Road test: refreshed Ford Bronco looks set to give Jeep Wrangler a run for its money

The rugged off-roader is back after a 25-year hiatus

It’s one of the most well-known names in the automotive world and it’s back after a hiatus of 25 years: it's the new Ford Bronco.

As is the current design trend, the 2021 Bronco is a retro-inspired release off the back of a 2004 concept that was based on the 1966 original. With its clip-on panels and removable roof, it gives Jeep Wrangler customers another option when looking for a new purchase.

Two engine options are available, comprising a 2.3-litre turbo 4-cylinder and a 2.7-litre, turbocharged V6 as tested. This is backed by Ford’s near-seamless 10-speed automatic transmission.

The V6 develops 330 brake horsepower and 563Nm of torque and comes in myriad body and trim styles mixing four trim levels across both a short and long wheelbase.

Our test car was Wildtrak, which sits under the flagship Badlands and above the entry-level Big Bend and mainstream Outer Banks models.

The names would be familiar to off-roaders across the US and a nice change from the regular numerical or letters to indicate models, but will take some convincing in the office car park to prove which is the higher-spec based purely on the name.

A car that makes a statement

If you don’t want attention, then maybe this isn’t the car for you, as I was greeted with camera phones and waves from strangers each time I took the Bronco out. Its 35-inch mud-plugger tyres mounted on 17-inch rims make a statement, as does its ability to transform depending on your mood.

In little under an hour, one person can remove the three-piece roof and unclip the doors of the Bronco, or leave the rear portion of the roof in place and enjoy a targa-style arrangement. If the lack of doors is a concern, there’s also optional safety bars that can be clipped into place that’s effectively a door without its outer skin.

The roof panels can be safely stowed behind the rear seats in their labelled pouches, though there isn't much room for the doors, which might need to be left at home in advance.

There’s no such limitations, however, for the long-wheel-base five-door Bronco. Fun and stylish, it most definitely is, but this versatility comes at the expense of interior noise. With three pieces of removeable roof in place, wind noise was noticeable at speeds above 100 kilometres per hour, to the point it sounded like a rear window was open while the road noise from its giant tyres also hounded the cabin at speed.

An all-weather adventure machine

This is not a complaint, as the Bronco is built for a purpose and being quiet on highway runs is not it. It’s no worse than a similarly equipped Wrangler, as these vehicles are all-weather adventure machines and with that comes certain compromises that I could live with if I intended to use the Bronco for its stated purposes and not simply urban commuting.

Another indicator as to its all-weather intentions are the waterproof buttons throughout the interior and rubber mats in place of carpet. While buttons for the windows, mirrors and most of the ancillaries, including the steering wheel, are sealed under a rubber coating, making it a hose-out interior, I’d still be very cautious about that given the 12-inch display for the entertainment centre seemed like standard fare not protected by any special coating for the elements.

The switch gear, at least, should survive being sprayed with fine sand after some dune blasting with the roof and doors off.

A further concession to this is the reduced number of touchscreen functions with most items being big, old-fashioned physical buttons and rotary dials that can be used while wearing gloves in the snow or tradesmen’s gloves if you’re winching. Ford also offers an integrated winch mount with its heavy-duty modular steel bumpers for the serious off-roaders.

'Early impressions are promising'

It does still come with Ford’s Sync 4 entertainment and navigation system and has wireless phone charging. A great but simple initiative is a gadget mounting bar on top of the dash that lets you mount a phone, GoPro, GPS Navigation devices, etc, securely and safely, so no more suction cups stuck to the windscreen blocking your vision.

Up to seven drive modes are offered, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, with Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl for off-road driving, while there’s both a basic and an advanced 4x4 system available across the range.

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Ford’s engineers had no choice but to come out fighting with an aggressive package that should prove unbreakable

The base system has a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case, while the optional advanced system features a two-speed electromechanical transfer case that adds an auto mode for on-demand engagement to select between 2H and 4H.

A neat off-road assistance package also lets you negotiate tight turns if you’re sandwiched between boulders or ruts that uses a torque vectoring system to transfer torque to one wheel in order to tighten the radius, while the Trail Toolbox also includes one-pedal driving for slow crawling that allows for better throttle and brake control on steep and slippery descents.

Underneath, there’s 11.5-inches of ground clearance with a maximum of 26.3º breakover angle and 37º departure angle, plus an impressive wading depth of 850mm that’s almost as much as the new Range Rover.

The new Bronco landed with a strong reputation to uphold despite not being on sale for a quarter of a century, but with its rugged looks and taking on one of the toughest off-roaders in the game, namely the Jeep Wrangler, Ford’s engineers had no choice but to come out fighting with an aggressive package that should prove unbreakable. The early impressions are promising at least.

Specs

Engine: 2.7-litre V6 turbocharged

Transmission: 10-speed auto

Power: 330bhp

Torque: 563Nm

Price: from Dh183,645 for the Big Bend 2dr; Dh252,945 as tested

Updated: November 4th 2021, 5:36 AM