It’s been 25 years since Ford put a halt in the production of the Bronco. Built between 1966 and 1996, the Ford Bronco was adored by the American public looking for a compact off-roader that could double as a sports utility vehicle. Although it served many Americans as a great workhorse for 30 years, the Bronco was discontinued in the mid-90s as the demand for 2-door SUVs dropped considerably.
Fast forward through almost 3 decades, including a big recession, the downsizing and electrification trend, and Ford decided it was long enough. In 2021, we saw the Bronco brought back to life, including a ton of modern features, scarcely matched off-road capabilities and beautiful retro styling. Yes, there won’t be a V8 version available with the new Bronco. However, the amount of power it packs and the plethora of features provided by the platform will make up for it tenfold.
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STYLE DRAWS STRONG RETRO CUES
First off, you need to decide whether you are more of a 2-door or a 4-door Broncomaniac. Yes, the term is real and Broncomania is definitely a movement all off-roaders have been lounging for since almost 3 decades ago. The two-door variants are available with a hard top. On the other hand, the newly introduced 4-door Broncos come with a choice of either hard or soft top. However, if you really want to go neck-deep into mud (we will discuss this in a bit), the top, doors, fender flares and even the whole fenders can be taken off without hassle.
The body doesn’t feature too many elongated, teardrop shapes which would maybe aid aerodynamics for high speeds. After all, high speed is certainly not what the Bronco is known for. The straight cut yet refined body comes to serve a functional purpose rather than impress with stylish lines or posh design languages.
Raising criticism to a level where one would consider dust patterns over the fenders to not match the silhouette of the car, yes, the Bronco has its downsides. Yet, when you look at it on the street, you don’t expect to see Rolls-Royce paint. That being said, the all-new Ford Bronco has a way of getting people to wander around it, poke it and generally not having enough of it.
The boxy proportions sit just right with the two-door variant. The 4-door Bronco Sport is longer rather than bigger, yet the size and shape fuse together well regardless of the chassis.
As soon as you press the unlock button on the key fob and open the driver’s door, you are met with the rugged materials on the door panel. Nothing to be surprised about here: there is no leather (or leather imitation), nor any other materials that wouldn’t stand up to water, mud and other damaging elements. Instead, the door panels boast materials that will stand the test of time and multiple off-road sessions. There is no extruded door pocket either, one will have to be satisfied with a sturdy net that holds enough space for the phone or a water bottle.
Besides the net pocket, the door level and two lock/unlock buttons, there is nothing else to fiddle with on the Bronco’s door panels. The window buttons are placed inside the cockpit, just on the center console. The philosophy of the choice might point to the fact that, since Bronco’s doors are removable, Ford tried to keep as many electronics as possible away from them, thus migrating buttons into the console.
Moving on, the eyes meet two rubberized grab handles, bolted into the ends of the dash, one on the driver’s side and one on the passenger side. They’re just handy to help you get inside the Bronco, especially if your boots might be stuck in mud. The tough, durable theme continues to lay cues all over the interior of the Bronco. The dashboard is straight cut, ditching any flowing lines and curves for ultimate efficiency and ruggedness.
A proof of the thoughtfulness in design are the upper buttons of the dashboard, controlling power distribution, differentials and other off-road related elements – the sway bar disconnect button being of major importance. Instead of plastic, the buttons are oversized and covered in a rubber case, making it easy to press when wearing gloves or with dirty hands, without worrying about how you will remove the stains.
Probably the most important control element in the car (besides the pedals and steering wheel) is the console-mounted drive mode knob. Depending on how you use it, you can switch between various 4-wheel drive modes, as well as set the hill descent speed. The knob’s outer ring will rotate allowing you to select from a various of GOAT modes. GOAT stands for ‘Goes Over All Terrain’, and each mode changes the dynamic of the car to better suit a particular environment. There are up to eight GOAT modes available, but the number of modes depends on the trim level.
The dashboard of the 2021 Bronco is rather simple at first. On the left, there’s a round dial for the speedometer, and on the right, you get a menu with lane assist, vertical speed and RPM indicators, as well as fuel indicator, mileage and driving direction.
While the gauge screen cannot be customized, the center console packs all the custom options a driver could need. Featuring Ford’s latest infotainment system, the 12-inch screen comes with highly responsive touch capabilities, navigation, Android Auto and Apple Carplay.
Something that most off-road enthusiasts are happy to see is that most climate controls are still available as physical buttons right beneath the console screen, The same goes for the main radio controls. Instead of having to go through menus on the touchscreen, you can control the main elements of the AC and music via classic, hard buttons.
Finally in terms of hard, physical buttons, the ceiling features 6 auxiliary switches, pre-wired for accessories. Thus, if you want to hook up big LED lights, a winch or maybe some external generator, you can use the pre-wired buttons to connect and control your auxiliaries right from inside the cabin.
As mentioned, several times so far, the Bronco is not built for utmost comfort. Thus, while the headroom and legroom are decent on the 4-door model, you shouldn’t expect to use the rear seats of the 2-door model too often. While its passenger space isn’t great, the 2-door heavily makes up for this in terms of raw performance.
The 2022 Bronco base engine is the 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. It’s good for 275hp. Surprisingly, this EcoBoost power unit proves to be highly efficient on the road, providing a great presence and increased levels of comfort. It comes standard with a 7-speed manual gearbox and gets upgraded to a 10-speed automatic unit on the uppermost trims. However, there’s a weird catch here; you might want to end up with the manual after all, and sadly, it is not available with the bigger engine.
Speaking of the bigger engine, the more potent option for the 2022 Bronco is the 2.7-liter V6 turbocharged EcoBoost engine. Don’t be deterred by the modest displacement, this engine still cranks out an impressive 330hp and comes standard on the First Edition and Wildlands trims. The power difference between the 4-pot and the V6 doesn’t seem that large, but the torque range is where the magic happens. The base engine has only around 310 lb-ft of torque while the V6 delivers 400 lb-ft. to all four wheels.
The V6 engine also comes paired only with the 10-speed automatic, which is likely to bug the off-road junkie. This happens especially considering that the 7-speed manual is performing extremely well in all conditions. The manual gearbox comes equipped with a very low crawler gear and anti-stall, placed opposed to the reverse on the gear stick. Ford took extra precautions to make sure you don’t accidentally push into it at high speeds. The reason? Its extreme reduction makes the Bronco go 12mph at 4000+ RPMs. It is clearly designed only for those moments when you’re stuck AF and it takes everything but a winch to pull your Bronco out of trouble.
SUSPENSION AND WHY IT BEATS THE WRANGLER
It’s no secret that Ford reintroduced the Bronco to give the Jeep Wrangler a run for its money. And, in order to do so on the dirt tracks, Ford engineers decided to implement an independent front suspension. While opinions about the design choice range from awesome and atrocious, let’s have a look at the implications of the front independent suspension on the 2022 Bronco.
From the start, it is worth mentioning that both the front and the rear come with DANA axles and locking differentials. The coveted Sasquatch trim will also bring along position sensitive Bilstein dampers.
The independent front suspension comes as part of Ford’s HOSS system. HOSS stands for High-Performance Off-Road, Stability, Suspension. Basically, Ford wants Broncos to be driven fast, even off the road. For this, the independent suspension reduces the unsprung mass of the vehicle, compensating for the already heavy axle. To put their money where their mouth is, Ford took a standard-spec, base Bronco and threw it into a grueling 1000-mile Baja race. The only damage sustained by the Bronco were two flat tires. And, at the end of it all, it even managed to finish in 3rd place!
Another advantage of the front independent suspension is the ability to use a modern rack and pinion steering mechanism alongside it. Unlike the recirculating ball steering forced into the Wrangler by the solid front axle, the rack and pinion steering of the Bronco provides a more direct input between the steering wheel and the front tires. Given that in bumpy environments there will be a lot of flex and vibration, having a more direct connection to the front wheels is definitely a strong point.
TAKING THE BRONCO OFF-ROAD
Besides the intelligent design, the interior gimmicks and the clever suspension, we want to know how the Bronco fares in its natural habitat. The off-road. You don’t need the ultimate course to test the off-roading capabilities of a car. Once you get it going, you can easily tell where the limits of the Bronco are set. And, without a doubt, Ford raised the bar to a whole new level; putting fear into Wranglers all around the world.
In terms of geometry, the short overhangs, plethora of ground clearance and the proper wheelbase length make the Bronco a stellar candidate for off-road duties. These characteristics, alongside the beefy 35-inch tires allow the Bronco to conquer cliffs, rocks and mud without scraping the underbelly or brushing the bumpers.
The chassis of the Bronco is rather wide, yet the turn radius is tight and gives off a nimble feeling. Once you hook up the Trail Turn Assist function, the ABS will drag the rear inner wheel and allow you to navigate tight turns.
The gearing set between 3.06 and 1 as well as the very short 1st gear ratio allow the Bronco to torque its way over pretty much any steep slope. Pull the collar on the stick shift and put it into the crawler gear (6.558:1) and the Bronco turns into a monster designed for technical terrain maneuverability.
One area where the Wrangler might have taken Bronco´s advantage is the tire drop on uneven terrain. The design of a solid axle tends to keep wheels glued better to the ground, and that´s particularly useful when you wish for every bit of traction available. While the Wrangler does flex a lot to aid in this scope, the Bronco, with its disengaged sway bars will put up a brave fight. In other words, it will take a lot of unevenness to force Bronco´s wheels off the ground.
Dirt and gravel roads are Bronco´s home court, as testing revealed. The Wrangler tends to get taxed a lot on washboards and bumps, being thrown around like a rag-doll. On the other hand, Bronco´s ford suspension will heavily outperform the competition when blasting through dirt and gravel.
It has been a long wait. Plenty of time has passed since the last time the Wrangler had an actual competitor right off the production line. After decades in slumber, the Bronco was brought back to life and drives a very hard bargain against Jeep’s Wrangler.
With rugged interior, removable body elements and plenty of torque and off-road tech to help it out, the 2022 Bronco excels on and off the road. While we would have certainly enjoyed a throaty V8 option, both available power units deliver enough power and torque to provide a proper, rough, adrenaline packed off-road experience.