With two modern engines and six new trims, the 2021 Bronco seems ready to dethrone the Jeep Wrangler.
Jeep and Ford spent much of the late 20th century in a tug-of-war for off-roading supremacy. The models had changed names, shapes, and sizes but the fight remained. It seemed that when the Ford Bronco went out of production in 1996, the battle was won. Since then, the Jeep Wrangler has been the first—and realistically—the only domestic choice of vehicle for rock crawlers and river forders. But now that has changed. The 2021 Ford Bronco has the Jeep Wrangler square in its sights and attempts to square off with the Jeep in every trim and feature offered. But to Jeep’s credit, the Bronco will face an uphill battle against the legacy and loyalty garnered by Jeep over the last 25 years as the premier off-roader in North America. So how does the new 2021 Bronco fair against its chief rival? Let’s get to it.
Ford Bronco: Two engines make up the Bronco lineup. And if the engine lineup is anything to go by, it seems clear that Ford is slowly but surely moving away from the old adage of no replacement for displacement. It is instead focusing on smaller capacity turbo engines to do the heavy lifting. It will offer the smaller 2.3-liter inline-four EcoBoost as standard on most trims. Despite the relatively small engine size, it makes 270 hp—just 15 hp short of the Pentastar V6—and 310 lb-ft of torque, which is 50 lb-ft over the Jeep V6 and 15 lb-ft more than the Jeep’s 2.0-liter turbo.
The other engine is the 2.7-liter V6, making 310 hp and 440 lb-ft of peak torque. It is optional on all trims, even the Base. That said, it’s standard on Badlands, Wildtrak and the First edition trims. For the purist, there is the seven-speed manual gearbox with six forward gears and one crawler gear—but it’s available with the 2.3-liter engine only. The V6 on the other hand only pairs with a 10-speed automatic.
Jeep Wrangler: In the sheer number of powertrains at least, the Wrangler trumps its new rival. Plus, although two of the three engines on offer are rather old, the Pentastar and EcoDiesel are known and trusted for their reliability. The 3.6-liter Pentastar makes 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque while the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel makes 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. The new 2.0-liter inline-four turbo however, makes 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Bottom Line: Yes, the Bronco’s engines are more modern, lighter and have a higher output but the lineup lacks a diesel engine which the Jeep offers. So the Jeep trumps the Bronco here thanks to a more varied powertrain lineup.
Ford Bronco: The off-road focus of the Bronco is clear in the equipment it offers to tackle the terrain. It offers 30-35 inch tires for varying degrees of off-road seriousness. The 2021 Bronco also boasts of a minimum approach angle of 35.5 degrees with the 30-inch tires and a maximum approach of 43.2 degrees when equipped with 35-inch tires. Similar is the case with departure angles which stand at nearly 30 degrees for the 30-inch tires and over 37 degrees if the off-roader is running 35 inchers.
SEE ALSO: Ford Bronco Sport vs Jeep Cherokee: How Does it Stack Up?
Other equipment includes standard Dana axles. It also offers Bilstein off-road suspension and Spicer electronic locking differentials as well, but they are available with the Sasquatch package only. The package also includes the 35-inch tires and is available on all trims including the Base. The trick disconnecting front stabilizer bar, however, is available on Badlands and the First Edition only.
Jeep Wrangler: In terms of equipment the Jeep Wrangler is similarly matched. It too offers Dana third-generation axles as standard and optional locking differential as well but they are available on the Rubicon models only. The Wrangler does trump the Bronco in terms of the approach angle but not my much; the departure angles, on the other hand, are almost identical. Also, while Bronco’s widest tires have a 315 section, the Jeep offers 285 section tires on the Rubicon.
Bottom line: The Bronco takes this category as it offers a higher scope of customization compared to the Wrangler. Every package is optional on all trims and you can customize the Bronco as you like it, provided you will pay for it. That is not the case with the Wrangler as the locking differential for example, are available on the Rubicon trims only.
Tech and Features
Ford Bronco: Being a rock crawling machine doesn’t mean it needs to have a spartan interior. A hoseable one sure, but it can still have some creature comforts. The Bronco does offer a hoseable interior with dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, subscription navigation system with 3-month trial, Ford co-pilot 360, pre-collision assist with AEB, blind-spot monitoring with cross traffic and land keeping assist all as a part of the Mid Package. The 8.0-inch SYNC4 infotainment system though is part of the standard package. An 8.0-inch color LCD instrument panel is available Big Bend trim onwards. The High Package replaces the 8.0-inch screen with a 12.0-inch unit and improves the NVH package. The Lux Package adds a Bang & Olufsen sound system along with a heated steering wheel, evasive steering assist, a wireless charging pad, and a voice-activated navigation system.
Jeep Wrangler: The Wrangler is more or less the opposite of the Bronco. It doesn’t offer air conditioning as standard–just on the base 2-door– and has less standard equipment on offer as well. It comes with a UConnect 3 five-inch infotainment system as standard. Customers can upgrade the system to a 7.0-inch unit which is still smaller than the standard screen on the Bronco. You can even upgrade to the UConnect 4 8.4-inch screen but that is available on the higher trims only. There is also no option for heated or ventilated seats.
In terms of driver assistance systems too, it only offers blind-spot detection on select trims and nothing in the way of collision avoidance or AEB.
Bottom Line: The Ford Bronco is the clear winner here. Not only does it offer a better standard equipment package, it also boasts of a series of customizable packages that leave no room for compromise.
Interior and Cargo Space
Ford Bronco: It is clear from the sheet above that the Bronco is the larger car compared to the Wrangler. But the four-door has a wheelbase that’s almost two inches shorter. Despite that disadvantage, it offers almost two inches worth of extra legroom in the front and almost an inch extra in the rear. The Bronco also offers slightly more front headroom in the soft and hardtop versions. But lags behind slightly in the rear headroom department. Compared to the two-door however, the four-door offers much more shoulder room and can seat three in the rear compared to two in the two-door.
The Bronco is also considerably heavier than the Wrangler despite using smaller engines and as a result, could be less frugal than the Jeep.
Jeep Wrangler: At 166.8 inches in length the Wrangler two-door is almost seven inches shorter than the Bronco two-door and has a wheelbase that is nearly four inches shorter. But in terms of legroom the Wrangler has a deficit of only two inches in the front and less than one inch in the rear. Plus, with a cargo capacity of 31.7 cu-ft with all rows up, we can safely assume the Bronco will have a higher cargo capacity compared to the Wrangler. The same can even be said about the four-door which is longer by two inches compared to the four-door Wrangler but has a wheelbase that is shorter by two inches.
Bottom Line: Ford has not shared the trunk capacity of the Bronco but we can assume that it will be more compared to the Wrangler. In addition, the Bronco comes across as more spacious than the Wrangler in every way except rear headroom where it falls short just slightly. All things considered, the Bronco wins this comparison as well. The towing capacity of both off-roaders is identical at 3,500 lb.
Ford Bronco: The 2021 Ford Bronco draws inspiration from the design of the original Bronco. The SUV looks like an off-roader designed in the sixties but updated for 2021. It is traditionally boxy with a squared-off grille, an almost upright windshield and a two or three-box design. Plus, the contrasting roof adds a bit of retro nostalgia to the whole design making it look all the more appealing. The twin headlamps up front look retro but the LED setup with the DRLs add a touch modernity. The minimalistic front bumper with exposed tow-hooks reaffirm its no-nonsense off-road focus while at the rear, the tailgate-mounted spare wheel and the minimalistic tail lamps give the Bronco a rugged appearance.
Jeep Wrangler: To be fair, the Wrangler adopted the retro styling first. Its design harks back to a vehicle from the ’60s too, a little off-roader simply called the CJ7. The seven-slat, twin headlamp combination has remained a constant on all Jeeps since then, including the Wrangler, and it’s great to see nothing’s changed in 2020 either. The Wrangler sports a three-box design but is a bit more traditional, some would argue purist, than the Bronco. It still sports the super flared arches with a narrow-ish hood with a twin-round headlamp design. A steeply raked windshield and a flat roof end in a wedge of a tailgate with a rear-mounted spare wheel. You will never mistake a Wrangler for anything else on or off the road and its road presence speaks volumes for itself.
Bottom Line: Although styling is subjective, If I had to pick between the two, I would choose the Bronco for its more aggressive looks and a fresher design language.
Ford Bronco: Available in six trims, not counting the already sold-out First Edition, the Bronco starts at $29,995 for the base two-door trim including destination. The base four-door starts at $34,695. Next up is the Big Bend which starts from $34,880 for the two-door and the four-door will set you back by an additional $2,495. Same is the case with Black Diamond which starts at $37,545 and Outer Banks which starts at $40,450 and comes with the Mid Package as standard. Next up is the Badlands which starts from $43,590 while the range-topping Wildtrak stats at $50,370 and comes with the 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 as standard. The rest of the trims come with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost with the option to upgrade to the V6. None of these prices include destination, however.
All packages, namely, Lux, High, Mid, and Sasquatch are all optional on all trims, you can even equip the base with the Sasquatch which includes Bilstein suspension Dana 210 axles and front and rear locking diffs if you so desire. All driver assistance systems are a part of the Mid package and all subsequent trims like High and Lux only add creature comforts and a bigger Sync screen.
Jeep Wrangler: The trim lineup is way more complicated with the Wrangler than it is with the Bronco. For starters though, the Wrangler undercuts the Bronco straight off the bat with the base starting at $29,790 for the two-door Sport. All four-door versions are dearer by $3,500. Though one thing worth noting here is that the Sport doesn’t come with air-con as standard in the two-door version. But it does however get the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with manual as standard to upgrade to the eight-speed automatic will cost you $2,750 extra, if you are interested, you can check these Jeep Rentals.
Other two-door trims range between $31,490 for the Willys Sport and $44,945 for the Rubicon Recon. Front and rear locking differentials are available Rubicon trim onwards only which starts at $40,190. Then there are the Altitude and Sahara trims that are available as four-door versions only. The most affordable four-door trim is the Sahara that starts from $40,140 while the High Altitude is the most expensive Wrangler trim there is and starts at $51,490. There are some strange powertrains combinations in the lineup as well. The Rubicon Recon ($44,945) and North Edition ($45,960) are only available with the 2.0-liter engine. While most other trims come with the 3.6-liter V6 and can switch to the 2.0-liter powertrain for no extra charge. But upgrading to the eight-speed auto from manual will set you back by $1,270 and upgrading to the diesel will be $4,000 dearer.
Bottom Line: The Wrangler undercuts the Bronco, even if barely in the base trim but the top trim is over $1,000 more expensive. Yes it offers more options in terms of powertrains but the Bronco offers more features, better tech, and better off-road hardware as part of its packages. Plus, the SYNC system far outperforms the Uconnect 3 that is standard on the Wrangler. Not to mention the top trim of the Bronco is cheaper than that of the Wrangler. Bronco is the clear winner here.
Choosing between the two, at least on paper, the Bronco is the clear winner. It is more modern, with more modern equipment, it manages the same output from much smaller engines and offers better off-roading hardware. Then there are the driver assistance systems or the lack thereof on the Wrangler. Yes, with all packages in place, the Bronco would likely be more expensive than the Wrangler but it is the newer car and despite the higher price the Bronco makes a better case for itself in the value and usability it promises to return. So one should go for the Wrangler only if that is the only one you want. We would choose the Bronco.