2021 Ford Bronco Review

Jack R. Nerad, Independent Expert | Jun 28, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Ford deals!

Ever since the Bronco went out of production, Ford fans have been asking the brand to bring it back. To put their money where their mouths are, many have bid up the price of vintage Broncos to unheard-of levels. 

Meanwhile, the Jeep brand has enjoyed unprecedented success, serving today as a pillar of the Stellantis auto empire. In this environment, Ford executives saw an opportunity. With a well-known brand name, an impressive off-road heritage, and vehicle platforms that it could leverage for off-road use, Ford saw the chance not only to reintroduce a venerated model but also to establish a new sub-brand. 

The all-new 2021 Ford Bronco is the cornerstone of that effort, designed and engineered to do nearly everything a Jeep Wrangler will do. And in some cases, perhaps a bit more.

The 2021 Bronco is available in seven trim levels — Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Wildtrak, Badlands, and First Edition. Its companion model within the Bronco sub-brand is the smaller Ford Bronco Sport, which uses the same platform as the Ford Escape crossover SUV. All Bronco and Bronco Sport models have standard 4-wheel drive, which Ford believes is a key differentiator from Jeep, a brand that has front-drive and rear-drive models in addition to its fabled 4-wheelers. 

Ford engineers the new Bronco to build on the SUV’s existing reputation with a completely new arsenal of systems designed to open up the world of off-pavement adventure to a new group of buyers. At the same time, it will give old hands at off-roading new reasons to re-think their allegiance to their favorite brand. 

What Owners Say About Midsize SUVs - Find the best Ford deals!

2021 Ford Bronco Outer Banks 4-Door Front Quarter Action

The new Ford Bronco is a midsize SUV, according to J.D. Power. Data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study shows that 58% of midsize SUV owners are male (vs. 60% for the entire automotive industry), and the median age of a midsize SUV owner is 58 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about midsize SUVs are (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Interior design
  • Getting in and out

Owners indicate their least favorite things about midsize SUVs are (in descending order) the: 

  • Driving comfort
  • Setting up and starting
  • Powertrain
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

What Our Independent Expert Says About the 2021 Ford Bronco - Find the best Ford deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a Ford Bronco Outer Banks 4-Door equipped with the following options:

  • 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 engine with 10-speed automatic transmission 
  • 4.27 rear axle with locking differential
  • Hardtop with sound-deadening headliner
  • Roof rail crossbars
  • Cargo area protector
  • Lux Package

The Lux Package is one of three equipment groups for the 2021 Bronco Outer Banks. It includes the mid-grade High Package and some extras. The High Package equips the Bronco with:

  • Larger 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system
  • Wireless smartphone charging pad
  • Surround-view camera system
  • Front parking sensors
  • Side mirrors with LED approach lamps and spotlights 
  • Added sound-deadening insulation

The Lux Package builds on the High Package with:

  • Heated steering wheel
  • Added USB ports
  • 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen audio system
  • Universal garage door opener
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Emergency steering assistance (Ford calls it Evasive Steering Assist)

The price of the test vehicle was $49,705 plus a $1,495 destination charge. 

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2021 Ford Bronco Outer Banks Front Seats

Photo: Jack Nerad

The Outer Banks trim I tested is right in the middle of the Bronco’s trim levels, intended for a buyer who wants an off-road-ready vehicle but also seeks style and technology features. 

Getting into the Bronco requires a person of even above-average height to make a bit of a climb, but grab handles integrated into each end of the Bronco’s no-nonsense dashboard make that climb easier. In addition, the leather-trimmed seats in the Outer Banks are relatively flat, which facilitates sliding into a comfortable position. 

The 2021 Bronco 4-Door’s standard seating is for five passengers on amply wide twin bucket seats up front and a rear bench seat belted for three. The driver’s and front passenger’s seats are 8-way manually adjustable, and the lack of power adjustment is surprising, especially in the style-conscious and semi-luxurious Outer Banks trim. Seat heating is standard on Outer Banks models.

If you use the rear seats regularly, the Bronco 4-Door is a far better choice than the 2-Door. Entering the 2-Door’s rear seats involves tipping the front-row bucket seats and sliding them forward to access the second row. That access is tight and somewhat tricky. Once settled into the rear seats in the 4-Door, passengers find comfortable accommodations for two adults. This version of the Bronco can accommodate three passengers if necessary.

Even with all seats in use, the 2021 Bronco provides plenty of luggage space. You access the cargo area by swinging open the lower back door and lifting the rear glass window, just like with a Jeep Wrangler. 

With the back seat in use, the Bronco 4-Door supplies up to 38.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Maximum volume measures as much as 83 cubic feet. Hardtops cut down a little on available cargo room.

2021 Ford Bronco Sync 4 Infotainment System Review

2021 Ford Bronco Interior Dashboard

Photo: Jack Nerad

Sync 4 is the fastest and most advanced infotainment system Ford has ever produced. It comes with an 8-inch touchscreen in all trims, with a larger 12-inch touchscreen available as an option. The exception is the First Edition, which has the larger screen as standard equipment.

In the 2021 Bronco Outer Banks test vehicle, the infotainment system included:

  • 12-inch touchscreen
  • Apple CarPlay (wired and wireless)
  • Android Auto (wired and wireless)
  • SiriusXM 360L satellite radio
  • Easy linking to additional apps
  • Integrated connected navigation with live traffic data

The touchscreen resides in the middle of the Bronco’s retro-inspired dashboard. This position is slightly lower than a tablet-style screen commonly mounted at the top of the dash in modern vehicles. As a result, this lower location requires a downward glance when referencing the screen, but it doesn’t prove to be a problem. The on-screen icons are clear, and the driver clearly understands system functions.

The Sync 4 technology is more responsive than previous Sync systems, includes much better voice recognition capabilities, and has all the features of a typical modern infotainment system. But it goes far beyond that. 

Cloud-based connected navigation is available with Sync 4, but the FordPass Performance app doesn’t need an active signal to be helpful. Equipped with an off-road-specific navigation function, the app allows owners to plan, navigate, and share their off-road journeys with others. In addition, this app includes topographic mapping of off-the-grid areas and more than 1,000 maps provided by well-known trail guide publishers. Better yet, the trail-mapping system works with or without a connection with either the navigation-equipped 8- or 12-inch touchscreen.

A wireless smartphone charging pad is optional on most of the Bronco trim levels, and the SUV offers an optional 10-speaker B&O audio system by Bang and Olufsen that provides rich, clear sound. The legible digital driver information cluster is another solid plus. Ford places the multifunction color LCD instrument display immediately in front of the driver, and its bold graphics are easy to read at a glance. 

The 2021 Ford Bronco has the best Sync system yet. For various jobs that included phone calls, navigation, and sampling satellite radio and podcasts, the tasks were easy to set up and execute. With the vast amount of information the system and its associated apps offer, Bronco drivers will find it a helpful companion. 

What It’s Like to Drive the 2021 Ford Bronco

2021 Ford Bronco 4-Door Side View

One of the first things any veteran driver of off-road vehicles will notice in the 2021 Bronco is what they cannot hear. Instead of a background clatter, the Bronco is quiet and feels tight and secure. 

That impression builds while driving on curvy roads that might have other off-roaders teetering and swaying a bit. However, with the help of an independent front suspension, the new Bronco offers praiseworthy handling. The electric power-assisted steering delivers good feedback, and the Bronco tracks well on asphalt even in situations that would tax other off-pavement-oriented vehicles.

Though most Bronco owners primarily drive their SUVs on pavement, its on-road ride and handling are not the measure of its success. Instead, as the flagship vehicle of a 4WD sub-brand, the Bronco reveals its true character in its off-road abilities. And frankly, they are remarkable. 

Aside from some of its trucks, Ford has not been an everyday player in off-roading in the way it was during the original Bronco’s heyday. But with the 2021 Bronco, the automaker’s engineers have created an impressive piece of off-road machinery. During an extensive and grueling series of tests over challenging terrain — mud, ruts, creeks, rock faces, loose boulders — the Bronco conquered all.

The Bronco’s vast array of electronic helpers ably abet drivers. Chief among them is the Ford Terrain Management System with G.O.A.T. modes. (G.O.A.T. standing for “goes over any terrain.”) Depending on the vehicle’s trim level and intended purpose, up to seven driver-selectable modes are available in all — Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, Baja, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl. 

Using a selector on the center console, the driver can dial up any of these modes, endowing the vehicle with well-tuned steering and 4WD settings calibrated to tackle specific tasks. In addition, drivers can further fine-tune the modes by engaging the front and rear locking differentials using well-located buttons at the top of the dashboard.

The test vehicle had the more sophisticated of the Bronco’s two available 4WD systems. It features a 2-speed electromechanical transfer case that includes an automatic mode to select between 2-Hi (rear-drive) and 4-Hi (4WD high range). Of course, a 4-Lo (4WD low range) setting also stands ready to serve, easily accessible via a pushbutton on the console that accompanies the G.O.A.T. modes selector. To further ensure off-roading capability, a Dana solid rear axle and a Dana independent front differential unit power the wheels, and both are available with Spicer electronic locking differentials.

Broncos with the widely available Sasquatch Package offer remarkable all-around off-pavement abilities. The off-road driving evaluation included numerous tests of what Ford claims is the Bronco’s “best-in-class” water fording ability — up to 33.5 inches with the optional 35-inch tires. A Bronco 4-Door equipped with the Sasquatch package has 11.5 inches of ground clearance in addition to 43.2-degree approach, 26.3-degree breakover, and 37.0-degree departure angles. 

Additional Sasquatch Package contents include 17-inch black-painted aluminum beadlock-capable wheels with 35-inch LT315/70R17 mud-terrain tires, electronic-locking front and rear axles, a 4.7:1 final drive ratio, a high-clearance suspension, position-sensitive Bilstein shock absorbers, and high-clearance fender flares.

One of two engines powers the new Bronco, and each has proved its worth in other Ford vehicles. 

The base engine is a 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. It delivers 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque when using premium-grade gasoline. Backing the engine is a 7-speed manual transmission with an ultra-low “crawler” gear or a 10-speed automatic transmission. 

A turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 engine is widely available, supplying 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque when using premium. It pairs with a 10-speed automatic transmission, and the test vehicle had this powertrain combination. 

Driving on the demanding off-road courses led to some interesting discoveries.

First, the available forward-facing camera with multiple views is an excellent tool in a wide variety of off-road situations, but particularly for rock crawling. Second, the roof-off, doors-off driving experience the Bronco offers is a magical one. And the 4-Door Bronco’s ability to store the doors aboard the vehicle is an extra-special plus.

The Ford Bronco will be an entertaining vehicle to transport kids back-and-forth to school or soccer practice, but it is so much more than that. Its off-highway capabilities put it on a virtual equal footing with the brand that has been doing it since before World War II. 

2021 Ford Bronco Trail Toolbox Review

2021 Ford Bronco Off Roading

In terms of standard advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), the Ford Bronco takes a back seat to some car-based crossovers that are roughly the same size and carry about as many people. But when it comes to driving assistance technologies designed for use in the off-road arena, the Bronco’s offering is quite robust. They’re all part of the Ford Trail Toolbox.

Most prominent among Ford Trail Toolbox features is Trail Control. This technology is essentially cruise control for low-speed trail driving. Using the cruise-control buttons, you simply set the Trail Control system to the desired speed — 0.5 mph, 1 mph, 7 mph, etc. — and the vehicle will maintain that speed up and down hills and across the most difficult terrain. 

Additionally, the Trail Toolbox equips the Bronco with Trail One-Pedal Drive. This feature enables both acceleration and braking using just the accelerator pedal, particularly beneficial when rock crawling. Push to make the Bronco go, release to make it slow.

The Trail Turn Assist system is also part of the Trail Toolbox. It uses torque vectoring to almost magically tighten the Bronco’s off-road turning radius by braking the inside rear wheel.

On a series of off-road trails outside of Austin, Texas, the Trail Control off-road-oriented cruise control worked flawlessly in very challenging terrain. The one-pedal-driving mode was also helpful in climbing daunting grades covered with loose boulders.

2021 Ford Bronco Co-Pilot360 Review

All 2021 Ford Broncos have a Ford Co-Pilot360 safety system. In this SUV, the standard collection of ADAS includes:

  • Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection
  • Automatic high-beam headlights
  • Hill-descent control (manual transmission only)
  • Hill-start assistance

You can expand Co-Pilot360 contents by adding options. Depending on the trim level, these features are available:

  • Blind-spot warning
  • Rear cross-traffic warning
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Lane-keeping assistance
  • Driver attention monitoring
  • Emergency steering assistance
  • Adaptive cruise control

During our on-road driving evaluation, the Bronco’s adaptive cruise control did an excellent job of maintaining the set interval between the Bronco Outer Banks and the vehicles ahead in the same lane.

2021 Ford Bronco FAQ - Find the best Ford deals!

2021 Ford Bronco Cargo Area

Photo: Jack Nerad

How much cargo space does the 2021 Ford Bronco have?

With the back seat in use, the Bronco 4-Door supplies 35.6 cubic feet of cargo area with the optional hardtop, while the soft-top version delivers 38.3 cubic feet. Maximum volume measures 77.6 cubic feet with the hardtop and 83 cubic feet with the soft top. The swing-out rear door is hinged on the right and carries the spare wheel and tire.

Does the 2021 Ford Bronco get good gas mileage?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 2021 Ford Bronco with the standard turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is rated to get between 17 mpg and 21 mpg in combined driving, depending on the trim level and equipment. Transmission choice does not affect these ratings. 

The optional turbocharged V6 engine should return between 17 mpg and 19 mpg in combined driving. The Outer Banks test vehicle carried the 19-mpg rating, but during the on-road portion of the drive, primarily on highways, the SUV delivered 20 mpg according to the onboard trip computer.

Based on this result, and with its 20.8-gallon fuel tank, the Bronco 4-Door with the turbocharged V6 will have a range of about 415 miles on a tankful of fuel during cross-country on-road driving. It would be wise to re-fuel before reaching the 350-mile mark.

Is the 2021 Ford Bronco safe?

Because the 2021 Ford Bronco is new, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed crash tests on the SUV. Therefore, it is premature to judge the Bronco safe.

How much is the 2021 Ford Bronco?

The 2021 Ford Bronco has a base price of $28,500 for the 2-Door and $33,200 for the 4-Door. At the opposite end of the scale, the most expensive version of the new Bronco is the Wildtrak trim, and it costs $49,475. These prices do not include the destination charge of $1,495.

Note that the First Edition model, which tops $60,000, is sold out.

What are the 2021 Ford Bronco competitors?

The new Bronco has two primary competitors: the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota 4Runner. Both are rugged, authentic SUVs designed to perform better off-road than they do on the pavement.

However, if you’re interested, in the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS), the Nissan Murano ranked highest in the midsize SUV segment. The Chevrolet Blazer and the Hyundai Santa Fe were the next highest-ranked models. 

In the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout Study (APEAL), the Chevrolet Blazer was the top-ranked vehicle. The Nissan Murano and the Hyundai Santa Fe were the next highest-ranked models.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Ford deals!

2021 Ford Bronco Outer Banks 4-door Rear Quarter View

The Ford Bronco invades a territory that Jeep has successfully defended for years, and it will prove to be a solid competitor to the Wrangler. The Bronco has impressive off-road abilities and, on the road where it will spend most of its time, it delivers ride, handling, and quietness qualities unexpected from an authentic SUV.

Ford executives say that most early Bronco buyers are coming from outside the Ford brand and a large percentage of them are new to serious off-roading. In my estimation, the Bronco offers these buyers new opportunities for adventure without the same degree of compromise the competition can require. 

The current era has given many consumers a new desire to flee into the hinterlands when they can. They will find the 2021 Ford Bronco a willing vehicle for that task.

Jack R. Nerad has been road testing and writing about vehicles for decades for Web and print publications, including JDPower.com and others. He has a weekly podcast called America on the Road, and his work has appeared in scores of prestigious newspapers, magazines, and online publications.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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