The First 2021 Ford Bronco Reviews Are In; We’ve Rounded Up the Best for You Here

You knew it's a soft-top 4x4 with retro looks and a lot of personality, now find out what it's like to drive.

After an eternity of fan speculating and a whole lot of hype the 2021 Ford Bronco, the new SUV with classic 4×4 energy that people have been dreaming about since that 2004 concept car, has finally been test-driven by review writers. Different from the crossover-unibody Bronco Sport released last year, the new Bronco’s a true body-on-frame off-road truck and a committed Jeep Wrangler rival. Recently, Ford held a big event in Austin to give some auto journalists some seat time, and now the lid’s off. Here’s what people think!

In this Review Rundown, we’ve collected quotes from a big group of car writers and video hosts to help you get a broad range of perspectives in one place. But if your favorite reviewer wasn’t in here, or if you were at the launch and have something to add, drop a contribution in the comments!

Here’s the Scoop

For a long time, the Wrangler has had the “new vehicle that feels like an old off-roader” class to itself. There are plenty of capable and comfortable SUVs on the market that can do amazing things off the pavement, but nothing’s really captured the fun and personality of the Jeep until now. The Bronco’s removable roof and doors, retro-looking design, and general vibe really speak to nostalgia in the same way. Well it’s the same, but, different. Most critically, the Bronco has independent front suspension rather than a solid front axle like Jeep. While hardcore wheelers always laud a solid axle for durability and simplicity, IFS should make this Ford a lot easier to handle on-road. That said, no vehicle with 35-inch tires is going to feel particularly nimble.

The Bronco is an all-new design, although some of the basic chassis development, powertrains, and other unseen pieces and parts are related somewhat closely to the midsized Ford Ranger.

Pictures

You’ll find a huge crop of Bronco pictures on Ford’s media site and of course, many of the below-quoted review writers took their own shots. But here’s a handful Ford published from its launch event location (Austin, Texas) to get you fired up.

Off-Road Driving Impressions

The Bronco is built to go off-road, duh. It can be ordered with factory 35-inch (huge!) tires, standard 4WD, a super-low crawler gear on the manual transmission. Sure, some of these trucks will likely end up being mall-crawlers, never seeing more than a blade of grass. Yet, if you do work up the gumption, the Bronco’s got you covered.

David Tracy for Jalopnik:

“Even without the locking differentials on, the 35-inch Goodyear Territory tires clawed dirt and rocks, and moved the Bronco along confidently. The 3.06 to 1 low-range gearing, along with the short axle ratios and short first gear ratios on both the automatic and manual meant the wheels always had more than enough torque to thrust the Bronco up and over steep terrain.”

Byron Hurd for Autoblog:

“Jalapeño [the name of a trail driven for the review] gets your feet wet (literally and figuratively) with some tight trails and deep ruts, and a flooded gully or three. We took this opportunity to try out a four-door Black Diamond model with the seven-speed, and the combination of 4-Hi and the crawl gear was a sublime match for the constant-speed sections that made up the vast majority of the trail. Some heavily washboarded high-speed stretches allowed the independent front suspension to flex (again, literally and figuratively) and left us impressed with its composure while bombing along on broken surfaces.”

Chris Paukert for CNET’s Roadshow:

“In particular, the benefit of being able to add the Sasquatch model’s hardcore off-road equipment to any model series becomes clear in such scenarios. As amazing as Jeep’s Rubicon-specific hardware is, it’s limited to higher-content, higher-dollar models, while Ford’s add-on solution feels more democratic and accessible.”

Kristen Lee for The Drive:

“The Bronco climbed up and down hills, forded creeks, and splashed through the mud like it was child’s play. It wheeled over boulders that would have mangled lesser vehicles, the metallic smacks on its bash plates sounding like applause. The steering, which felt a bit loose and vague on the highway, was lightweight and easy to manage quickly when I needed to feel out more treacherous parts of the trail.”

Dave Vanderwerp for Car and Driver:

“We put the Bronco’s capabilities to work at the one outside Austin, Texas, plowing through bumper-deep water, scaling mud-slicked rock faces, and making some awful scraping noises while the underbody skidplates did their thing. We think this is going to be a big hit with owners.”

Phillip Thomas for Hagerty:

“On paper, Ford has all the technical bragging rights on the Wrangler (looking at Jeep’s homework over the shoulder has that effect). In practice, too. There’s little concern over hanging a bumper off an obstacle, especially with the modular steel bumper that’s offered torn down to its minimal skeleton.”

On-Road Driving Impressions

The Ford Bronco’s independent front suspension may be a bit questionable to some off-road purists, but in theory it should reward the driver with significantly better on-road dynamics. Even with the 35-inch tires, the Bronco remains impressive on-road for what type of vehicle it is.

Tyler Duffy for Gear Patrol:

“The Bronco proved extremely well-balanced and well-tuned for road use. It still feels rugged and truck-based like an off-roader should; you get the ride height, you get the engine growl and the wind noise of a boxy shape traveling through air. The clutch is long, the long-travel stick shift smooth, with a satisfying thunk when you hit your gear. But this off-roader feel came with almost none of the sloppiness we’ve been conditioned to expect from that sort of vehicle.”

DW Burnett (photographer known as “puppyknuckles“) for Road & Track:

“When it comes to road manners, the Bronco does just fine, even on those monster 35-inch tires. Road noise is minimal, and the modular hard top keeps things relatively quiet and calm. Better to take them off, though. Going roofless in the Bronco is a totally great idea.”

Aaron Gold for MotorTrend:

“To summarize the on-road experience: It’s no fancy Italian exotic, but we think a cross-country trip in a 2021 Ford Bronco would be far more tolerable than one in a Jeep Wrangler, though not nearly as enjoyable as the same trip would be in a Land Rover Defender.”

On The Powertrain

The Bronco has two engine options, a 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo (with nearly 300 HP), or a V6 engine with a bit more gusto. Both engines are mated to a ten-speed automatic, but the four-cylinder engine can be had with a seven-speed manual transmission (6 speed + 1 low crawling gear).

About the V6:

Alanis King for Business Insider:

“Acceleration from the Bronco’s 310-horsepower V6 isn’t fast — this is a roughly 5,000-pound SUV, remember, and horsepower is always relative to weight — but it is enough.”

About the four cylinder:

Lyn Woodward for Kelly Blue Book (video):

“The smaller engine may not have the horsepower of the V6, but it’s lighter and definitely changes of the feel of the truck, making it even more agile.” 

About the manual transmission:

Kristen Lee for The Drive:

“The manual transmission is friendly! The clutch engages about a quarter of the way off the floor and the gear gates are spaced intuitively apart. There’s quite a bit of torque on tap, even with the four-cylinder, so you really don’t need to touch the throttle when taking off on a flat road.”

David Tracy for Jalopnik (who famously has lauded the JK Wrangler’s manual transmission):

“The throws are medium-length, possibly on the long side (just as I prefer it on trucks and SUVs), and provide a satisfyingly notchy sensation when sliding into gear.”

About the automatic transmission:

Chris Paukert for CNET’s Roadshow:

“As for that 10-speed transmission, Ford has been working with this unit for years now and it’s exacted continuous improvements after many of us found earlier versions in other vehicles to be indecisive. To be sure, I still observed some hunting around between gears on inclines under light throttle, but the gearbox was otherwise obsequious during my road drive.”

Byron Hurd for Autoblog:

“Our only real beef with the Bronco’s powertrain stems from the lack of a solid manual-shifting mode for the 10-speed. Ford’s allergy to paddle shifters continues here, leaving you only with the useless thumb-toggle for selecting individual gears. It’s unintuitive to the point where you’d probably never even bother unless you were forced to by some oddly specific set of circumstances. The one-pedal drive mode is a good substitute for using a dedicated low gear in many respects, which makes this shortcoming a bit more palatable.”

On Practicality

The Bronco is kind of a lifestyle truck, meant for people who want to have fun off-road. It will likely be used as someone’s daily driver, family hauler, commuter, so it has to be at least a little bit practical. So far, it seems like the Bronco cuts the mustard.

Alanis King for Business Insider:

“Logistically, back-seat passengers and cargo will be slightly more squeezed in the two-door Bronco than in the four-door one. Ford chopped from the rear to create the two-door model, placing the raised, stadium-style rear seats between the rear wheels instead of in front of them like in the four-door.”

Dave Vanderwerp for Car and Driver:

“Importantly, however, a need for rear-seat space doesn’t mean heading straight for the four-door. That model’s stretch in wheelbase and length goes almost entirely to additional cargo space—the four-door has more than 50 percent more—while its rear legroom increases by a scant 0.6 inch. Even this six-foot-five evaluator found sufficient space in the back of the two-door, and both Bronco variants have similar rear-seat space as a four-door Wrangler Unlimited.”

On Those Cool Removable Doors, and Other Fun Toys

The Jeep Wrangler’s removable doors, top, and windshield have been a hallmark of that model since basically the beginning of time. Removing the doors on a Wrangler is a very straightforward affair, Ford’s got some big shoes to step into. Are the Bronco’s doors as easy to remove as the Wrangler’s? So far, it looks like yes.

David Tracy for Jalopnik:

“It’s quick and easy, even if the tiny, easily-losable guide pin may not be the most elegant thing I’ve ever seen.”

Dave Vanderwerp for Car and Driver:

“The available protective covers for the removable top panels and doors are labeled in a way that even a first-timer will find them easy to work with. Each one has a little graphic depicting which piece it holds and where to store it in the cargo area, plus a QR-code link to an instructional video.”

Aaron Gold for MotorTrend:

“One of our favorite features is Trail Turn Assist, which brakes the inside-rear wheel to help bend the Bronco around sharp turns. It’s especially helpful with the longer-wheelbase four-door model. If the terrain looks too intimidating, the Bronco also has a crawl-control mode that will keep it moving at a speed you set in half-mph increments, uphill or down.”

Carlos Lago for Edmunds:

“The soft-top and hardtop roofs are also easy to remove. The soft folds back like a convertible’s, and the hardtop comes off in large panels. There’s no center overhead bar connecting the Bronco’s middle roof pillars (the B-pillars) like you have in the Wrangler, so you get an unobstructed view of the sky when you look up. Remove the doors and roof, and the result is just fun.”

The Drive‘s Kristen Lee got a little demo about removing the Bronco’s doors and top you might be interested in too:

On Value For Money

Ford’s going for Jeep’s neck with the Bronco’s aggressive pricing. If you’re in the market for this type of vehicle, the Bronco’s price makes it very competitive against the Jeep. Fuel economy doesn’t seem to be the Bronco’s strong suit, though.

Kristen Lee for The Drive:

“The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon starts at $40,795. Meanwhile, the $4,995 Sasquatch package is Ford’s answer to the Rubicon—with the extra bonus of 35-inch tires, which the Rubicon just now started to offer—and you can also get it on the base Bronco, where a few other necessary additions bring the starting price to $37,380.”

Dave Vanderwerp for Car and Driver:

“The most efficient Bronco achieves 20 mpg city and 22 highway. Although the Wrangler puts up better numbers, part of its advantage is that the aggressively tired variants, such as the Rubicon, don’t get separate ratings.”

Byron Hurd for Autoblog:

“In the end, the real winner here is you. If you want a good, affordable fun car with some off-road chops and boundless personalization support, there are now two excellent options in the space. So long as they’re keeping each other honest, we benefit.”

Verdict

The First 2021 Ford Bronco Reviews Are In; We’ve Rounded Up the Best for You Here
Image: Ford

By in large, it seems as if the Bronco is everything we’ve been waiting for. It’s good looking, well equipped, very capable off-road, and not too expensive. It looks like Ford’s got a hit on its hands! Now, of course, first drive impressions tend to be the rosiest since they always take place in an environment heavily curated by the automaker to make the vehicle look good and test drivers feel good. But between America’s love of SUVs, the Bronco nameplate’s cachet, and nostalgia in general, I think it’s fair to guess we’ll be seeing a lot of these soon. Stay tuned for longer tests as these make their way into loaner fleets and owners’ driveways.

Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Kevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.