Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the old saying goes, but what do you call it when you’re out to only imitate your subject but do it one better? I call that knocking one out of the park, and while I’ll reserve final judgment until I’ve driven it, from what I’ve seen so far of the new 2021 Ford Bronco, the Blue Oval has done just that with its all-new, rough-and-ready off-roader that bears the historic name.
From the body style to the equipment levels to the features and capabilities, Ford very obviously benchmarked the Jeep Wrangler as its target for the new Bronco, then set out to surpass it in several ways. But how are the new Bronco and Wrangler different from each other? Where did Ford go the extra mile, and where might Jeep still have the advantage?
Related: 2021 Ford Bronco 2-Door and 4-Door: Jeep Has Some Homework to Do
1. The Bronco Does Doorless Differently
Just like the Wrangler, the Bronco has removable doors. We don’t know yet if they’re as easy to remove or as light as the latest Wrangler’s aluminum-skinned doors, nor if they have easy grab handles on the inside that double as ways to help you move them around. But we do know they’re frameless and come off more easily thanks to a special protective fabric bag with handles in which you can also store them. We also know that four-door Bronco models have enough room in the cargo area to actually store all four doors (two-door models don’t), so you don’t have to leave them at home or chained to a campsite tree.
2. The Bronco Has Some Better Numbers
Ford made a big deal about the Bronco’s capabilities, with several one-up claims: biggest available factory tires (35-inchers versus Jeep’s 33-inchers), best available crawl ratio (94.75:1 versus the Wrangler’s best of 84.20:1), best ground clearance (11.6 inches versus Jeep’s 10.9 inches), best water fording (33.5 inches versus Jeep’s 30.0 inches), best breakover angle (29.0 degrees versus 27.8 degrees for the Wrangler) and best departure angle (37.2 degrees vs. 37.0 degrees for Jeep). The Wrangler’s super-flat front end still gives it the edge in approach angle however, with 44.0 degrees to the Bronco’s 43.2 degrees.
3. The Bronco Has More Powerful Engines
While engine output is only one of several aspects that affect vehicle acceleration, the Bronco has the Wrangler largely beaten on that front. While the Wrangler may have more variety in powertrains (a gasoline turbocharged four-cylinder and normally aspirated V-6, turbocharged diesel V-6 and soon-to-come plug-in hybrid), the Bronco’s two turbocharged engines are more powerful. Ford’s base engine is a turbo 2.3-liter four-cylinder making 270 hp and 310 pounds-feet of torque, which matches the Jeep’s turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder for horsepower but beats it by 15 pounds-feet of torque. Both have optional V-6 engines, but Ford’s is smaller and turbocharged, making 310 hp and 400 pounds-feet or torque. That easily outguns the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 in the Jeep by 25 hp and a whopping 140 pounds-feet of torque. You can opt for a turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 in the Wrangler, however, to bring 260 hp and 442 pounds-feet of torque to the party, but it’s expensive and doesn’t really do much for the Wrangler’s acceleration or high-speed dune-running ability.
4. The Bronco Has a Different Approach to 4×4 (GOAT Vs. DIY)
The Bronco offers two four-wheel-drive systems: a part-time, electric shift-on-the-fly system and a full-time, advanced electromechanical system. The Wrangler offers three: the Command-Trac part-time system that’s standard on most models, the Selec-Trac selectable full-time system available on the luxury-oriented Sahara model and the heavy-duty Rock-Trac system that’s standard on the Rubicon grade.
But Ford and Jeep differ in their schools of thought on how these systems should work. The Bronco’s school is electronics-heavy: It uses its electronic Terrain Management System and GOAT modes (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) to change all manner of vehicle parameters: shift points, 4WD engagement, differential locks, stabilizer bar disconnect, stability control programs and more. In that sense, it’s closer to Land Rover’s Terrain Response controller, which alters myriad systems in similar fashion. The Wrangler is instead more do-it-yourself: You’re expected to know which buttons to push, what gear to be in, whether to disconnect the stabilizer bar, and how and when to engage the transfer case — essentially, how to change your SUV’s settings to drive off-road. The Jeep won’t do it for you, but the Bronco will.
5. That Creeper Gear
The Bronco features a better crawl ratio just about across the board, but it also offers something special that the Wrangler lacks: a dedicated creeper gear. The seven-speed manual transmission technically has six normal forward gears plus one special ultra-low-range gear for things that require low speeds and maximum torque. This is a rock-crawling gear meant for aggressive boulders, slippery rock surfaces or any application where you want your right foot’s movement to be well controlled when applying gas to create momentum. The Wrangler’s no slouch in this regard, to be sure, with the Rubicon’s lowest gear and grippy tires proving capable of astonishingly steep, sheer obstacles — but the Bronco’s specific equipment in that regard might just give it an edge.
6. The Bronco Has an Independent Front Suspension
The Jeep Wrangler is unique in that it is one of only two U.S.-market vehicles in production today that have solid axles front and rear (the other is the mechanically similar Jeep Gladiator pickup truck). On most Wranglers, it’s a Dana 30 up front and a Dana 35 in the rear (Rubicons get a Dana 44s front and back instead). The Bronco takes a different approach, going instead with an independent front suspension — just like the Ford F-150 Raptor or new Land Rover Defender — with the ubiquitous Dana 44 out back. It should make for a much smoother, more controlled on-road driving experience than the Wrangler’s notoriously (if historically improved) lane wandering, with no apparent penalty to the Bronco’s front suspension articulation.
7. No Soft Top for the Two-Door
Lest you think Ford got everything completely right, let us lay this on you: There’s no soft top offered for Bronco two-door models. The four-door Bronco gets one as standard (although Ford has yet to show it), but the two-door model only has a hardtop. While you have to pay extra to get a hard top on a two-door Wrangler, a lot of shoppers forgo the hardtop because they like the easy open-air availability of the soft-top. Ford vaguely suggested that there might be one available as an accessory down the road, but it was cagey on when that might be. It’s a curious decision on Ford’s part, to be sure.
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- 2020 Ford Bronco: 3 Things the Off-Road Race Prototype Tells Us About the SUV-to-Be
- Ford Bronco Bustin’ Outta the Corral at Last
8. The Sasquatch Package
Perhaps the most interesting move on Ford’s part is to create the Sasquatch Package, a grouping of all the top off-road parts into one convenient order-sheet checkmark that can be had on any of the Bronco’s six different trim levels — even the base model. The ‘Squatch gets you the advanced optional 4×4 system (with the ultimate crawl ratio, if you stick with the standard four-cylinder and seven-speed manual), plus the 17-inch beadlock wheels with 35-inch mud-terrain tires, front and rear locking differentials, high-clearance suspension and fenders, Bilstein shock absorbers and more. Imagine being able to put the Rubicon’s fancy systems on any model of Wrangler; that’s what the Sasquatch package does.
9. The Bronco’s Windshield Doesn’t Move
Open-air cruising is fantastic, but unless you’ve driven a totally naked Jeep (one without its top, doors and windshield), you’ve never experienced the magic of it all. The Wrangler’s windshield folds down if you simply remove the wipers and four bolts in the roll-cage frame; the Bronco’s windshield doesn’t move at all. Both the Bronco and Wrangler will get wind in your hair, but only the Jeep will get bugs in your teeth.
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