The two SUVs seem to work from similar blueprints: Both have a rugged, boxy design with retro-style round headlights. Both flaunt the capabilities of their four-wheel drive systems through beefy off-road suspensions and knobby tires. Heck, both SUVs even have removable roofs and doors. But the similarities really end at these surface-level comparisons. Ford is a much more modern version of this proven formula and is much easier to live with every day.
Big Bronco Badlands
There are several trim levels to choose from when you spec your Bronco, each with a cool outdoor name like Big Bend, Black Diamond or Outer Banks. My example is a Bronco Badlands, and it’s arguably the sweet spot in the lineup, where the balance between street-friendly features and off-road capability starts to tip toward the latter.
Badlands upgrades include a more capable suspension, 17-inch aluminum wheels, 33-inch off-road tires, and a front stabilizer bar that can be electronically disengaged at the touch of a button for increased low-speed articulation. Inside, the Badlands have rubberized floors and marine-grade vinyl seats that can be easily flushed down when dirty. However, my example is equipped with the Lux upgrade package, which replaces the vinyl with leather.
Powertrain and performance
The Bronco is available with two EcoBoost engine options; Ford’s 2.3-liter turbocharged I4 is standard. Mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, this engine sends 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque through the Bronco’s standard all-wheel drive system.
My Badlands tester was powered by the upgraded option: a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6. It makes 330 hp and 415 lb.ft. of torque, and is also handled by a 10-speed automatic. Ford’s 4×4 system has electronic engagement, enabling on-the-fly shifts between its high-ratio four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive; it can even automatically switch between modes in its automatic/on-demand setting.
The Bronco can be had with a seven-speed manual transmission, and for 2022 you can pair it with the optional Sasquatch off-road package. Still, the manual only works with the four-cylinder engine, which is kind of a bummer for buyers looking to pair the best engine with the most interesting transmission.
Compared to a Wrangler, the Bronco is easier to drive. It’s more planted on the road with nicer ride and handling. The Bronco soaks up bumps at speed with far less drama and the steering is leagues better than the loose Jeeps. Road and wind noise is still pronounced on the highway, but it’s kind of on par with the track with a brick-shaped aerodynamic profile and 33-inch off-road tires.
Plus, the Bronco’s street-friendliness doesn’t seem to come at the expense of any off-road performance. You can still rip off the roof and doors and pull up the carpet when you want to get muddy, and the Ford is as capable as the Jeep in the vast majority of trail and overland situations.
Adding to the Bronco’s off-road prowess is a laundry list of track-ready technology. There are up to eight GOAT (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain – so yes, it should be GOATT) modes depending on the selected trim level, which are preset to improve performance over a variety of surfaces, and the settings include things like Mud/Ruts , Baja or Rock Crawl. On top of that, the Bronco has Trail Control, which is like low-speed cruise control for off-road driving. Trail One-Pedal Drive automatically brakes when you lift off the gas, increasing control on more technical crawls and steep descents. Trail Turn Assist reduces the Bronco’s turning radius by holding the brakes on the inside wheels while the outside wheels roll around – it’s much like Tank Turn and should only be tried off-road on low-friction surfaces.
None of the SUVs in this tough class boast particularly good fuel economy, but the Bronco is at least in the same ballpark as its competitors. When powered by the base 2.3-liter engine, the EPA estimates you’ll see 20 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. Upgrade to the V6 and you’ll downgrade to 18 city, 20 highway and 19 combined. This Badlands model with its big tires drops to 18 mpg combined and during my testing I averaged 18.8 mpg. By comparison, Toyota’s 4Runner is also estimated to return 17 mpg combined. Meanwhile, the Jeep Wrangler with its 3.6-liter V6 will manage about 20 mpg combined if you’re careful, but it’s also down on power by 45 hp and 155 lb.-ft. compared to Ford’s turbocharged V6.
Sync 4 cabin technology
The Bronco’s cabin technology is as impressive as the hardware under the chassis. This SUV is available with the latest generation of Ford’s Sync 4 infotainment technology, upgraded to a massive 12-inch center screen if you specify the High or Lux equipment packages. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard, as well as Alexa integration with Amazon’s voice assistant.
Opting for the Mid equipment package adds Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 driver assistance suite, which includes pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, automatic high beams and more. Choose the top Lux package to get all that plus adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic and evasive steering assist.
What’s new for 2022?
For the 2022 model year, the Bronco gets two new colors: Hot Pepper Red and Eruption Green. Additionally, there’s a new powder-coated steel bumper with LED fog lights – ironically deleted by this example’s Badlands upgrade – and an optional slide-out tailgate accessory.
The two-door 2022 Bronco’s base price rises to $30,795 — about $800 more than last year — including a $1,495 destination charge. Other trim levels see a $400 hike. This Badlands model starts at $43,990, but add-ons including the Cyber Orange paint ($595), the Lux package ($5,085) and the upgrade to the EcoBoost V6 ($1,895) pump the price up to $55,565 as-tested .
The Bronco’s premium price threatens to push top-spec models into competition with the Land Rover Defender 90 ($53,650) which is a much tougher foe to be sure, but adding any options to the Defender quickly prices it back out of that comparison. Of course, that’s before you factor in the dealer markups, flaws, and delays that have plagued the Bronco through its second year of production, meaning it’s harder to get one than you might think. If you’re shopping in this class, the question isn’t so much “Do you want the Bronco?” as it is “Are you willing to wait for the Bronco and then pay for the privilege?”
But with its friendlier on-road performance, more than enough capability, and a thoroughly modern suite of driving aids and cabin technology, the 2022 Ford Bronco is worth jumping through a few hoops for and stands head and shoulders above the competition.