Of course, even if a vehicle competes in a segment as narrow as this one—there are about five vehicles to choose from, including these two—you still have to stand out, and you really have to. When we talk about “halo” type vehicles like these, it’s the unique features that attract the most interest.
We’ll start with the Ford because, after all, it’s the new kid on the block (as much as it looks and traces its roots back to a much older kid on the block) and will have to prove itself against the Wrangler, which has somehow managed to get to the feat of being both the most iconic of classics and an ultra-popular model for Jeep on the sales front.
Behavior on the road
If the Bronco were to go bumper to bumper with the Wrangler, its ability to outrun the Jeep on the road would be a huge advantage.
After all, the Wrangler has never been considered the most agile (not by a long shot) or efficient vehicle, and the way pretty much every sound enters the cockpit can be jarring if you’re not in the right space.
Certainly the Bronco is the more comfortable vehicle on the road. It has an independent front suspension and a solid multi-link rear axle to go with the Wrangler’s solid front and rear arm setup and is just softer overall. Plus, while owners can peel off pretty much any panel, you won’t feel it here as much as you do in the Jeep.
Things get a little trickier with the short-wheelbase version as it’s bouncier and more Wrangler-like than the four-door, but it still represents an improvement over the Wrangler, especially in the latter’s two-door guise.
Interior styling, fit and finish
We’re almost talking apples to oranges here. The Jeep’s upright, analog-saturated switchgear throughout will appeal to fans of simpler times, but there are plenty of sharp corners. the controls for your locker and other terrain controls are hard to reach and plastic abounds.
There’s plenty in the Bronco, too – this is an off-roader first and foremost, and few will care or need nappa leather and suede – but it’s softer and easier on the eyes, most of your off-road controls nicely positioned and easy to now and it feels more spacious overall, especially in the back seat in the two-door version.
Inside the Bronco we find all kinds of technology including an optional 12-inch screen that is larger than anything offered on the Wrangler, a forward and downward facing camera that activates as soon as you select 4 low or Rock Crawl, Mud/Rut or Baja driving modes (there are no driving modes to speak of on the Wrangler), faster than ever SYNC infotainment and a digital gauge cluster.
Add in mechanical features like the Bronco’s ability to brake the inside rear wheel during slow turns to reduce the turning radius and its cruise control-based Trail Control system, and you’ve got a bonafide off-roader that hasn’t forgotten we’re here in the 21St century.
Bit of an asterisk here, because as we’ll see in a moment, the Wrangler’s 4xe option brings back some valuable points in this department.
When we’re talking traditional combustion, though, the Bronco’s 2.3-liter turbo four and 2.7-liter turbo V6 are smoother, more refined and more powerful than their counterparts in the Wrangler world. Sure; you can get a V8 as well as a diesel V6 in the Jeep, but they will never be volume sellers.
This one’s a close call, but the Bronco edges out the Wrangler because while it retains many of the cues from the original—the headlights (somewhat), the grill, the proportions, the silhouette—it really takes all of that to nth grade with huge wheels and tires, ultra-wide bodywork, removable fenders on some models, “gun sights” on either side of the hood intended to help line up the truck on off-road trails, thick roof rails and massive bumpers. Parked side by side, the Wrangler looks almost tame in comparison.
We raved about the Bronco’s technology, but the Wrangler’s more analog feel is also a big source of attraction for many buyers and an important aspect of the Wrangler cult. They like its simplicity, its purity, and the feeling that you’re that much closer to the Willys MB/JP that inspired the Wrangler, but that the needle has been moved just enough to know that this Jeep is way down the road from the original.
Keeping it simple
Sport, Willys, Sahara, Rubicon (throw in the Islander, if you like) – that’s pretty much it when it comes to your trim choices, this side of some special editions that are mainly cosmetic in nature. On the surface, the Bronco’s trim count looks about the same, but there are so many sub-packages that blur the line between actual trims and just add-ons that it all gets a little confusing. Like the truck itself, the Wrangler’s trim is nice and straightforward, which is a boon for buyers.
The plug-in thing
As much as we’re seeing a ton of love for the Bronco these days, the fact that there hasn’t been an announcement of a hybrid model of any kind is getting some creeps.
That’s especially the case when you consider that the Wrangler already has the 4xe plug-in hybrid model in its lineup and that it can be had across three different trim levels. It’s also a high-performance system that benefits the Wrangler both on and off the road. Add in the fact that a full-EV model is also on the horizon, and you could say the Bronco has some catching up to do.
Cost of entry
If you’re looking to save a few bucks, choosing the Wrangler will shave about $3,000 off the base price over a Bronco, though the two are much closer if we’re talking about the four-door models. Even though the Bronco is the newer vehicle, it’s a healthy savings for someone who may have always wanted a fun off-road vehicle and has saved enough Diner’s to finally pull the trigger.
There is a pickup version — sort of
The Jeep Gladiator is as close to a Wrangler pickup as we’ve seen in years; while it shares bits with the Ram 1500 line of pickups, it has all the style and elegance of a Wrangler. And as the saying goes: if it looks like a Wrangler, it’s a Wrangler.
How it all shakes out
As said before; while these two are dead ringers on the surface, they’re actually more two variations on a theme than anything else. You have the cult classic brawn-over-brains entry from Jeep, and a more technical, slightly more Hollywood entry from Ford. They’re both good options, and which one suits you best will become very clear when you get behind the wheel.