It’s clear from just looking at the Ford Bronco that the brand designed the vehicle to take on the Jeep Wrangler. From its removable top and doors to an overall sense of adventure, the Bronco is aimed squarely at off-road and outdoor enthusiasts, the exact same customer already lusting after the Jeep Wrangler.
We haven’t been in the Bronco or even laid eyes on it in person yet, but that’s not stopping us from taking the specs from the new Ford and comparing them head-to-head with the Jeep Wrangler.
The first thing you should know about the 2021 Bronco is that if you’re waiting with bated breath for one, you’ll be waiting until at least spring 2021. At least there are plenty of options and trims to look through until then.
So many choices!
The 2021 Bronco is available in six distinct trims (seven counting the first edition limited to 3,500 units for the US only), with five content packages available in each. There are tons of choices when looking at the Bronco, and we haven’t even looked at the Sasquatch pack yet. With front and rear lockers, 35-inch tires, long-travel off-road suspension, Bilstein shocks and 17-inch beadlock wheels, the Sasquatch package can be added to every single Bronco model, meaning even buyers of the base Bronco can get it the best off-road equipment. On its build and price side, the Jeep Wrangler lists 13 distinct packages, although the mix-and-match capability of the Bronco certainly eclipses that of the Wrangler.
If you want the best off-road Wrangler, you want a Rubicon. On the Bronco, the ultimate off-road model is listed on the Badlands, which comes standard with 33-inch tires just like the Wrangler Rubicon, but there is one trim that packs the Sasquatch package as standard equipment: the Wildtrak. This is the Bronco’s desert runner, which gets a wider track than other Bronco models, along with the big 35s right out of the gate.
Comparing the numbers tells two different stories, so let’s look at both the base numbers and the Bronco Wildtrak vs. the Wrangler Rubicon.
Off-Road Numbers Showdown
Basic Broncos come with a set of 30-inch tires that offer 8.4 inches (213 mm) of ground clearance on two-door models and 8.3 inches (211 mm) on four-doors. The base Wrangler Sport offers 9.7 inches (246 mm) of ground clearance, aided by a set of 31.5-inch tires. So at the base level, the Jeep is superior, but that story changes when you load these vehicles with gear. A Bronco Wildtrak comes with 11.6 inches (295 mm) of ground clearance as a two-door model, compared to the 10.8 inches (274 mm) of ground clearance offered by the Wrangler Rubicon.
This story is the same for every angle. Base two-door Broncos offer 35.5-degree approach, a 21.1-degree breakover angle and 29.8-degree departure, handily beaten by the two-door Wrangler’s standard setting of 41.4 degrees, 25-degree breakover and 35.9-degree departure.
Looking at the two-door Wildtrak, those angles increase to a 43.2-degree approach, 29-degree breakover and 37.2-degree departure, a big jump over stock. On the Jeep, the differences between top and bottom aren’t nearly as great, as the two-door Wrangler Rubicon comes with a 44-degree approach, 27.8-degree breakover and 37-degree departure, making these two vehicles extremely similar in the clearance department.
Drivelines and gears
Ford may have the choice when it comes to trim and equipment, but the Wrangler has a wider breadth of powertrain options. Base Wranglers come with a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 with 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, with two upgrade options: a 2.0-liter turbo I4 with 270 hp and 295 lb-ft, and a 3.0- liter V6 turbodiesel produces 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque.
Two transmissions are available in the Jeep: an eight-speed automatic or a six-speed manual, although the option to row your own gears is only available with the 3.6-liter V6.
Sticking with its EcoBoost turbocharged strategy, Ford offers two forced-induction engines for the Bronco: a base 2.3-liter turbo I4 with 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, or an upgraded 2.7-liter turbo V6 with 310 hp and 400 lb-ft
Two transmissions are also available with the Ford, either a ten-speed automatic or a seven-speed manual, and like the Jeep, the row-your-own option is limited to one engine, but that’s not all that can get you to choose automatic. Only the smaller 2.3-liter is available with a manual, and you also can’t get the Sasquatch package with a manual transmission. In that department, Jeep has a leg up, offering a manual on its most off-road-worthy model.
The extra gear in the Bronco manual is crucial, though, because Ford designed it as an ultra-low-creep transmission, meaning the Bronco uses six gears in everyday driving. That crawler gear allows for a 94.75:1 creep ratio from the Bronco, beating out the 84:1 from the manual-equipped Wrangler.
Size and weight
The Wrangler has an ability to fit well on even the narrowest of trails thanks to its trim proportions, so let’s look at how these two vehicles compare in overall size. The overall length of the new Bronco is 173.7 inches (4,412 mm) for two-door models and 189.5 inches (4,813 mm) for four-doors, compared to 166.8 inches (4,237 mm) for two-door Wranglers and 188.4 in. (4,785 mm) for four-door Jeeps.
The wheelbases are close in dimensions, but there is some difference. The Wrangler two-door has the shortest wheelbase at 96.8 inches (2,459 mm) compared to the Bronco’s 100.4-inch (2,550 mm) two-door wheelbase, while the four-door Broncos has a shorter wheelbase of 116.1 inches (2,949 mm) than four-door Jeeps at 118.4 in (3,007 mm).
Base Bronco models are the narrowest in the lineup at 75.9 inches (1,928 mm), though the Wildtrak model is stretched to a whopping 79.3 inches wide (2,014 mm). All Wrangler models share the same width, which is narrower than even the narrowest Bronco, which measures 73.8 inches (1,875 mm).
Towing capacity is pegged at 3,500 lb (1,588 kg) for both the two- and four-door Bronco. Four-door Wranglers are good for 3,500 lb, too, although two-door Jeeps can tow just 2,000 lb (907 kg).
Having the appropriate equipment list is something Ford knew it needed to tackle the Wrangler, and aside from one glaring difference, the Bronco has all the necessary equipment it needs.
That difference in philosophy comes from the Bronco’s independent front suspension, a feature that should help with on-road ride and handling, though it does give up some articulation to the Wrangler’s solid front axle. A disconnecting sway bar is available on both machines to maximize that flex potential.
Locking differentials can be found front and rear on both the Wrangler and Bronco, and each has a Dana 44 rear axle. Off-road modes favor the Bronco with its seven different settings, while the Wrangler now packs Off-Road Plus mode.
It’s clear from the numbers that Ford is really trying to hit Jeep where it hurts, well, all the numbers except price. In Canada, the Bronco two-door starts at $40,199 while four-door models start selling with an MSRP of $45,749. Go for a Wildtrak four-door, and we’re talking $61,944.
Now consider that the Wrangler starts at $33,481 for a two-door, $40K for a four-door, and a four-door Rubicon model starts at $47,135, severely undercutting that Wildtrak model by over $13K.
And what’s more frustrating is that this price gap doesn’t exist in the US. Base two- and four-door Bronco models will sell for $29,995 and $34,695, respectively, much closer to the Wrangler’s US base prices of $28,295 and $31,795. [The disparity can be partially attributed to when these prices were set – the Bronco’s Canadian pricing is based on current exchange rates, while the Wrangler’s Canadian pricing is based not only on the exchange rate when it was introduced at the end of 2017, but also historical pricing for the nameplate. It’s not that the Bronco is overpriced, but rather that the Wrangler’s price is artificially low compared to the current exchange rate. –Ed.]
Ford clearly did its new homework with the Bronco to make sure it will be competitive off-road, but with its high pricing, there’s a premium to pay for all that capability compared to the similarly packaged Wrangler. This segment saw Jeep move 228,000 Wranglers last year, and now we begin the long wait to see if the Bronco can actually take a significant amount of that pie.