Ford’s born-again Bronco is the most serious rival the Jeep Wrangler has faced in decades. It’s a true off-roader, not a family-friendly crossover with a lift kit, and it can be customized in a dizzying number of ways. Users can choose between a two- and a four-door model, and they can take the roof and the doors off regardless of the configuration they choose. We’ll need to wait until the Bronco enters production in early 2021 to know which one gets stuck first on a muddy trail. In the meantime, here’s how these two off-roaders stack up against each other on paper.
Ford’s role in creating the original Jeep developed for World War II is often overlooked. The company built thousands of Jeeps (you can identify them by looking for the letter “F” stepped into most parts), but Willys retained the design when peace returned and transformed it into the CJ-2A, the volume-produced first civilian Jeep, in 1945. Ford didn’t enter the segment until it released the first-generation Bronco in 1965. Fast-forward to 2020, and both SUVs borrow styling cues from their respective predecessors, though we wouldn’t call either retro-styled.
Up front, the 2021 Bronco wears a tall, flat grille and round headlights that create a visual link with the original. Out back, it’s fitted with an external spare tire and vertical lights. It’s boxy regardless of whether it features two or four doors, and — as we mentioned — the top and the doors come off with relative ease. Ford offers a soft or a hard top.
The fourth-generation Wrangler is immediately recognizable as a Jeep. Its front end proudly wears the seven-slot grille that has characterized most of its predecessors, and it’s fitted with round headlights. Its flat front fenders and its rear-mounted spare tire are directly inspired by the original Willys. Wrangler buyers can also choose between a soft and a hard top. Both are removable, the doors come off, and the windshield even folds down.
One thing to note is that off-roaders who get rid of the Jeep’s doors lose the mirrors, too. And, they’re full doors, so they’re bulky. Ford installed the mirrors on the base of the A-pillars, so they stay on even if the doors don’t. And, because they’re frameless doors, they’re lighter (meaning easier to manipulate, and much easier to store).
Both SUVs offer space for five passengers in their two- and four-door configurations. Ford builds the entry-level Bronco with carpeted floors, cloth-upholstered seats, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen running the Sync 4 infotainment system. Upmarket models gain features like a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, and leather upholstery. Alternatively, Bronco buyers can order marine-grade vinyl seats and rubber floors with drain plugs.
Dual-zone air conditioning, navigation, automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, and a 360-degree camera are available, too. Motorists can even order a wireless charging pad and a 12.0-inch touchscreen.
Jeep’s cheapest Wrangler is a little more basic. It does not come with air conditioning, and it features a 5.0-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system. Buyers who can stretch their budget can access equipment like a blind-spot-monitoring system, an 8.4-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and heated seats.
For the time being, the Bronco lineup is relatively simple because there are only two engines to choose from: A turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder and a turbocharged, 2.7-liter V6. Both are familiar — the 2.3-liter is related to the Mustang’s base engine and also found in the Ranger. Their horsepower and torque outputs check in at 270 and 310 and at 310 and 400, respectively. The smaller engine comes standard with a seven-speed manual transmission that’s essentially a six-speed with a low-range gear for rock crawling, though it can be paired with a 10-speed automatic at an extra cost. The six-cylinder is exclusively offered with the 10-speed.
Jeep fits the entry-level Wrangler with a 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 285hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s bolted to a six-speed manual transmission, though an eight-speed automatic is offered at an extra cost. Alternatively, motorists can select a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 270hp and 290 lb.-ft. of torque, but it’s exclusively offered with the aforementioned eight-speed automatic. Last but not least, the optional (and automatic-only) 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 puts 260hp and a massive 480 lb.-ft. under the driver’s right foot. It offers an impressive 513-mile driving range, and it’s a fuel efficiency champ. Adventurers planning to go off-road will put the torque to good use, too.
Motorists who want more are in luck. Jeep strongly hinted it will release a Wrangler with a naturally aspirated, 6.4-liter Hemi V8 commonly found in Dodge’s muscle cars under the hood. Additional details about the model are few and far between; we don’t know when it will break cover, how many examples will be built, or how much it will cost.
Four-wheel drive comes standard regardless of whether you choose the Jeep or the Ford.
Ford offers the 2021 Bronco in seven trim levels named Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak, and First Edition. Pricing for the two-door model starts at $28,500 before a mandatory $1,495 destination charge enters the equation, while the four-door carries a base price of $33,200. At the other end of the spectrum, the two- and four-door variants of the Wildtrak are priced at $48,875 and $51,370, respectively. Note both variants of the First Edition model were spoken for hours after Ford began taking reservations on July 13.
Production is scheduled to begin in early 2021, and deliveries will start shortly after. Enthusiasts who want to get their hands on one of the first Bronco models off the line can send Ford a refundable $100 deposit online.
Over at Jeep, the 2021 Wrangler is available in no less than 13 different variants called Sport, Willys Sport, Sport S, Black and Tan, Sport Altitude, Willys, Freedom, Sahara, Rubicon, Sahara Altitude, North Edition, Rubicon Recon, and High Altitude. Most are offered with two or four doors, and note that some are special-edition versions. At the bottom end of the hierarchy, the Sport costs $28,295 with two doors and $31,795 with four. At the top, the four-door-only High Altitude sets buyers back $49,995. Jeep also charges buyers a $1,495 destination fee.
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