The Ford Bronco gives the Jeep Wrangler serious competition

I realize the Ford Bronco wasn’t the inspiration behind the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but I think it fits very well.

I mean, just look at this thing.

Now, I’m going to spin a few words here and talk about its relative merits, but the Bronco is one of a handful of vehicles that really doesn’t need a great deal of exposure. You see it, you get it. Right? Right.

Count me as one of those who, when I first saw a photo of the new 2020 Bronco, which is back in Ford’s lineup after a 25-year absence, knew exactly what it was all about: off-roading.

Sure, you can drive a Bronco around town in two-wheel drive, but the happy place for this SUV begins where the pavement ends. More on that shortly.

First, some Bronco basics. The most obvious is that it can be had with either two or four doors, just like its primary competitor, the Jeep Wrangler. Second, just like the Jeep, Bronco doors and roof can be removed for the ultimate Baja experience.

The other thing worth mentioning is from a product positioning point of view. Ford has chosen to apply the Bronco name to two product lines: the ultimate off-roader seen here, and a more civilized version, known as the Bronco Sport, which has off-road capability, but also shares the chassis and powertrains with the mall-friendly Escape crossover.

You can certainly take the Bronco to the mall and for groceries (which I did), but you should also hit the trails too (which I did too). I’ll let you guess which scenario was funnier.

In any case, the Bronco is built on a platform shared with the Ranger mid-size pickup and is available with two engines and two transmissions.

On the engine front, all grades except the Wildtrak are equipped with a standard 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder (275 hp/315 lb-ft.) with a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 (315 hp/410 lb-ft.) available as an choice. For the Wildtrak, it’s just the V6. Both engines run well on regular gas, but premium fill-ups will crank out more power: 2.3 – 300 hp/325 lb-ft; 2.7 – 330 hp/415 lb-ft.

As for gearboxes, it’s either a seven-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic. Note that the manual can only be paired with the four-cylinder engine, while the automatic can be had with both.

My tester is a top-of-the-line Wildtrak two-door, so it comes with a standard V6, but the larger engine is optional on the other five models.

Standard chassis for the Wildtrack includes electronic locking front and rear axles, high-clearance suspension, 4×4 with automatic engagement on demand and electronic traction control. The Sasquatch package—which adds 17-inch tires capable of locking the wheels, 35-inch off-road tires, front and rear locking differentials, Bilstein position-sensitive monotube shocks, 4.7 final ratio, and high-clearance fenders—is also standard issue.

Inside, a push-button starter, remote start system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, four USB ports (two front, two rear), two 12-volt chargers and six drink holders are among the many items standard in the Wildtrak cabin.

Since the Bronco is so unassuming, I’ll try to be brief: you either dig it or you don’t, there’s no in between. Personally, I think its box-on-wheels, Tonka toy look suits its mud-splattered, off-road character. Ford’s designers have leaned into its heritage just enough—raised stance, round headlights, and a lot of Easter eggs (est. 1966 stenciled on the lower windshield)—to appeal to a broad swath of consumers, including those who remember older Broncos and those who don’t do it. I think the right balance has been struck – the Bronco should look cool, and it does.

Inside, there’s enough comfort and technology (12-inch infotainment display, heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, USB ports, wireless charging pad, etc.) sandwiched between its many rubberized handles, cup holders, storage bins and wipe-clean upholstery panels to justify the near-70 price tag 000 dollars. But I’d argue that none of that is why you buy a Bronco, and Ford realizes that. The interior has to be just civilized enough to compete with the Wrangler, and on that point, it’s mission accomplished. There isn’t much space for cargo or passengers, but the interior suits the vehicle: ruggedly stylish and highly functional.

OK, time to get down to brass tacks: driving impressions.

Off-road, this thing is as much fun as it gets. Its automatic on-demand 4×4 with GOAT (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) terrain management system, which has seven modes, makes off-road driving a blast. In addition to 2HI, 4LO and 4HI, the 4×4 system has a 4AUTO setting that continuously varies torque delivery to the front wheels for better off-road traction via a two-speed electromechanical gearbox.

And I needed every bit of extra grip I could get on the trail I was on that was starting to melt, but still had a good eight-10 inches (203.2 – 254mm) of snow and slush on top of a muddy base. I varied the GOAT mode selector between slippery and mud/trail which along with a locking rear diff (mud/trail) helped me through the deepest snow. That, and 35-inch all-terrain tires and the highest ground clearance (11.6 inches/294.6 mm) in its class.

The other feature I found quite useful for off-roading is the forward-facing camera, which provides a clear view of road tracks ahead that are otherwise obscured by the Bronco’s long hood and high ride height. The heavy-duty modular front bumper and steel bash plates ($1,000) also seem like a good investment based on my experience.

For as much fun as the Bronco is off-road, its status as a balance vehicle becomes more apparent on the tarmac. All-terrain tires are good on snowy trails but are quite noisy on pavement, while the Bronco’s ride can be shaky and bouncy over frosty and broken roads. Swapping the all-terrain for quieter SUV rubber helps, of course, but doing so defeats the Bronco’s off-road mission. That said, the turbocharged EcoBoost V6 provides quick throttle response and delivers acceptable, but not great, fuel economy.

In the end, I like the Bronco. I wouldn’t necessarily want to drive one like this every day, but for weekend off-roading it doesn’t get much better. Plus, it looks cool and can be ordered to be as simple or loaded as you want. The two-door is short on space and its wheelbase makes a jittery ride almost inevitable, but if that’s a real problem, go for the four-door. Or the Bronco Sport, if you’re looking for a Bronco more suited to everyday driving.

Either way, the Wrangler now has some serious competition, and that’s a win for the consumer.

The 2022 Bronco is now on sale and has some changes to the lineup and equipment packages and options compared to the 2021 model I drove. Visit ford.ca or your local Ford dealer for more information.

The vehicle was provided to the author by the car manufacturer. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.

2021 Ford Bronco Wildtrak

Body Style: mid-size SUV

Driving method: Front engine, four-wheel drive, 10-speed automatic transmission

Engine: 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 (315 hp / 410 lb-ft; 330 hp / 415 lb-ft with 91+ octane)

Fuel Economy: (Regular 87) 14.0 / 13.9 / 13.9 L / 100 km city / highway / combined

Cargo volume: 1,481 / 634 liters (52.3 / 22.4 cu-ft) (behind first / second row)

Maximum towing capacity: 3,500 pounds (1,587 kg)

Award: $56,494 base / $69,529, as tested, including shipping, excluding taxes

Website: ford.ca

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