2021 Ford Bronco Review: A Rugged SUV That’s Down for Family Duty
There are very few things not to like about this back-to-basics, family-friendly off-roader.
Having been in this line of work for under a decade, I can't remember any other vehicle that the general public more fervently awaited for than the 2021 Ford Bronco. Maybe the Honda Civic Type R and Dodge Demon a few years back? Those, however, live in far smaller subsectors of automotive fandom, so it's likely unfair to compare the three. The Bronco's comeback is a big deal, and for several reasons. First, it's one of Ford's iconic nameplates, meaning that when people hear "Bronco," it reminds them of something—a personal story, a car chase, etc. But perhaps more importantly, the Bronco is here to compete against the off-road vehicles that possess the duality of also being a daily which have gone unrivaled for decades.
Too often, the test vehicles the automakers loan to journalists for review come fully loaded and with eye-popping price tags. In other words, not specc'ed to how buyers would option theirs. But that wasn't the case here. Nope, the four-door Bronco test car arrived with hardly any options and what I would dare call an affordable price tag nowadays: a tad over $40,000. An honest-to-goodness 4x4 SUV? How original.
For this kind of money, I expected to get a pretty basic—if not underequipped—SUV. Listen, I'm not saying 40 grand is pocket change, but have you seen car prices lately? Compared to today's trends, the basic Bronco was almost a steal. Yet, on paper, it looked pretty well equipped: a turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, a seven-speed manual transmission (six plus a crawl gear), basic steel wheels, four wide-opening doors for kiddo duty, and a large trunk where I could even fit a Newfoundland dog all came as standard. As a non-luxury, overlanding SUV, what more can you ask for?
2021 Ford Bronco Four-Door Advanced Black Diamond 4x4 Specs
- Base price (as tested): $40,835 ($42,720)
- Powertrain: 2.3-liter turbo inline-four | 7-speed manual | four-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 275 @ 5,700 rpm
- Torque: 315 lb-ft @ 3,400 rpm
- Seating capacity: 5
- Curb weight: 5,117 pounds
- Ground clearance: 8.4 inches
- Off-road angles: 35.5° approach, 20° breakover, 29.7° departure
- Cargo volume: 35.6 cubic feet
- EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city | 19 highway | 18 combined
- Quick take: The Bronco simply gets on with its business and doesn't put up a facade to impress you—yet somehow it still does. It's just a good truck with truck-like compromises.
- Score: 8/10
The Ford Bronco follows the Jeep Wrangler's playbook to a T. Two body styles, two-door and four-door, are offered in a wide variety of models and price points. If you're looking for a ranch hand, likely a two-door base Bronco will do. If you're looking to flex on the Jeep Rubicon-driving moms and dads at the school pick-up line (you know, the Salt Life sticker types), then the four-door Wildtrak's in order.
Regardless of trim, all Broncos essentially look the same. Boxy, Jeep-ish (sorry), and pretty much basic. Exterior design is rather simple across the board with the front grille making up most—if not all—of the Bronco's persona. Depending on the trim, you might get larger fender flares, different bumpers, and some different panels here and there, but the essence of the Bronco's exterior looks—especially its short overhangs—is that of simplicity for the sake of off-road prowess.
The interior follows this principle, too, sticking to basic materials that can be washed down easily after a long day on the trail. A vinyl-covered dash and transmission tunnel and a rubberized floor with a drain plug mean you can actually take a hose to the cabin to rinse off the mud. What feel like Marine-grade vinyl seats are also easy to wipe, so no need to worry about getting some dirt on those bad boys.
The 2.3-liter turbo-four produces 275 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque and, in the case of the test car, was paired to a seven-speed manual transmission. The Bronco also offers 4 low and even a crawl gear, which, unfortunately, I did not get to try during my test. In this trim, it boasts 8.4 inches of ground clearance and a 3,500-pound maximum towing capacity.
Driving the Ford Bronco
The Ford Bronco drives how it looks: ruggedly. Once behind the wheel and driving down the road, there's no hiding that the Bronco was designed to live on the trails. It offers a good compromise for street driving, however, and I'd definitely say that its cabin is more spacious and seats more comfortable than that of any Wrangler. This makes it a solid choice for parents (or individuals) who often transport kids or other passengers in general. My weeklong test consisted of doing just that: driving the kid to school, taking the dog to the park (multiple times), running errands, and even hauling folks and gear for a neighborhood cleanup day. Just typical city dad stuff.
The Bronco seemed to adapt to its surroundings rather well, cruising adequately at low speeds but also zipping around traffic when needed. As I'll mention below, the interior is versatile and practical, offering me exactly what I'd expect from an off-road-oriented SUV. However, at speed, the wind noise level inside the cabin is quite high. I struggled to have a conversation with my wife or kid at highway speeds. I found myself cranking up the radio just to tune out the noise.
The suspension is definitely on the stiffer side, especially in city driving around 35 to 45 mph. At higher speeds, the ride becomes more compliant and therefore more comfortable. Steering is excellent, however, feeling light and communicative in all situations. The same applies to the brakes, which feel soft at the pedal but the bite is strong and reassuring.
The EcoBoost engine, too, feels powerful regardless of where you are on the rev range. Acceleration is quick and the little engine that could keeps pulling strong until you decide to let off. It's an engine that really likes to be revved. Fast, slow, cruising, you name it, the turbo-four is in to please. The same applies to the transmission, offering really short first and second gears for fuel economy (and off-roading), but longer higher gears for a more comfortable experience driving on the highway. To reiterate, I didn't have the opportunity to off-road the Bronco (I treated it as a suburban daily) but my colleague Kristen Lee did. She called it an "off-road god" if that's any indication of how it performed.
The Highs and Lows
The Bronco's biggest strength is its packaging. It's a solid SUV that's rugged and purpose-built. It doesn't masquerade as something it's not. It looks the part, it's spacious and relatively comfortable inside—or at least as comfortable as an off-roader of this type can be. Its trunk is big enough to pack whatever gear you may need, whether you're into rock-climbing, scuba diving, or just putting away a humongous stroller or week's worth of groceries.
As I mentioned above, the cabin is a loud place. And yes, I understand that this is an off-road vehicle and it's going to be louder than the average SUV. But I rode in the backseat of my friend's new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon while I had the Bronco, and I found it to be much quieter than the Ford even when equipped with larger, mud-terrain tires. The location of the Bronco's window switches, too, is bothersome. They're built into the armrest stack, and they're just cumbersome to operate with your right hand. I know there's a reason for keeping them off the doors (because the doors are removable), but they could've been repositioned to a more ergonomic spot like the center console or even on the doors themselves. After all, if you remove the doors, you won't need the freakin' switches.
Ford Bronco Features, Options, and Competition
As a four-door Black Diamond model, the test car sat right smack in the middle of the Bronco spectrum in terms of equipment and price. It featured a rear locking differential, front and rear metal bumpers, rock rails, heavy-duty skid plates, and seven different selectable driving modes as standard. Inside, it was equipped with vinyl trim and cloth seats, an eight-inch touchscreen running SYNC4 with basic media functions, and HVAC as standard. Optional equipment included a molded hardtop ($695), cargo area rubber mat ($120), towing package ($595), keyless entry keypad ($110), and roof rails with crossbars ($365).
It's only obvious that I highlight the Jeep Wrangler as the Bronco's main competitor, especially at this test model's price point. In higher Bronco trims, however, it's worth pointing out that the Land Rover Defender 90 could also come into the picture. For now, though, it's the Wrangler Sahara that would be its most direct competitor, boasting a starting price of $42,340 (including destination) and similar if not identical performance, comfort, and tech features.
Equipped with a manual, the four-cylinder Bronco delivers 20 mpg in the city, 22 in the highway, and 21 mpg combined, per the EPA. This is pretty good for a 4,823-pound SUV. I mostly stuck to in-city driving during my test—which was performed in cold weather—and observed figures close to that estimate.
As compared to the competition, though? Its returns are a hair on the low side (if you get it in the Black Diamond trim).
Value and Verdict
Having never driven a Bronco, I wasn't sure what to expect going into my weeklong test. What I discovered was a practical, purposeful, and rather basic off-road SUV that doesn't suffer from an identity crisis. It's not trying to be a hot rod, a luxury car, or even a bro-dozer. It's just plain 'ol utilitarian. This $42,000 Black Diamond model proved to offer mostly everything I needed and nothing I didn't—with the exception of heated seats and steering wheel, because Midwest winter. In terms of value, this Bronco is a winner.
Overall, however, it's a good ride but not exactly one that everyone's bound to enjoy. It drives similar to a Jeep, yet it offers a more spacious and practical cabin and trunk. It's not the most comfortable vehicle, but that's to be expected in this kind of SUV. It packs enough tech to make life easy—such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a rearview camera—but nothing else. If there's one thing Ford nailed here, it's the balance of just how much equipment average Bronco owners would like to have or not have with each trim.
If you're looking for an SUV to drive the kids around during the week and then have the ability to off-road on the weekend, the Bronco Black Diamond is a good choice. Just know that there are some compromises to make.
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