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ROAD TEST | Boxy can be sexy for Ford Bronco

The pretty young brunette had a bouncing step and a wide smile on her face as she approached me in the parking lot of the health club.

This caught my attention because even when I was much younger, attractive young women rarely approached me with leaps in their steps and smiles on their faces. Ok, that’s a lie. They never did.

“I love your truck,” she exclaimed, nodding at the shiny red 2022 Ford Bronco where I pulled my duffel bag. “It’s so cool.”

Yeah, that covers it all. The Bronco, Ford’s GOAT (Goes Over Any Terrain) answer to the Jeep Wrangler, is seriously cool. End of the exam. See you next week.

Box-like with a slightly smaller box attached to the top and with black track sights bolted to each front fender, the Bronco is attractive in a muscular, square-jawed way. Ford calls the paint on our four-door tester “Rapid Red.”

Costs.

On a slightly more serious note, his reaction was a superbly focused synopsis of a vehicle you might be able to buy if Ford ever figures out how to run all the controls it has. From time to time, a spare comes on the lot from a dealer, who immediately applies an additional window sticker that is better to read near a defibrillator.

OJ’s Ride

When Ford launched the new Bronco last year, it marked the reappearance of a nameplate that had been absent from the lineup for a quarter of a century. When it was discontinued in 1996, the Bronco had long failed to rival Wrangler as the rock-filled lane champion.

The first generation Bronco (1966-78) was designed to serve as an all-terrain vehicle. Designed by Donald N. Frey, who also designed the Mustang, it rode on a chassis unique to the model. Targeted at the Jeep CJ-5, the compact-sized vehicle prompted Ford’s marketing to coin the term “Sports Utility”.

A V8 was standard, and the base price was $3,665, about $600 more than a top-of-the-line Pontiac GTO convertible.

The first Bronco was a halo vehicle, achieving success in Baja races and – briefly – as a fun car dragster. Only once in its first 11 years of production did sales exceed 25,000 units. During the same period, Pontiac sold up to 96,000 GTOs per year. The Chevrolet Blazer, Jeep Cherokee and International Scout II quickly reduced Bronco’s market share.

In 1978, the Bronco entered the full-size SUV segment as an adaptation of Ford’s F-series pickup trucks. OJ Simpson was caught driving one.

In 82, Ford presented a compact version, the Bronco II. This two-pronged approach was revived when Ford decided to revive the Bronco for 2021.

The current Bronco is based on the same body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive midsize pickup as the Ford Ranger. The Bronco Sport shares a compact, front-wheel-drive unibody platform with the Escape SUV and Maverick pickup. Other than a few styling cues, there are no similarities between the Bronco and the Bronco Sport.

The similarities between the old and new Broncos stop in the name and the intended market. The latest iteration is more competent off-road, more comfortable on-road and more sophisticated from bow to stern.

Watch out, Wrangler

A wise man once told me that if you’re up against a competitor, you don’t have to be as good. You have to be twice as good. After abandoning the lightweight off-road business to Wrangler for a quarter of a century, Ford has come back with a vehicle that’s at least 50% better.

Both are amazing off the beaten path and only a pro could tell which is better for climbing rocks and crossing raging rivers. It’s a big problem. Ford says more than half of its orders are for the Sasquatch Edition, which comes with 35-inch tires, higher clearance and front and rear electronic-locking hubs.

On the other hand, anyone breathing can tell that the Bronco is eminently better on highways and city streets. The ride, as expected, is firm, but not too firm. The feel would appeal to Goldilocks, or even a brunette – just right. The seats offer more support and are suitable for long journeys.

Sure, there’s still a lot of wind noise, which is to be expected of a vehicle with removable doors and roof, but the Bronco is much quieter than the Wrangler. Indeed, we were able to crank up Rock ‘n’ Roll and drown out the wind and road noise.

Handling feels safe. The lean mass is surprisingly well contained. The Broncos are beefy, with curb weights ranging from 4,400 to 4,800 pounds, and they sit tall, with ground clearances ranging from 8.4 to 11.7. Still, the vehicle feels well planted.

The steering is pleasantly linear and inspires confidence. Thanks to a multi-link configuration at the front, road imperfections are well absorbed. Every now and then a pothole reminds that there is still a live axle with coil springs at the rear.

Wrangler, however, wins a critical contest, fuel economy. There are two choices of Bronco engines, a 300-hp 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a 330-hp 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, and a 400-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 found in Bronco Raptor.

The base engine returns an EPA-estimated 20 mpg. The EPA said the 2.7L delivers 19 mpg at best, but different wheel and tire configurations can affect that. The best we could get from our Outer Banks version with the 2.7 was 16.8 on the highway, 14 in the city.

With the exception of the Hemi© model, all of Wrangler’s available engines offer better fuel economy, so the Bronco will make sure you pay your oil tithes more regularly than the church.

Starting at $30,975, the Bronco is available in six main trim levels: Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands and Wildtrak. All are available with two or four doors, and the difference is huge. Two-door Broncos have a 100.4-inch wheelbase and four-door models 116.1. The difference profoundly affects ride quality and interior volume.

Two-door models get a 16.9 gallon fuel tank, four-door models hold 20.8 gallons.

There are three groups of options, medium, high and lux.

Do the math and that equals 36 different models before considering things like towing packages and a long list of dealer-installed options, from light packages to a rear folding table.

Our Outer Banks tester had a list price of $41,450. The larger engine, which ran like a scalded cat and had a lively engine note, added $1,895. The lux package gave us a 12-inch touchscreen, 360-degree cameras, sound system, exterior lighting, wireless charging, and more, added $3,590. Leather seats with contrast stitching bumped up the price by $2,195. Add in a tow package, door and roof storage bags, roof rails and a few other goodies, and we were down to $52,860.

We’ve seen other models sell for $64,000, before the dealer markup. Then there’s the Raptor, which starts at $68,050.

I doubt that any of this matters to the nice young woman. After taking a close look at my ride, she jumped into a black Mercedes SUV and drove off.

Costs.


2022 Ford Bronco in Eruption Green. Available equipment shown.




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2022 Bronco Wildtrak with optional HOSS 3.0 with Fox internal bypass shock package. Preproduction model shown with available equipment. 2022 Bronco Wildtrak is exclusively available to current unscheduled order holders. However, stocks are limited and there are no guarantees. The order bank should open in the summer of 2022. Professional driver in closed circuit. Always consult the owner’s manual before riding off-road, know the terrain and difficulty of the trails, and use the proper safety equipment. Ford is committed to preserving the environment and treading lightly.