passengers around is your first priority, the Expedition will be able to do so while providing more comfort. And yet, the 4-door Bronco still carries dimensions that keep it very much up to the task of fulfilling this role without prompting any complaints from your passengers.
A look at performance figures is likely to render a multi-faceted conclusion. The Bronco’s top engine option is a 2.7 liter Ecoboost engine that delivers 310 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Official acceleration figures for the Bronco haven’t been released — it hasn’t been offered to the automotive press as of yet. But given the vehicle’s curb weight — which comes in at between 4500 and 5300 pounds, depending on configuration — and its gearing, most experts are predicting 0-60 times that will hover around the 6-second mark, which is pretty darned impressive.
In comparison, while it may seem that the Expedition’s more substantial size and marginally heavier curb weight (5450lbs) would see it get left in the dust in this respect, this isn’t the case. It’s armed with a 3.5 liter twin turbo V6 that puts out 375 horsepower and a stellar 470 lb.-ft. of torque and it absolutely aced its Car and Driver performance test, notching an eye-opening 5.9 seconds going from 0-60. And, as far as towing capacity is concerned, the Expedition is the clear winner, as it’s able to pull an impressive 9300lbs when properly equipped, which is more than 2.5 times the Bronco’s listed 3500.
So, with the Expedition holding advantages in a number of areas, you might be wondering if there are any areas where the Bronco can make up the ground needed to make a strong case for itself. As it turns out, there are plenty of them — all centered on those off-roading facets that make the Bronco so compelling even before examining the specs, because once you’re off the asphalt and onto more rugged terrain, things change . . . a lot.
Off the Asphalt
The Bronco absolutely excels in this environment, besting the Expedition in every specification that measures the ability to provide a stellar off-roading experience. And, coupled with its ability to stay within striking range in the other measures we’ve examined, this is where the Bronco builds a strong case for itself as a legitimate and inspired choice.
Armed with 35” tires, which many buyers will opt for — either through factory-offered option packages or through aftermarket sources — the Bronco features a substantial 43-degree approach angle, which measures its ability to climb from a horizontal plane to an angled ramp or other incline without scraping its front end or stranding itself in the process. Its departure angle — the counterpart measure for the rear end — comes in at a robust 37 degrees.
Its breakover angle which, simply put, gauges a vehicle’s ability to keep from running aground when negotiating off-road obstacles, is a strong 26.3 degrees. A look at each of these categories, confirms that the Expedition is best suited to remain on the asphalt, with its 24.7 degree approach angle, 21 degree departure angle and 20 degree breakover angle.
Should you find yourself tempted to negotiate a shallow stream or other water-based obstacle, the difference between the abilities of the 4-Door Bronco and the Expedition is crystal clear. While the Bronco has the ability to ford a 33.5” water depth with those 35” tires on board, the Expedition shouldn’t even make the attempt, as it’s vulnerable transmission components make attempting to traverse water any deeper than its mid-hub line — which we’d estimate at about 12-13” — a very bad idea.There are some key takeaways here. While we’re unabashedly Bronco-centric here, we do have to note that Ford has done a good job of keeping the Expedition relevant over its now nearly 25 year run. , Most compelling for us, and likely all those potential buyers who put a high premium on off-road agility, is confirmation that the 4-Door Bronco, when measured by impartial, objective criteria, is very much up to the task of performing both as a weekday commuter and weekend off-road fun machine.