Today, we’re keeping the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco side by side to dig into their key strengths, weaknesses, differences, and similarities.
These comments are based on thousands of kilometers of real-world testing on highway, off-road, winter and back-road conditions in central and northern Ontario. For more information on both machines (and tons of photos), you can check out my full review of each here on Driving.ca.
Below are my key impressions from comparing these machines as a pair, and additional information to help you make a better buying decision if you’re trying to decide between one or the other.
PROS: Ford Bronco
Think of the Ford Bronco as an automated off-road toolkit that’s big, tough, and very accessible.
A distinctly modern and rugged look reminiscent of a lunar rover, and on board the Bronco has my favorite technology suite of the pair. This is largely due to the more engaging infotainment system and displays, and the twist-to-select GOAT mode dial complete with animations and on-screen explainers that pop up as drivers switch between different driving modes.
As part of the user experience, drivers have fingertip access to the Bronco’s full 4×4 capabilities and driving modes, from a convenient central steering wheel with built-in control pad. Manipulating this interface requires numerous changes to the powertrain hardware and programming, optimizing the Bronco for use in specific challenging situations.
Additional features such as differential lock, traction control, sway-bar disengagement and the nifty Trail Turn Assist system can be called up by pressing one of several additional buttons clustered top and center on the dashboard.
With Trail Turn Assist engaged, the Bronco drives three wheels and locks the fourth relative to its steering angle. The result is literal “turn-on-a-dime ability” on slippery or loose surfaces. It’s a clever piece of technology that you can have a lot of fun with.
Even first-time mountain bikers will find the Bronco to be a confidence-inspiring and easy-to-use toolbox with a very accessible nature to its on-board controls and features.
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Other key Bronco strengths include the twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 powertrain that delivers strong low-rpm pull, and plenty of grunt for passing, merging, your daily commute, or trail adventures. With 330 horsepower, drivers can expect strong throttle response and low engine noise levels.
Finally, the Bronco delivers my favorite drive of the pair. On rougher roads, my tester’s controlled and cushioned suspension helped provide excellent body motion control for a less dramatic ride on rough surfaces and the ability to cover uneven ground quickly and comfortably—and with a smile on your face. Like the readily available technology on board, the Bronco’s tough ride encourages the driver to get out and have fun.
On the road, it is softer on uneven surfaces than the Wrangler, and more of the time. On the highway, it has the more precise and car-like steering and road feel of the pair. Drivers feel more connected to the road, more stable in motion and are likely to experience less steering effort to stay centered in their lane, compared to the Wrangler.
All told, one of the Bronco’s main strengths is how it manages to feel consistently comfortable, controlled and encouraging, almost regardless of the surface underneath.
PROS: Jeep Wrangler
One thing I really like about the Jeep Wrangler is its proven platform.
Jeep has been building the current-generation Wrangler for a few years now, and its most popular engine for much longer than that. The iconic 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 is one of the most mass-produced engines in the world and powers a platform with plenty of real world experience built into it. Many shoppers in the 4×4 universe tend to gravitate toward more proven platforms, and the Wrangler delivers here.
Available LED headlights deliver knock-out performance after dark. These are among the best headlights I’ve ever used, and well worth the upgrade. A Wrangler equipped with LED headlights will do you very well on dark, two-lane country roads.
The Wrangler’s interior is my favorite of the pair.
The signature thin line look and generous use of stitching and metal details give it a premium look that’s nicely finished, and to me it does a better job of supporting the machine’s price tag by giving your eyes and fingertips something nice to look at or touch virtually where they point. Much of the scenery in high-end models is very presentable, with glossy and metallic elements that sparkle before you like a Christmas turkey on the cover of Food Network Magazine.
I like the stiff ride of the Wrangler, which feels tailor-made to deliver a durable, tough truck-like ride that feels strong, tough and confident. The Wrangler rides like a tough truck and doesn’t try to feel like a car. Recent suspension and steering system improvements for the latest generation machine turn in an even more precise highway feel.
The central infotainment screen has sharp and easy-to-read graphics, a logical and easy-to-read layout, and crisp backup camera graphics for safer maneuvering in tight spaces.
Ultimately, the Wrangler will likely connect more easily with a shopper after a proven platform that feels durable and tough, an upscale cabin, a powerful lighting system and strong tech suite.
CONS: Ford Bronco
Of the pair, I had the most serious complaints with my Bronco tester, a lot of them as related to the cold.
On my winter test drive in northern Ontario, the Bronco’s rear swing gate struts frequently froze up, making operation of the heavy door more awkward and labor-intensive.
The cold also brought a significant amount of chirping and rubbing noise from the removable roof panels above. Although I found the Bronco’s ride on smooth pavement to be quieter than the Wrangler’s, the Wrangler’s roof can handle a rough road with virtually no added sound effects. In the Bronco, the almost constant roof screeching on rough roads was the biggest disappointment for the pair.
My tester’s rear door was also easily frozen shut by snow and ice buildup (kicked up by the front tires), on colder days.
I also wished some of the Bronco’s instrument controls were easier to see. The off-road equipment controls that top the dash use small and complex icons that are hard to see at a glance, and the climate controls are mounted low on the center stack where their small graphics and dark surrounds make them harder to read as well.
CONS: Jeep Wrangler
My Wrangler-related complaints are less than my Bronco-related complaints.
Key Wrangler issues include the pair’s higher ambient cabin noise, with highway cruising resulting in a significant amount of wind noise coming onboard.
In the back seat of my Unlimited model, the overhead cross member chews up some real estate right in front of the rear passengers’ foreheads, which can result in a more cramped feeling. In the Bronco, there’s no cross member here – meaning rear seat passengers will feel less claustrophobic. The Wrangler has less cargo space and backseat legroom than the Bronco as well.
In short, the Wrangler may leave some rear-seat passengers wishing for additional room and space.
Finally, the Wrangler’s use of a manual lever to engage its 4×4 system feels primitive compared to the Bronco’s electronic, animated and fully automatic system with built-in GOAT modes.
I’ve logged many fun (if noisy) miles in these two machines, and choosing one over the other is a tough proposition.
I’m not a fan of the Bronco’s squeaky roof or tendency to act up in the cold, but with a 330-horsepower engine, engaging controls, and a great ride on rough surfaces, it’s the most fun-to-drive machine this side — especially with Trail Turn Assist connected.
I prefer the overall ride of the Bronco to that of the Wrangler, although the Jeep’s interior styling and available lighting systems are important considerations for me. Thinking long term, I like the Wrangler better thanks to its more proven platform and 3.6L V6 powertrain.
My choice, for my own dollars? The Wrangler.
I would miss the more entertaining ride and features of the Bronco, and that oh-so-good suspension. For me, though, the Wrangler inspires a little more confidence as a buying decision, thanks to its better lighting system, more proven platform, and lack of winter-related noises and quibbles. Wrangler’s cabin also gives me a nice place to take everything in from.
Make no mistake, though: having to choose between these two machines is a nice problem to have.