No doubt about it, the new Ford 2021 Bronco has its sights squarely aimed at the Jeep Wrangler. Yes, the two SUVs compare nicely in terms of off-road specs, but there are a lot of really smart features that could the Bronco easier to live with both on- and off-road. Game on.
1. Side mirror placement
With Jeep's Wrangler, its side mirrors are mounted on the doors. That's fine until you want to take those doors off - something I encourage in a Jeep. The folks at Ford found a way to mount the mirrors on the Bronco's cowl instead, so they stay on when the doors come off. It seems simple, but after chatting with the Bronco's chief designer, Paul Wraith, I learned there are myriad ways this seemingly easy position swap could have gone wrong, from sightlines to overall safety. It's great that Ford took the time to solve this problem.
2. Trail Toolbox tech
I am 100 percent here for the Bronco's Trail Turn Assist that locks the inside rear wheel during tight cornering. I can't tell you how many times I've had to make a sketchy three-point turn in a Wrangler on a narrow mountain trail. A pivoting feature should make those butt-pucker moments a thing of the past.
Trail Turn Assist is part of what Ford calls the Trail Toolbox. It also includes Trail Control, which acts as an off-road cruise control. Frankly, I'm not super stoked on this, as I personally enjoy the challenge of modulating the throttle over rough terrain, but I'm keen to try the Trail One Pedal Drive, which applies the brake as soon as you lift off the throttle. Sure, skilled off-roaders might prefer left-foot braking, but the one-pedal system will be great for newbies.
3. Front sway bar
Then there's the front sway bar, found on both SUVs. This little piece of engineering magic is helpful when driving on pavement to keep overall handling in check. It can hinder wheel articulation when the going gets rough, however. Normally, like in a Wrangler, you have to disconnect the front sway bar before things get tricky. The Bronco, on the other hand, allows you to do it on the fly thanks to its hydraulic setup. If you find you've got one front wheel off the ground, just disconnect that sway bar and watch the wheel drop to meet the rock.
4. 35-inch tires
Tires are the only things that actually connect your vehicle to the ground, and when off-roading, bigger is usually better. It's cool that Ford offers 35-inch tires direct from the factory on any of the Bronco's trims. Sure, the Jeep has room for 35-inch tires so drivers can buy some on their own, but that's a lot of extra money, and then you have the stock, 33-inch tires just sitting around.
What remains to be seen, however, is how well the Bronco's chosen tire will perform. The company says the SUV will come on newly developed Goodyear Territory tires. Some may find it's a risk going with unproven rubber, when the BF Goodrich KO2 or Falken Wildpeak mud terrain tires that come on the Wrangler are both excellent options.
5. It's the little things
Finally, the Bronco impresses me with a number of thoughtful and functional design touches. There's a small mounting rack across the dash for securing your phone, GoPro camera, radio and a whole host of other little electronics. There's even a 12-volt outlet up there for easy access to power. There are available marine-grade vinyl seats that can just be hosed off after a muddy day and Molle hooks on the seat backs to organize smaller gear. Plus, the doors can be taken off on the trail and stored in the back, so if the weather changes on the fly, you can seal your rig back up pretty easily.
In Jeep's defense, the company reportedly has some updates planned for the 2021 model year Wrangler that include the Off-Road Plus mode and forward-facing camera that are found on the current Gladiator pickup, as well as some upgraded transfer case options. What's more, Jeep recently showed the Wrangler Rubicon 392 concept with a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 that pushes out 450 horsepower, combined with a 2-inch lift, 37-inch tires and a selectable exhaust. Yes, this is just a concept for now, but Jeep knows its enthusiasts have been asking for a V8-powered Wrangler. "The new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Concept is an indication they may soon get their wish," the company said in a statement.
We haven't driven the Bronco yet, so we'll reserve final judgment until then. On first glance though, it looks like it might be the new champ right out of the gate.
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