Car Sport Spare Part

Living with the New Ford Bronco

If you’ve ordered a 2021 Ford Bronco, or are contemplating purchase of a 2021 Ford Bronco, or—and I seethe with envy here—are about to take delivery of a 2021 Ford Bronco, I hereby predict that you will not be disappointed.

Granted, at this point, you probably already know that, since Ford’s been slow-dripping Bronco news since Eddie Bauer was knee-high to a twin-traction-beam front end. But just when you think your thirst for Bronco insight has been slaked, here I am to tell you that there’s so much more to know.

For I have driven a 2021 Wildtrak four-door more than 600 miles, through all sorts of weather and across all sorts of terrain, both towing a trailer and not, with doors and roof in various states of dismantlement, and all to ascertain whether the Bronco can possibly accommodate my mountain of expectations. And while the answer is mostly yes, there were a few surprises. The following are observations you can digest while contemplating the $20,000 “market adjustment” on the lone Bronco in your local showroom.

The Doors Are Not Always Easy to Deal With

2021 bronco with front doors off

Car and Driver

Before I got my greedy hands on the Cactus Grey Wildtrack, I studied up on how to remove the doors. It looks easy: Roll down the window, unclip a wiring harness, drop two bolts and lift the door off the hinges. And that’s how it worked—on the front driver’s side door. The passenger side was a little different. By which I mean, even with the bolts removed, the post for the upper hinge refused to relinquish its grip, such that I could rock the truck on its suspension without the door budging at all. Eventually, a combination of rage adrenaline and dark incantations caused it to let go, but it was a battle. And putting it back on was the same deal, in reverse. The next time around, I soaked both hinges in WD-40, and that helped, though the fight was still more difficult on the passenger side.

2021 bronco door hinge stud

To remove a Bronco door, you must defeat this final boss by soaking him in WD-40, Teflon, or clarified butter.

Car and Driver

Also: a few days after reinstalling the doors the first time, that the driver’s side was groaning as it opened and closed. An inspection revealed a loose upper hinge bolt, and tightening it solved the problem. But that minor troubleshooting highlighted a fact of Bronco life: Once you take the doors off and reinstall them, the vehicle is forevermore partially assembled by you. Hopefully your personal assembly line has tight quality control.

The Bronco Sport’s Moment Is Over

The Bronco Sport enjoyed a brief monopoly over the Bronco name, one in which many, many people informed me that they’d seen the new Bronco and . . . it looked kind of small. The Sport is a worthy little crossover, with more off-road cred than most, but its name is no longer doing it any favors. That’s because the Bronco, sans Sport, is so obviously the real-deal no-apologies heir to the badge. I have to think that once the big Bronco is ubiquitous, the Sport is going to come across as awfully wannabe, and it would get old explaining that, no, your Bronco isn’t the one with the Sasquatch package and the removable top and doors. It’s the unibody one. The three-cylinder one. The one that maybe should have been called the Escape, or the perhaps the Scout. Because inviting a direct comparison to the Bronco isn’t great for the Bronco Sport. As my brother-in-law put it, “The Bronco Sport is like Danny DeVito in Twins.”

Ford Has Totally Screwed Up the Jeep Wave

Granted, my time with the Bronco generally coincided with torrential downpours and pea-soup visibility, but many a Wrangler driver threw me a Jeep wave before realizing, too late, that the rectilinear, round-headlight SUV looming out of the mist was not, in fact, a fellow Wrangler. Until now, it’s been totally easy for Wrangler drivers to recognize fellow members of the club. And while it’s not as if the Bronco looks just like a Wrangler, there’s enough resemblance that from now on Wrangler drivers will have to think before throwing the wave. Or they can just wave at Broncos, too. I don’t care.

The Hardtop Will Be Great, Once They Fix It

I have friends with four-door hardtop Wranglers, and they never remove anything except the front two panels. That’s because the remainder of the top is a single gigantic piece that basically requires a NASCAR pit crew and a Dutch gable hoist to remove. By adding a second set of removable panels to the second row, Ford made it easy to actually open the roof over all the seats, while also making the rear top section far more wieldy if you want to remove the whole deal. I’d still go with a soft-top, because I like to throw the top back on a whim, but the five-piece top is an elegant solution.

water leaking into a 2021 bronco

Webast-oh no.

Car and Driver

That is, assuming they can get the manufacturing kinks worked out with Webasto, the supplier. Because, for all the cleverness of the Bronco’s hardtop, it did leak. During one of many downpours, I saw water running down the A-pillar like a tear. Or maybe sweat, considering all the customers whose Broncos are ready except for a revised hardtop.

The Bronco Has an Enemy: Puddles

a 2021 bronco splashing through a puddle

Splish splash, forward visibility is dashed.

Car and Driver

With the Sasquatch package and its 35-inch tires, the Bronco can ford 33.5 inches of water. And I’m sure that 33 inches of water at 5 mph would be no problem at all. But lower the depth to shin-deep and up the speed slightly, and the Bronco reveals a problematic idiosyncrasy: a tendency to throw water in its own face like an old-timey drunk trying to wake up.

bronco front tire splashing a puddle

Car and Driver

Along Route 12 on the Outer Banks, days of rain caused sections of the road to disappear under shallow ponds. It wasn’t anything deep, and even sedans and minivans were blithely plowing through. But the Bronco had to tiptoe, because that stubby front end and lack of overhang meant that the tires would shoot a curtain of water straight up in front of the hood, which would then come crashing down on the windshield. And at less than 20 mph. Apparently Wranglers do this, too, but I watched oncoming Wranglers dive into puddles without suffering the drenching that the Bronco received. I think we need to do a Bronco-Wrangler side-by-side puddle test to suss out what’s going here—while also gleefully splashing water all over the place.

Hooking Up a Trailer Requires Some Creativity

Like the Wrangler, the Bronco wears its spare tire proudly on its tailgate. And also like the Wrangler, that spare tire is mere inches above the receiver for trailer hitches. Most trailer tongues flip up to unlock, and in the case of the Bronco, there isn’t enough room between the tongue and the spare tire unless the tongue lever is down in the locked position—which it can’t be until it’s on the hitch ball. This presents a problem.

The solution is to choreograph a dance between the tailgate and the trailer, opening the tailgate enough to move the spare tire out of the way, hopefully without the trailer interfering with the tailgate. In the case of my utility trailer, the tailgate could open just far enough to reveal the hitch before the tongue’s jack handle prevented it from opening any farther. This was relatively easy to handle with a lightweight utility trailer, where I could pick it up and move it by hand. It would be less convenient with, say, a boat.

trailer interfering with bronco spare tire

The problem.

Car and Driver

bronco tailgate open with trailer hitched up

The solution.

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But once you’re hooked up, the Bronco is a happy tow rig. Though, like the Wrangler, it’s only rated to tow 3500 pounds. That’s a thin number for a body-on-frame truck with—in the case of this Wildtrak—330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque.

There’s Room for More Engine, but It Probably Doesn’t Need It

ford bronco v 6 engine

Plenty of room to swap in turbos the size of cantaloupes.

Car and Driver

I haven’t yet driven a Bronco with the 2.3-liter four-cylinder, but all evidence suggests that the V-6 doesn’t make a huge difference. There’s only a 30-horsepower gap—300 horsepower versus 330 horsepower—and in our testing of two-door models, a manual four-cylinder did zero to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and an automatic V-6 managed 6.3 seconds. No big whup.

However, there’s plenty of room under the hood for something more. Look down the side of the V-6, past the turbochargers, and you get a fine view of the ground beneath the truck. Plenty of daylight. And while Ford says it won’t put a V-8 in the Bronco, that doesn’t mean nobody else will. Whatever the future holds—3.5-liter EcoBoost, or hybrid, or full EV—the base engine is fine.

But if you want to hold out for something stronger, I’ll be glad to take your place in the current line.

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