Up until 2021, if you wanted a modern four-seat convertible vehicle with four-wheel-drive it meant buying a Jeep Wrangler, simple as that. Seeing as Jeep was cashing in on this by selling more of its iconic four-by-four effectively every subsequent year, Ford decided it was time to crash the party and revive the Wrangler’s main competitor. The Bronco of yore has its own legend, so reincarnating it would be no easy feat. Recently, Ford lent me a duo of the most anticipated four-by-four in recent memory to see how they did.
Bronco is back
Jeep has the luxury of time and unbroken history on the side of its off-roader. Today’s JL Wrangler lives on a dedicated platform and has a following perhaps unlike any other vehicle on sale today. The Jeep brand lives and dies by its halo rig, even if it sells more of its other offerings than the one that best carries its original spirit. Ford, however, had limited resources in bringing back its variant, so this meant the sixth-generation Bronco came to life on the T6 Ranger pickup platform, one that dates back to 2011. For better or worse, at least we have a new Bronco to fawn over. I spent a couple days with a mildly trouble-ridden white Badlands 4-door and the rest of the week with a Raptor draped in Code Orange paint and came away with some thoughts.
The Bronco is easy to like: It’s undeniably good looking, with a retro-meets-modern charm that Ford absolutely nailed and, on paper at least, it has the chops to be the true Wrangler competitor that Ford wants and needs. The interior is more spacious and “traditional” than that of the Jeep, and the available engines (all of which are turbocharged) and transmissions fall nicely in line with Ford’s efficiency-meets-performance mantra.
The Bronco also set the bar high for many other “modern” features that forced Jeep’s hand into playing a quick game of catch-up. Things like side curtain airbags and a big touchscreen might not mean much in the world of four-wheeling, but they help sell units to prospective buyers who want their off-roaders with a dose of civility.
But the details are questionable. The Bronco’s materials and build quality are underwhelming, especially at the price Ford is asking, let alone before dealer markups (the Badlands I was loaned carried a $60,010 MSRP and the Raptor a sky-high $96,220 sticker price). The engines sound dreadful, even if they make decent power. The frameless windows are neat, but didn’t seal perfectly in the first of my two press vehicles. The cargo area’s top section is almost impossible to access with the soft top. The grab handles up front are well out of reach for actual off-road use and are extremely flimsy, with the one to the right of the shifter easily moving two inches laterally. And the soft top on the Badlands I tested looked awful; it didn’t leak, but it might as well have aged in dog years.
As for how the Bronco drives, I only put a couple miles on the Badlands before it was swapped out for the Braptor. The Badlands feels like a happy medium between a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and more traditional, fully-closed-cab body-on-frame SUV like the Toyota 4Runner. That wide stance and squared-off styling make it feel quite a bit larger than the Wrangler, but the Bronco still drives its size. That is to say, it drives like a midsize SUV with a roof you can take off, which is fairly unexciting, lazy at times, and a bit ponderous. Good seats, at least.
The Bronco Raptor, on the other hand, is a wild one. When not paying excessive attention so as to not run over the landscaping or other cars (the Braptor is an enormous 85.7” wide), it’s immediately easy to enjoy and take advantage of the Fox Live Valve suspension that steals its tech and brains from the F-150 Raptor. This Baja-crushing kit makes not only for a seriously luxury-like ride, but makes driving down unmaintained dirt roads no harder than perfectly paved tarmac. You point, plant the throttle, and shoot; the thing goes and has no qualms about how poor the surface you’re traversing is. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering, making something that weighs over 5,700 pounds this planted, nimble, and playful. Add in a healthy dose of turbo noise and it’s a jolly good time when set free.
Iffy in places
The same complaints about the Badlands are present for the Raptor, however. The materials are questionable at best, especially at the as-tested $96,220 MSRP of the Code Orange truck seen here. Likewise, the 3.0L twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 makes good power (418 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque), but it sounds unexciting if not borderline offensively bad. You couldn’t pay me to run the exhaust in its loudest mode for more than a few minutes at a clip. And while 37” tires are cool (37”s are the new 35”s), I was barely able to swing 14 MPG in mixed driving. Not that anyone buys a Braptor for fuel economy, but it sort of negates the point of using something with the name “Eco” attached to its engine designation, and most Braptor owners will never subject this truck to the situations that deem 37”s worthwhile.
Issues aside, people absolutely loved the Braptor. I had more folks stop to ask about it or comment on it than any other vehicle I’ve had the privilege of testing, and onlookers stared at it everywhere I went. It’s a genuine show-stopper and it has an on-road presence that’s unquestionably strong. I just wish Ford had put the 5.0L Coyote V8 in the thing rather than the needlessly shouty motor it’s stuck with. We know Ford has the chops to dump a V8 into the engine bay of a truck usually powered by a V6 (and they did an incredible job at it), so here’s to hoping they do the same with the Bronco Raptor.
So close, but so far…
Still, the Bronco is important, interesting, exciting, and easy to like. Obviously the public is eating it up, with many still selling for well over sticker and used values holding nearly flat against original MSRPs. And from what we’ve seen on the internet and in-person experiences alike, the fanfare surrounding the Bronco is unlike anything the segment has seen in decades. It drives decently, is moderately comfortable, and has incredible presence. As someone who is a die-hard Jeep Wrangler fan and had extremely high hopes for the Bronco (more competition only improves every vehicle in the realm), it’s somewhat disappointing that Ford didn’t take the time to avoid cutting quality corners, because then the Bronco just might be easier to love. But for those not as picky and who just want a Bronco because of how it looks and what it promises, it certainly proves easy enough to like.