BUCKING, YET TO BE BROKEN: In contrast to the feral roaming Mustang, the “Bronc” is a domesticated American horse bred to buck riders and delight rodeo passerby -ers. The Spanish language word for “rough”, has been adopted in Western American cowboy tradition, often with the final “o” ignored, to describe a horse not yet broken for riding. Announcing the return of the traditional off-road four-wheel drive sport activity truck to the Blue Oval the final “o” is retained as an all new 2021 Ford Bronco 4×4 is released from the gate. With the first two years’ Bronco production sold out, three things are certain. In the good ole U.S. of A. there is plenty of appetite for automotive nostalgia and more than sufficient room for a Jeep Wrangler competitor. And Roadblazing.com we respect vehicles which few mountains or rivers can shake a stick at.
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WHAT: 2021 Ford Bronco 4-Door Black Diamond 2.3T 4×4. Returning after a quarter century absence, this is technically the sixth generation “Unbroken Horse” since 1966 to wear a Blue Oval badge.
That is not even counting the 1984-1990 Bronco II. The all new 2021 Bronco code designated U725, is based on the T6 Ford Ranger pickup truck with a fully boxed-out frame as well as aluminum hood and tailgate. It is available in two and four door liftgate models, with soft or removable hard tops. A more powerful desert running Raptor version on the way.
Standard Powertrain: intercooled twin-scroll turbocharged 2.3L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 w/ idle Start/ Stop = 270 hp / 310 lb-ft @3000 rpm (300 hp / 320 lb-ft w/ 93 AKI octane unleaded gasoline).
- = -15 (+15 on 91 AKI) hp, +50 (+60 on 91 AKI) lb-ft vs. Jeep Wrangler JL 4-Door 3.6L V-6
- = hp, +5 (+15 on 91 AKI) lb-ft vs. Jeep Wrangler JL 4-Door 2.0L I-4
Optional Powertrain: intercooled twin turbocharged 2.7L DOHC 24V DI gas V-6 w/ idle Start/ Stop = 315 hp / 410 lb-ft @3000 rpm (330 hp / 415 lb-ft w/ 93 AKI octane unleaded gasoline)
- STANDARD: 7-speed manual helical gear transmission (6 + 1 crawl spline gear at 94.75:1 ratio)
- OPTIONAL: 10-speed torque converter planetary automatic transmission
- 4WD Transfer Case STD.: 2-speed part time electronic, shift on fly high ratio, 2:72:1 low ratio
- 4WD Transfer Case OPT.: Advanced 2-speed auto-mode on demand, 3.06:1 low ratio
- Axles STD.: F: Dana™ AdvanTEK® M190 independent front suspension; R: Dana 44™ AdvanTEK M220 solid rear differential
- Axles OPT.: F: Dana™ AdvanTEK® M210 independent front suspension, Spicer® Performa-TraK electronic locker; R:
Dana 44™ AdvanTEK M220 4:46:1 ratio, solid rear differential, Spicer® Performa-TraK electronic locker
WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: Creating a modern successor to a heritage SUV, Ford has unleashed a brawny new upright cube with an agreeable amount of retro cues. Like the original, the 2021 Ford Bronco 4-Door Black Diamond hood to fender joint rises flaring outwards. Differing from the former, there is an aft hood power dome. Adopting the 66’s thin grille / outboard round headlamp combo, a more serious chrome “BRONCO” lettered center horizontal bar in darkened upper and lower egg-crate, spanning to thin LED DRLs replaces the old chrome egg-crate.
Slim clad extensions don’t attempt to out-fender the Jeep Wrangler JL. Also unlike the Wrangler (and original ’66), door hinges are mounted internally. A clever cue has the darkened wing mirror arms extending from the windshield wiper arm cover across the A-pillars. Tandem lateral belt and lower cheat line creases and darkened rock rails wrap the body. The green house is usefully tall and an upward kink commences after the C-pillar.
Miniaturized vertical F-150 taillights cover the rear corners; Rear aperture is a split upper liftgate with lower backlight mount wiper, and lower left to right swing-gate, with tidy external hinges spare tire mount; Lower bumper contains center dip for spare tire fill and left side license plate crater.
Off-Road Functional: heavy duty tapered front bumper; powder coated. clad rear bumpers, 2 front, 2 rear tow hooks; darkened fender tie-down hooks; front, rear, transfer case, fuel tank bash plates; manual fold wing mirrors; swing-gate mounted full spare tire on wheel
WHY: Ford dealers finally have the goods to lull Wrangler customers away from Jeep dealers.
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since late Autumn 2021
WHERE: Ford new consumer truck dealers
WHERE MADE: Wayne, Michigan, U.S.A.
WHERE TO: Optional Advanced electronic four wheel drive was aboard the tested 2021 Bronco 4-Door Black Diamond . Akin to the Ford F-150 Raptor transfer case, AdvanceTrac 4×4 Automatic mode reads slippage and yaw rate date to vary transfer case clutch pack slippage and front to rear torque split. Roadblazing.com discovered how first gear was perfectly adequate on snowy 10° steep hill. When ambling anything steeper a 7th crawl gear is located down and far left on the shift pattern. Trail Control foot-off-the-pedal hill descent is a work in progress, as any braking simply triggers de-activation. G.O.A.T. modes altered by rotating a collar on the center console four wheel drive selector vary throttle response and transfer case slippage for varied terrains.
- +1 G(o). O(ver). A(ny). T(errain) management: 7 Modes = Normal, Eco, Sport, Wet, Sand, Mud, Rock
- +1 Dash board separate differential lock & traction control deactivation
- -1 Baja dune jumping mode only on Badlands & Wildtrack trims
- +/- Trail Control crawl cruise control uses steering wheel spoke toggle to adjust speed, but depressing the brakes disengages it completely
- F: Twin forged alloy A-arms with long-travel coil-over springs, HOSS-tuned heavy-duty dampers; R: 220 mm solid rear axle with long-travel, variable rate coilover springs, HOSS-tuned heavy-duty dampers
- Off-road steering knuckles
- 32″ inch General Grabber highway all-terrain tires
- 8.4″ inches ground clearance
- 7.95″ inches front, 9.8″ inches rear wheel travel
- 35″ inches water fording
HOW STRONG: Base four-banger power, out of a detuned Mustang mill, is flexible in town thanks to a light clutch, quick disengagement and low effort shifter. Above 1st gear, the ratios are usefully short avoiding frequent upshifts. On the open road wind noise becomes considerable above 70 miles per hour. Despite the hard roof panels’ optional felt insulation.
HOW LIMBER: Electric rack and pinion steering, more communicative in the rough than smooth, clocks quicker and lighter than on a JL Wrangler antediluvian recirculating ball type. Where the Jeep soldiers on with a mid 20th century solid front axle, the 2021 Bronco’s modern independent double wishbone front end tracks more steadily. Bronco Black Diamond coil-over damper posterior wheel control settles the Hotchkiss solid axle body bob for a civilized riding off-road machine. Four-wheel brake rotors don’t alleviate a wooden pedal and the slowing effect seems a bit unhurried.
HOW FAR: 18 mpg combined fuel economy; 450 miles highway range for a 2021 Ford Bronco 4-Door Black Diamond 2.3T 4×4 7-speed manual
- observed combined fuel economy = +0% vs. Jeep Wrangler JL 4-Door V-6
HOW BIG/ LITTLE: √ 2+3 occupancy; √ Requires less parking space the Jeep Wrangler; √ Segment leading nominal cargo room
- Wheelbase (4-Door): 116.1″ inches = -2.3″ vs. Jeep Wrangler JL 4-Door
- Row 2 legroom: 36.3″ inches = -2.0″ vs. Jeep Wrangler JL 4-Door
- Cargo Volume (nom. – max.): +12%, +7% vs. Jeep Wrangler JL 4-Door
HOW USEFUL: √ Split rear cargo bay lower swing-gate + upper backlight liftgate; √ 60:40 split 2nd Row fold-down seat backs; √ All-weather rubberized cabin floor pan with drains; √ 1st Row full fore center console deep storage management; √ Front seat backs aft Molles loop-hook connector panels + net map pockets; ♦ Heavy duty large duty cargo floor loop hook anchors x 4; ♦ Cargo bay 12 V x 1 outlet; ♦ Row 1 & 2 door net slim map pockets; ♦ Cupholders x 2, Row 1
♦♦ Removable 4 Panel hard roof, Row 1 T-roof panels removable by hand, Row 2 and Cargo bay panels removable by tow persons with supplied tools. ♦♦
- Ford Bronco 4-Door Black Diamond 2.3T 4×4: √ Tow Rating (at tongue) = 3,500 lbs. (3.73:1 rear axle ratio, Max towing pkg.) ; √ Payload Rating = 1053 lbs.
HOW SAFE: Good IIHS scores, except Acceptable passenger’s side front small overlap; STANDARD: √ 6 airbags; √ Rear camera w/ predictive grid; √ Audible rear park warning; √ Roll mitigation; √ MyKey restrictive access; √ Forward collision, pedestrian detection warning w/ avoidance braking; √ Hill Descent control; √ 2nd Row occupant minder; √ Automatic high beam headlamps; -1 Dim headlight broadcast
AVAILABLE Safety Features (not included in test 2021 Bronco Black Diamond vehicle):
Ford Co-Pilot360: √ Blind Spot, rear cross traffic Warning; √ Post collision S.O.S. alert; Lane Departure Warning & Keep Assist; √ Evasive Steering Assist; √ Adaptive Cruise Control; √ Driver Alert warning 360° surround camera; √ Forward park sensor
HOW FRIENDLY: Operationally, the Bronco cabin very nearly gets the job done, with straight-forward display and control array, borrowing much from a Ford Escape, including a “Bronc” faced steering wheel, tidy spoke controls and climate control cluster. Dashboard corner and center console passenger grab bars and vent louver levers tipped in pastel sky blue embark on inspirational, especially in contrast to a drab undistinctive hard passenger side dash face, and walls coarsely grained to invite scuffs. It is understood that removable doors force a relocation of power window switches. But whose idea was it to slap them onto the face of the center console storage bin, hidden by the armrest overhang? The single analog dialright flanked by 8.0″ multi-function TFT digital display, configurable for G.O.A.T. drive modes doesn’t say “heritage” the way any old twin round dial gauges would.
√ Marine grade vinyl seats, heated front, driver: 6-way manual adjust front; √ Heated folding side mirrors; √ A-Pillar, 2nd row headliner grab handles; √ Digital instrument cluster w/ configurable multi-function LCD display; √ Tilt/ telescoping leather wrapped steering wheel w/ horizontal spoke MFI, driver assist controls & audio switches; √ 2-zone auto climate control; √ Tandem contrast stitched soft-touch upper dash-top & door elbow panels.
+1 Cool Gizmo(s): Upfitter accessory switches x 6 (upper dashboard); Removable 4-section hard top, tools included.
HOW CONNECTED: √ MyFord Sync4 center dash embedded 8.0″-inch tri-pane, capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen; √ Bluetooth & voice command hands-free communications; 6-speaker, 180 Watt; √ SMS messaging; √ USB-A x 2, USB-C x 2 (Rows 1, 2), 12V x 2 (center stack).
- -1 Non-concealed forward center console wireless device storage
HOW “APP” -LICABLE:
√ Android Auto / Apple Car Play smart phone projection; √ MyFord Sync4 Apps include Pandora, IHeart streaming music
- +1 MyFord Sync4 voice commands for climate, audio, SMS
By Subscription: √ Sirius XM satellite radio; √ Wi-Fi 4G LTE hot spot (by Verizon Wireless)
HOW MUCH: $42,720 for a 2021 Ford Bronco 4-Door Black Diamond 2.3T 4×4 7-speed manual hard-top
WHAT’S MISSING: Heated front seats; better power window switch access
ANY COMPETITION: Jeep Wrangler JL 4-Door : +1 available 2.8T I-4 diesel engine/ e-locking front differential; Toyota 4Runner TRD Sport: +1 V6, cabin civility, ride comfort, Toyota reliability
FINAL SAY-SO: After a quarter century hiatus, Blue Oval’s heritage SUV is back to tackle treacherous slopes.
(Contributing Editor: S. Frissell)