First Drive: 2021 Ford Bronco Wildtrak

10 min read

First Drive: 2021 Ford Bronco Wildtrak

10 min read

To say that the new Bronco has had a tumultuous start would be a pretty massive understatement. First there was the all-too-common misconception that the Bronco and Bronco Sport are one and the same. Although they’re on entirely different platforms, it didn’t help that the Bronco’s initial production run was significantly delayed due to the pandemic while the Bronco Sport’s introduction was not, so consumers only saw one side of the story initially. And once things finally did get rolling, an issue with the Bronco’s molded-in-color hardtops began to unfold soon thereafter. It’s a problem which has forced Ford to replace every single molded-in-color hard top that been produced for any Bronco built to date, in turn delaying production once again as the company’s supplier struggles to get those replacement tops out the door.

Fortunately for us (and the 125,000 customers with confirmed production order reservations), the Bronco has proven to be worth the hassle. As we noted in our deep dive earlier this year, this all-new SUV is not the result of a cheap marketing ploy that seeks to capitalize on brand heritage. Ford has taken direct aim at the Jeep Wrangler here, and evidence of the Jeep’s inspiration can be found throughout the new Bronco.

Crucially, however, Ford has chosen different strategies in key areas of the SUV’s design that help to make it a far more agreeable daily driver, and they’ve packed it with more than enough technology to ensure that it can also keep up where the pavement ends. While the new Bronco isn’t without its fair share of flaws, there’s also a whole lot to like about this new machine.

In and Out

2021 Bronco Wildtrack front quarter

In Wildtrak trim, the Bronco’s retro-futuristic design is perfectly proportioned to the ride height and tire size. It just looks right.

Our tester is a loaded Rapid Red two-door in Wildtrak trim with a molded-in-color hard top. Starting at a base price of $46,980 ($55,970 as-tested with destination and delivery), the Wildtrak spec brings together a lot of high end hardware as-standard that’s normally optional on lower trim levels.

Positioned as the desert runner in the current Bronco lineup, the Wildtrak comes packing a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that cranks out 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. The boosted mill channels the power exclusively through a ten-speed automatic (the 7-speed manual can’t be optioned with the V6) and routes the grunt to the rear wheels through Dana 44 solid rear axle.

Four wheel drive is standard on all Broncos, but Wildtrak models get an upgraded two-speed transfer case with a shorter 3.06:1 low range and the ability to automatically switch between 2H and 4H as needed. The Sasquatch package is also standard on Wildtrak models, and it comes with an array of its own off-road upgrades like 35-inch mud terrain tires, 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels, a unique high-riding suspension with position-sensitive Bilstein dampers, bigger fender flares, locking front and rear differentials, and a 4.7:1 final drive ratio.

This particular machine is also outfitted with the optional Lux package ($3590), which includes creature comforts like a 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen premium audio system, 360-degree surround view cameras, heated seats up front, adaptive cruise control and a wireless charging pad.

It’s also outfitted with a few other goodies that we’d consider must-haves, like the tow package ($595) and keyless entry keypad ($110), but there are a couple of options here that’d we’d actually avoid if we were spec'ing one out for ourselves. The first is the leather package: the material just isn’t very posh considering the $2195 it commands, and cloth seats make more sense to us in an off-road-focused vehicle anyway.

2021 Bronco Wildtrak engine

The Bronco Wildtrak comes with a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 with 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque on tap. Paired with the ten-speed automatic the Bronco is legitimately quick on the street, and it never felt like it was lacking any grunt when asked climb up steep terrain out in the dirt.

We’d also probably skip the roof rack ($365). While it could certainly come in handy if you have larger items that you need to transport that won’t fit in the Bronco’s interior storage, the roof rack makes removing the hard top a significantly bigger job. With the roof rails installed, you’ll need to bust out the included tool set and get to work removing an array of hex bolts, 10mm nuts, and weird triangular bolts that require Ford’s unique tool to unfasten, and then you’ll need to install trim pieces over the exposed threads above the windshield that are normally covered up by the roof rack. But without the roof rack in the way, removing the two roof panels above the driver and passenger seats is just a matter of releasing the four latches that keep each panel in place. It’s a one-person process that takes less than 30 seconds on each side – something you could do on a whim before pulling out of the garage, and those panels are designed to fit in the storage area behind the rear seats. Just some food for thought while you’re perusing the options sheet.

Behind the Wheel

Riding on the 35-inch mud terrain tires and outfitted with wider fender flares, the two-door Bronco Wildtrak just looks insanely cool. The retro-futuristic exterior design is stunningly cohesive, and everything looks “right” with the Sasquatch package’s hardware involved. It’s hard to believe this is a factory-stock vehicle. And trust us, it turns heads.

The interior is a more utilitarian affair, with hard plastics covering most of the cabin, but given the truck’s raison d'être, we don’t really mind it. There’s a handsome ruggedness to the aesthetic, and things like well-integrated grab bars and built-in auxiliary switch panels show a clear focus in the design.

The tech is pretty good, too – Sync 4 is on board regardless of whether the truck is outfitted with the standard 8-inch touchscreen or the 12-inch unit in our tester. The display is sharp and offers a vast amount of real estate, and although the software is a bit lacking when it comes to features, it offers fast response to inputs and wireless Apple CarPlay worked perfectly every time we used it. It was a bit of a disappointment to discover that CarPlay doesn’t operate in full screen, however, and while the wireless charger was less fussy than a lot of the pads we’ve come across in other vehicles, we did note that using it while wirelessly hooked up to Google Maps navigation through CarPlay made our iPhone 12 Pro Max pretty hot to the touch.

Out on the road, the advantages of the Bronco’s independent front suspension and its traditional rack and pinion steering are immediately obvious when compared to a similarly spec’d Jeep Wrangler and its factory-equipped solid front axle / recirculating-ball steering setup. Where the Jeep’s steering is wayward and requires near-constant correction on the highway, the Bronco tracks straight down the road like any other modern vehicle.

The Bronco Wildtrak’s desert-tuned suspension does yield some bounciness to the on-road ride quality, but the sidewall afforded by the huge tires helps to absorb impacts and makes the suspension feel a bit more compliant. Drivers that are used to the refined road manners of modern SUVs might be in for a surprise here, but around town and out on the highway, the Bronco’s ride quality is still noticeably better than the Wrangler Rubicon’s.

And so is the road noise at speed. The Bronco’s big Goodyear mud terrains make their presence known both during low-speed cornering and at higher freeway speeds, but it’s not egregious in either circumstance – you won’t need to raise your voice to have a conversation with another passenger, for instance. Wind noise is also noticeably louder than what you’d find in a typical modern SUV, but it’s nowhere near being a deal-breaker in our opinion. For what it’s worth, the Bronco’s squared-off front end seems to be more of the culprit here rather than the removable top.

2021 Bronco Wildtrak Baja mode

Only available on Wildtrak and Badlands models, Baja mode loosens the stability control, sharpens the throttle response, allows the rear locker to operate at higher speeds, and keeps the engine on boil to give the Bronco some Raptor-like manners during blasts through the desert.

At speed the turbo V6 has plenty of guts and never left us wishing for more shove in a vehicle like this. Paired with the ten-speed auto’s quick shifts and close ratios, it feels like twice as much power as the Jeep’s naturally aspirated V6, but it’s still several steps behind the legitimately bonkers Wrangler Rubicon 392. Ford appears to be trying to compensate for some of that by piping in simulated V8 sounds through the Bronco’s audio system whenever you push the throttle pedal past roughly 75%. While annoying at first, we actually got used to it. Odd as it may seem, it turns out we prefer fake V8 sounds to real V6 sounds.

To see how the Bronco Wildtrak fares in rough terrain, we headed out to Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area, our unofficial off-road testing ground. Located about an hour north of Los Angeles, Hungry Valley spans more than 19,000 acres and offers over 130 miles of terrain of varying difficulty levels to explore, and that offered us a chance to put the Bronco’s G.O.A.T. (Go Over Any Terrain) modes to good use.

In Wildtrak spec there are seven modes to choose from: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Baja, and Mud/Ruts. We spent the majority of our time switching between Sand and Mud/Ruts: Sand mode helps keep the Bronco stable in the softer terrain that we encountered in faster sections, while Mud/Ruts drops the transfer case into 4L and allows the front locker to join the party during the technical, low-speed stuff. The two-door Bronco Wildtrak’s 43.2-degree approach angle, 11.6 inches of ground clearance, and turbocharged torque made short work of larger obstacles we encountered, while the meaty 35-inch tires provided sure-footed grip in loose terrain even during the steepest hill climbs. Try as we might, we couldn’t make this thing break a sweat.

2021 Bronco Wildtrak Trail Turn Assist

Trail Turn Assist uses torque vectoring technology to lock the inside rear wheel and create a pivot point for the vehicle to rotate around, in turn reducing the Bronco’s turning radius substantially.

But perhaps the feature that impressed us the most was Trail Turn Assist. Standard on any Bronco with an automatic transmission, Trail Turn Assist is basically an off-road version of the brake-based torque vectoring systems that we’ve seen crop up on many performance cars over the past few years. In this application it’s designed to help navigate through tight trails by locking the inside rear wheel while the vehicle is turning, thereby creating a pivot point that significantly reduces the Bronco’s turning radius. It works extremely well in practice, and it kind of feels like witchcraft.

While imperfect, the new Bronco proves that you don’t have to sacrifice on-road manners to get serious off-road capability in an incredibly charming package. There are compromises to be sure: It’s pretty thirsty (we averaged about 15 mpg throughout our time with it, much of which was on the highway), the top rattles like crazy over washboards, and we can’t understand why Ford chose to put a +/- button on the shifter rather than simply putting paddles on the steering wheel (like they did with the Bronco Sport) to control the transmission manually.

But on the whole, the new Bronco’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Simply put, it’s the truck that enthusiasts have been hoping it would be. Now they just have to figure out how to get their hands on one.


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