Updated: Apr 1, 2022
I have to wonder what the conversations are like at Jeep these days. Yeah, the Wrangler has serious head-to-head competition for the first time in decades. On the other hand, the last real threat was also from a Ford Bronco (the 1966-1977 model) and in the end, the Wrangler was still standing while the Bronco became a big two-door ute based on the F-150 and the getaway ride of choice for famous NFL players/movie stars turned double-murder suspects.
"This time will be different"is at the top of famous last words (well, if it's not, it should be), but Ford's in a strong position to deliver here. The new Bronco (not to be confused with the similarly-styled but much smaller, Escape-based Bronco Sport) has cooked up a modern off-roader, more contemporary and advanced than the Jeep Wrangler, and wrapped it in a package that looks exactly like and yet nothing like the original '66 Bronco. A week with the new Bronco reinforced the impression I got last summer when I drove it (this very unit, in fact) and the Jeep Wrangler back-to-back at the Western Automotive Journalists Media Days event---it's a tie in terms of acceleration when measured against the typical Wrangler with a six and an automatic, the Bronco is more composed on the pavement, free of the Jeep jitters that your brain just filters out because it's a Jeep, and it's quieter.
The new Bronco is powered by one of two engines---a 2.3-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder making 275 horsepower and 315 pounds per foot of torque, or---seen here---a 2.7-liter Ecoboost V6 with 315 horsepower and 410 pounds per foot of torque. It's that extra 95 pounds of oomph off the line that makes the six a winner---especially in towing or off-roading.
A seven-speed manual is available with the 2.3-liter four in some trim levels, otherwise Broncos are equipped with ten-speed automatics. The four and the stick have an EPA fuel economy estimate of 20 city/21 highway, the same as the four and the automatic. The six, which is automatic only, is 19/20.
The more dedicated off-road trims get lower EPA estimates, due to gearing and tires----18/17 for the Sasquatch with the four and the automatic, 17/18 for the Sasquatch with the four and the stick, and 17/17 for the Sasquatch with the six. The Black Diamond four and stick is 17/19 and the Black Diamond four automatic is 18/18.
Our tester was a Badlands with the six---EPA estimate 17/17, the same as if it had the four and the automatic. A four with the stick does worse---16/17.
So what makes a Badlands a Badlands? Powder-coated steel bumpers, full-vehicle steel bash plates, rock rails, tow hooks, 17-inch carbonized gray-painted aluminum wheels, auxiliary switched with pre-run wiring in the overhead console with map lights, marine-grade vinyl seats, rubberized flooring with drain plugs so you can literally hose out the interior, a Badlands suspension, the ability to disconnect the front stabilizer bar and the G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Terrain) Terrain Management System, with Normal, ECO, Slippery, Mud/Ruts, Sand, Rock Crawl and Baja modes.
The other major advantage for the Bronco comes with the interior. It's two and a half-inches wider and it feels like two and a half feet more elbow room. And while the exterior was clearly meant to evoke memories of the first-gen Bronco, the interior is utterly contemporary.
The test vehicle came with a window sticker emblazoned with "UNIT NOT FOR SALE" and thus no pricing, but working with the build tool on the Ford consumer website, what we have is a base price for the 2022 Ford Bronco 2-Door Advanced Badlands of $42,495.
Extra-cost options include $595 for the Cyber Orange Metallic tri-coat paint, $1,895 for the 2.7-liter Ecoboost V6, $5,085 for the Equipment Group 334A Lux Package (dual-zone electronic climate control, front-row heated seats, SYNC4 with a B&O audio system and connected navigation, Ford Co-Pilot 360, a heated steering wheel and wireless charging pad) and $110 for a keyless entry keypad.
With $1,495 destination charges, the cost of a '22 Bronco equipped like this one is $53,270.
These days, that's a reasonable price. Only time will tell if the Bronco can be wrangled. And I'm really looking forward to Jeep's approach to Bronco busting. This four by four war will likely last a lot longer than the last one.