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Review: 2021 Ford Bronco: Icon is back, rugged and handsome

It’s been 25 years, but the Ford Bronco is back. The sixth generation of the former compact off-road-geared utilitarian vehicle has re-emerged. It’s available for the first time as a mid-sized, two-door sport utility vehicle.

Used Bronco prices have dramatically increased with buyers perhaps remembering the family workhorses from decades ago. The Bronco debuted in 1965 as a 1966 model and as the first SUV. Its fluctuating success was matched against the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout.

The 2021 Ford Bronco is more handsome and more rugged than its predecessor. Images © James Raia/2021
The 2021 Ford Bronco is more handsome and more rugged than its predecessor. Images © James Raia/2021

The Bronco’s demise was often attached to the notorious 1994 low-speed police chase of former NFL running back O.J. Simpson. He was the back seat passenger in a white 1993 Bronco XLT driven by Al Cowlings on Interstate 405 in Southern California. The occasion was watched live by an American television audience of approximately 95 million.

Ford Bronco: Notorious history

The Ford Bronco became notorious as the “O.J. Simpson getaway car.” But when production stopped in 1996, it was a reflection of diminishing sales. More than 104,000 of the versatile SUVs were sold in 1979; only 34,000 were sold in 1996. During a few years, sales tallies fell to slightly more than 25,000.

An homage to its long-ago departed family predecessor, the 2021 Bronco 2-door 4×4 is available with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost I4 turbo and a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 twin-turbo. The latter, as reviewed, offers 330 horsepower with a 10-speed automatic transmission. There’s also a four-door model.

The new Ford Bronco can tow any travel trailer under 3,500 pounds, including travel trailer models Jayco Jay Feather, Coachmen Clipper and Forest River’s rpod. It’s engineered to be flat towed behind an RV, with the exception of the Sport Model.

Like the Jeep Wrangler, the Bronco’s frameless doors are easy to remove and can be carried in available covers inside the car. With its larger size, the Bronco’s chassis and powertrain are closer to the Ford Ranger.

The Ford Bronco is back after a 25-year absence.
The Ford Bronco is back after a 25-year absence.

With the rear seats up, two-door Broncos offer 22.4 cubic feet of storage space, which is satisfactory. The two-door model, however, is restrictive for rear seat occupants’ entry and exit. It requires flexibility at the least. It requires another person’s assist at the worst. Albeit more gently, the maneuver is not-too-dissimilar from pushing hard to make clothes fit into a suitcase.

With its rugged looks and bold driving demeanor, shifting through gears while negotiating trails may seem preferred. But the automatic transmission offers a better choice for freeway driving and it includes more advanced technology. A low-speed, off-road cruise and a one-pedal braking system provide lots of options.

Ford Bronco: Back, rugged, handsome

The new Bronco has an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in combined city/highway driving with the four-cylinder regardless of transmission. The automatic-only V6 gets an estimated 19 mpg combined.

With its newly styled interior and exterior, the new Bronco is still a Bronco. The new block letters across the narrow horizontal grille are handsome.

The interior features soft, well-constructed seats matched with lots of masculine grab handles. The horizontal dash has big dials and levers. The dash features an eight-inch or 12-inch infotainment screen plus a 6.5-inch driver information screen.

All occupants (maximum seating of four) sit high with an impressively open view from all angles.

As expected, or perhaps preferred, the Bronco offers a bumpy-feel-everything ride. It’s an off-road master, and slightly out of place as a daily driver. Don’t expect any sense of calm on the road.

Ford Bronco: Moves forward, respects past

The two transfer case options include an electric shift-on-the-fly unit, offering 2Hi, 4Hi, 4Lo and neutral. The optional upgrade with electromechanical shifting adds a full-time 4-Auto mode.

Pricing throughout the seven-trim lineup in the 2-door model begins at $28,500 for the base model. The long-ago sold-out First Edition is priced at $59,305. The reviewed Badlands trim begins at $42,095. Four-door models in all trim levels begin at $2,000 more.

The new Bronco lineup, with standard equipment, has a tow rating of 3,500 pounds. It’s the same rating as the four-door Jeep Wrangler but only with its optional tow package. The Bronco’s optional towing package includes a 2-inch Class II receiver as well as four-and-seven-pin connections. A trailer brake control is not available.

Long anticipated, the new Bronco represents everything enthusiasts enjoyed about the previous Bronco. It’s refreshingly modern and bold and comes with a nod to yesteryear.

James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: james@jamesraia.com.

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Bruce
10 days ago

Seen quite a few out there. Seem like glorified Ford Escapes to me. But I’m a Jeep fan so a little biased

Bob M
11 days ago

I read that ford is coming out with a baja racing addition. It’ll be limited to 50 and have the V8 Coyote engine and cost upwards of $200,000.