The Reviews for the Bronco Are In . . . . and Ford Has to be VERY Happy
The first batch of new Broncos recently left Ford’s Wayne, Michigan facility, with many units destined to be put through their paces by the automotive press. Spy photos clearly showing the aesthetics of Ford’s new SUV have been far from rare, so we’ve long since known what the new Bronco looks like and with readily available spec sheets, we’ve known how it would be configured — but this introduction into the real world marks its proverbial moment of truth.
Big Stakes Involved
With so much riding on positive feedback, as you can imagine, Ford spent a considerable amount of time coordinating the testing of its rekindled model and, while it couldn’t possibly regulate the impression the Bronco would make, Ford could control when reviews would be released. Having them doled out to the public in dribs and drabs would diminish their impact, so Ford flew a legion of interviewers out to one of their Bronco Off-Rodeo locations, just outside of Austin, Texas, where these automotive journalists would have the pleasure of testing out an assortment of new Broncos on a set of challenging courses.
Ford cleared the way for these impressions to see the light of day on June 28th and, judging from the reviews thus far, the Bronco team at Ford must be feeling pretty good right about now. This was a high-pressure situation — no manufacturer goes through the rigors of planning out a model, let alone reinvigorating one that has been long dormant, without the expectation that the model in question will be around for a while.
An enthusiastic thumbs-up from the automotive press goes a long way toward creating the momentum needed to achieve this longevity. While bold styling has always been proven to be effective in attracting initial attention, if the Bronco’s capabilities and engineering were lacking, it would certainly spell trouble. Years back, the Dodge Prowler, despite being an undeniable head turner, got axed after six model years because it just didn’t provide a level of overall driving experience that appealed to a large enough audience.
Similarly, the Chrysler PT Cruiser played heavily on nostalgia, but a lack of fit and finish, as well as mostly lackluster engine options, led to its demise. Sure, it hung around for 10 model years, but during that time a lot of units were snapped up at heavily discounted fleet rates by rental car companies.
By all indications, reviewers were impressed by Ford’s eagerly awaited SUV. There were some observations where the Bronco could have been improved in some respects — the automotive press isn’t all that easily enthralled to start with and equipping the Bronco with its coveted balance of off-road prowess and on-road refinement naturally came with some accommodations that might leave off-road purists with some “notes”. But it appears that Ford has definitely hit a home run as far as achieving the balance they were shooting for. Most of the reviewers noted the comfort advantage the Bronco offers over its arch-rival, Jeep’s Wrangler, while also being suitably impressed by the Bronco’s agility.
The fact that most of the reviews use the Jeep Wrangler as a reference point hardly comes as a surprise. Ford saw an opportunity in the rugged SUV niche as they reimagined their iconic SUV to compete with the Wrangler after it had enjoyed a 15-year tenure as that niche’s standard-bearer. Just as was the case when the first-generation Bronco made its debut some 55 years ago, Ford did its research to determine its competitor’s shortcomings — the Wrangler has long been a respected off-roader, but its lack of comfort and less-than-refined ride could be improved upon.
The potential flip side of such a research-based approach is the concern that the final result may be overly derivative of the original. In the Bronco’s case, apparently there’s no such worry. Hagerty’s was impressed at what Ford’s arduous process has yielded, stating “At no point is it trying to be a Wrangler copycat; there’s a clear impact from wringing a focused 4×4 product through the Blue Oval’s leadership and development teams, resulting in a well-thought-out list of configurations, capability, and fun-having that’s accessible for anyone.”
MotorTrend was similarly glowing. Titling its review “Look Out Jeep Wrangler, The New Bronco is Coming for You, and it’s Armed to the Teeth” the respected publication took note of the Bronco’s many attributes, including its cabin, which it found to be noticeably more spacious than its competitor — definitely a plus for weekday commuters — and was impressed by the interior’s blend of nostalgic elements with modern functionality. Probably most pleasing for Ford was MotorTrend’s assessment of the Bronco’s off-road capabilities, describing the Bronco as “every bit as capable as the Wrangler and moderately easier to use.”
Jalopnik’s David Tracy states his findings even more directly, “The 2021 Ford Bronco is sensational, and that’s coming from a life-long Jeep lover and former Jeep Wrangler engineer.”
Motor 1 came away strongly convinced of the Bronco’s overall superiority, noting “We struggle to think of a situation where a Wrangler would serve us better than a Bronco. The Ford is just that good. But what impressed us most during our first test is how much better the Ford is on paved roads, where owners will spend most of their time.”
A Somewhat Controversial Decision Pays Off
Ford’s decision to go with an independent front suspension, as opposed to a live front axle, may have met with some pushback among off-road purists, but it looks like it’s yielding just the benefits that Ford was hoping for. A number of the reviewers made mention of the Bronco’s superior handling and tracking abilities. Road and Track noted that while the Bronco doesn’t quite offer the suspension clearance that the Wrangler does, it comes pretty darned close and “its independent front suspension is worlds more advanced than the ancient solid-front-axle setup found on every Wrangler.” And, while you wouldn’t normally consider corner carving as a primary pursuit from behind the wheel of a Bronco, Car and Driver did just that and was also pleased with the results.
Straight line acceleration isn’t always a top priority among prospective SUV owners, but there’s no doubt that it has become more of a focal point over the years. Jeep introduced the Wrangler Rubicon 392 with its 470 horsepower to quench this thirst for power and even the Toyota Land Cruiser, which is perceived by most to be relatively sedate, is powered by a 5.7 liter engine that’s good for 381 horsepower and more than 400lb-ft of torque. There has been plenty of pushback on Ford’s decision to forego offering a V8 Bronco and many wondered if its 2.7 liter, twin turbo EcoBoost would be up to the challenge of equipping the Bronco with the acceleration many buyers are now looking for.
As it turns out, it is. While Ford itself is in the process of pondering future prospects for increased Bronco power, the 2.7 liter V6 is a strong performer in its own right. Noted Motor Authority, “The big Bronco sheds its 4558 pounds like a big fella jumping into a pool, with an estimated 0-60 time in the low six second range when run in Sport mode.”
Ingenuity in Packaging
Considering there are no less than seven trim levels for the Bronco, arriving at just the array of features you’re looking for might seem like a research-intensive process. But one recurring theme among reviewers was the wisdom in Ford’s decision to make the coveted Sasquatch package available on even the base-level Bronco. As we’ve noted before, this particular trim level promises to be appealing to those buyers who plan on customizing their Broncos to their liking and the benefits that come with the Sasquatch package — beefy 35” tires mounted on very sharp-looking beadlock-capable wheels, remote-reservoir dampers, Dana front and rear locking axles, Bilstein shocks and a modified suspension to provide more ground clearance — definitely check off a lot of boxes in that process.
By contrast, there’s nowhere near that level of “a la carte” flexibility in configuring a Jeep Wrangler. Outfitting the Bronco’s chief competitor to your liking requires stepping up to a series of more expensive models to get the features you want.
One noted downside, as far as configuration is concerned, seems to be a common theme — Ford’s odd decision to omit Sport mode for the Bronco First Edition. Considering the vehicle’s $50k-plus price tag, this does seem counterintuitive.
There also seems to be a consensus that Ford hit a home run with the level of technology it lavished upon the Bronco. The featured G.O.A.T. modes were well-received and really seem to yield benefits not just in theory, but in practical application. The Detroit Free Press, which had previously extolled the off-road virtues of the Bronco Sport, also noted that the Bronco’s Trail Control was noticeably smoother than that of the parallel feature on the Toyota 4Runner and Ford’s One-Pedal Driving. The latter assists the driver over rough terrain by allowing the Bronco’s wheels to turn when the accelerator is depressed, then immediately locking them when it’s disengaged to avoid the undercarriage descending onto obstacles, and appears to work just as planned — although it’s worth mentioning that this feature is only available with the 2.7 liter V6 engine. The fact that you can lock the front and rear differentials, as well as unlock the front anti-roll bar, with the push of a button was also lauded in a number of the reviews.
We can see only one drawback to such overwhelmingly positive feedback being expressed, and it’s a great problem to have for Ford, as well as its dealerships. Demand for the Bronco is already at a fever pitch and it looks like it’s going to take quite a while for Ford to catch up with the orders already received. With the Bronco’s awesomeness now being confirmed by the automotive press, it’s unlikely that you’ll be finding any deals anytime soon.