2021 Ford Bronco: First Ride Review
Ford resurrects an icon and creates an instant classic well worth the wait.
I was cruising in the Blue Ridge Mountains on a warm August morning.
Soft-top flipped back, all four windows down, and the wind blasting through the four-door Bronco, rolling through the curves of the country roads while John Denver sang about them on the radio. My wife threw her hands up in the air like she was on a roller coaster, and our two kids in the back followed her lead, letting out squeals. Life, in that moment, felt as good as it could get.
There’s a lot of good things about the new Ford Bronco, but the best thing is what it brings out in you.
I got to take the Bronco up and down a washed-out mountain road twice a day for three days straight. In the loose gravel switchbacks, you could feel the traction control working to keep you on the road. And in the deep ruts, the suspension kept things smooth. Off-road handling in the Bronco has a natural confidence to it.
But on curvy country roads and riding around town, it’s just as fun. On the freeway, however, it’s a bit of a springy ride. And with the soft top, it’s a loud one. When you’re driving alongside semi-trucks, it’s particularly grating. I got stuck next to a poorly geared Mac truck and spent miles trying to escape the racket of it.
But once you get to where you’re going and get that top down, you’re well rewarded. In the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, the soft top was a dream. You may not be able to talk to fellow passengers without yelling, but the Bang and Olufsen sound system is so powerful, you feel like you’re listening to the soundtrack of your own movie playing all around you.
All that said, if I got a Bronco––and I certainly want one now––I would get the hard top for an extra $700 bucks, saving my ears on the freeway while still having the option to go topless. The adaptive cruise control worked very well, as did the blind spot detection. I would not want to put my kids on the freeway in a vintage Bronco, but this new iteration feels quite safe.
I got around 22 mpg on the freeway and 18.5 elsewhere, which I was OK with. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine had plenty of power to get the job done, but I’d be curious to know how the V6 drives. The four’s got 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, but both are rated to tow 3,500 pounds and can be ordered with a manual transmission.
The 10-speed gearbox paired with the four felt a little out of sorts at times, like it was holding onto gears for too long. I also wanted the brakes to feel a little more commanding. Overall, both the power and the brakes felt basic on the road, but I was having so much fun in the Bronco that I didn’t care one bit. I test-drove a Bronco in the Outer Banks trim. If I were buying it for myself, I would buy a base-model and just have fun with it.
But getting your hands on one is another matter, and the Bronco backlog is already creating a subculture of buyers-in-waiting. I spoke to a friend today who has been on a waiting list for several months for a Badlands Edition hard top.
When I asked how much longer, he just shrugged, but he wasn’t mad about it. He said he’d been getting gifts from Ford to tide him over, including a hammock, a limited-edition print, and “something coming UPS that weighs 22-pounds” he said, hopeful that the weight was relative to the quality of the swag.
Look and Feel
You get a lot of looks in a Bronco. And a lot of people wanting to ask questions about it. I drove two dads from my neighborhood around in it with the top down and we all had a boyish level of excitement about the Bronco that is hard to come by these days.
The Bronco’s nostalgia is not over-the-top or cutesy. The rugged black tie-downs integrated into the hood will likely go unused for 99.9% of drivers, but I think they’re the sexiest automotive design element since the fender flares on a classic Corvette. I often found myself just staring at them while I was driving.
Rear visibility was great with the soft top. Because of the short windshield, I had to lean down to look up at stop lights to know when they changed. The 12-inch touchscreen is a worthwhile upgrade, and it was very intuitive to use. When you go off-road, it becomes a trail cam view of your adventure.
Ford has intimated that it would allow drivers to record this footage, and I hope that is a feature they figure out how to implement soon. Until then, they put an ingenious charger on the dashboard with a USB and USB-C outlet so you can keep your mounted GoPro or smartphone going without worrying about batteries.
The Bronco did feel rough around the edges in a few places from a design perspective. The rubber lining around the door was bubbling up, and if it were my new Bronco, that would nag at me. Also, the space on the body between the doors and the running board looked unfinished, and it’s possible that my press model was missing some cladding there, but it was a noticeably exposed strip of steel.
I loved the fact that the back of the soft-top lifts and locks up with a metal pole like the kind in a car hood, so it’s not in the way when you’re loading up your gear. But the clips that lock the soft top to the frame were finicky, and hard to lock down on the first try. One corner of the soft top also kept coming loose, and I had to clip it back into place a couple of times. No biggie, but it created the impression that there are some kinks yet to work out with the soft top.
I remember the first time I saw a classic Range Rover. I was ten years old; it was a late 80’s model, and I thought it was the coolest vehicle I’d ever seen. I was a child of the 80’s, when Ferraris and Lamborghinis were what you dreamed of, but the Range Rover gave me a feeling I didn’t know existed. A rugged sophistication.
The new Bronco gives me that same feeling. And to buy a new Bronco is a chance to get the classic SUV feeling out of something that’s actually safe and reliable.
If I were focused on off-roading, I’d probably get a Jeep Wrangler. If I were being practical, I’d buy a Kia Telluride. But, if I’d had a whiskey and was feeling like my boldest self could make the decision, I’d buy the Bronco. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way about a car. And when a car makes you feel an emotion every time you drive it, you’re willing to forgive its minor flaws.
To me, the new Bronco is all about the je ne sais quoi, the umami flavor, and a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It has a spirit and a point of view, and it makes you feel like life is too short to drive a boring vehicle just because it ticks the right boxes.
We all have that lucky shirt or favorite pair of jeans that seems to fit our best selves on their best day. You don’t know why they make you feel good, and it’s probably all in your head. But you know that, even if you can’t put your finger on it, there’s an aura that can’t be denied.
And this Bronco… yeah, it feels like that.