2021 Bronco Outer Banks Heads to the Beach | Full On/Off-Road Review
Let me put this right out there from the start, I have been more interested in getting some time behind the wheel of the new Bronco than any new Ford of the past several years. I’m genetically predisposed to an attraction to truck-based off-road ready SUVs like Bronco, especially the two-door variety. I’ve had a number of them over the years and I’m more than ready to have another long-term one in my life. That being said, I came into this encounter with no particular expectations. These are my unbiased thoughts, and my conclusion is simply this: the Bronco is good with the potential to be great.
I know Cyber Orange isn't everyone's favorite color on a Bronco, but you have to admit that it certainly pops in the sunlight.
First, let’s take a moment to appreciate the importance the mere existence of the Bronco means to the enthusiast community. In a time of tightening mileage regulations, EV mandates, and hyper political correctness; Ford gave us a decently powerful body-on-frame SUV with a legit manual transmission option. That has to be commended. Sure, we’d all like to see V8 option (is there a business case for a small displacement /small footprint V8 any longer???), but we are in an EcoBoost world and those little mills make diesel like torque. The 2.3L and 2.7L EB engines are actually a damn good fit for the Bronco.
The jokes write themselves here, but I think it's best to say that both these steeds are at home off the pavement.
Allow me get this out of the way right now. I have a lot to say about this Bronco, and the Bronco in general. I don’t want to waste everyone’s time (especially mine) by plowing the same field in two different mediums, so if you want to get straight to the full review with all the nitty-gritty details I suggest you watch the vid below. If you’re an SVTP Premium Member we have some more exclusive behind-the-scenes content just for you RIGHT HERE.
This video review is probably our most extensive yet. We tried to pack in everything, but there's so much to cover that we may have to pick up a Bronco of our own and keep cranking out the content.
Over about a week with our Cyber Orange (which reminds me a lot of Yellow blaze) 2-door Outer Banks test vehicle I got a chance to add about 1,000 miles to its odometer. From a highway road trip, to a drive on the beach, to a trip the dyno, and visit to the sand pit I really put this thing through the paces. I wanted to know if the Bronco could pull double-duty as both a daily driver and a weekend toy. What I found out is that it absolutely can, with ease.
Ford did a good job of differentiating all the various Bronco models with unique grilles. I'm sure we're going to see unending options coming out of the aftermarket.
On the highway it was comfortable, immersive, and knocked down a solid 22.5MPG with the 2.3L/10R80/4.27:1 combo. The 12 inch screen with Apple Car Play dominates the efficiently designed, but ruggedly stylish, dash. The steering is sharp and perfectly weighted. The brakes feel decent and work well. The more I drove it, the more the Bronco reminded me of a Mustang (the S-197 flavor to be specific); and that’s a good thing. The only real interior complaints I came across on a long trip is a tendency for my right knee to become numb from leaning over on a hard plastic edge of the center console, and the seats became a bit uncomfortable due to their relative flatness. The seats are something that’s certainly been addressed on the Bronco Raptor (those look to be great), but I do have to give credit to Ford for keeping the adjustments manual on our tester. You don’t need 30 pounds of electric motors to move your butt 3 inches forward in a steed like this.
This is a great day in the office. Notice the sound deadening material on the hardtop roof.
However, as good as this OBX Bronco was on-road it may be even better off-road. Beyond the optional 4.27:1 gears and rear locker, this particular truck is about as run-of-the-mill as you’re going to find on a Ford lot right now. The tires were basic Bridgestone A/Ts, and the ground clearance was about the same as a 4x4 Ranger. Still, with this basic configuration the OBX ate up every situation we put it in. Since we’re in the Coastal Carolina region we have sand in abundance so that’s where we did most of our off-road testing. With Ford’s sand mode (one of the numerous G.O.A.T. Modes) engaged the transmission maintained a low gear to keep the revs right at peak torque. This helped maintain forward momentum when the sand started to get soft. Anyone who has been in sugar sand knows how quickly a minor screw-up can lead to you breaking out the tow strap, but that wasn’t the case here. Ford’s tuning and the Bronco’s sure footedness allowed me to recover from hooning-induced situations in which lesser 4x4s would have found themselves buried. That’s a win to me.
Though it may be simple, I believe the Bronco's dash design is one the best from Ford in many years.
So we know the Bronco drives well (likely much better than you’d expect) both on and off road, but how would it be to live with on a daily basis. If you DD a Mustang now, the Bronco is most going to be an upgrade for you. Yes, the ride it going to be a bit stiffer and you’re going to take a big hit on the speed front; but the utility credentials of the Kicking Horse is solid. Cargo space is decent on the 2-Door and even better on the 4-Door. I prefer running rear seats down, but if a rear seat delete option were available on the 2-Door I’d probably go that way. Towing capacity leaves a bit to be desired at 3,500 pounds, but the Bronco Raptor’s 4,500 pound rating demonstrates that the platform is capable of more.
This Outer Banks model Bronco looks 100% at home on a beach in the Carolinas.
The more I drove this OBX, the more I came away with the feeling Ford’s engineers designed the Bronco to be the one vehicle for guys who only have one vehicle. It does some things great, and other things really well. For those gaps in performance owners may find, the engineers designed in upgradeability. Everywhere you look on the body is an “accessory ready” mark letting potential owners know they should make this steed their own. Since I absolutely can’t leave anything stock, this is right up my alley. To me, modding is inevitable.
Huge thanks to Pro-Dyno for letting us make some pulls on their dyno. Check out the video above for a full break down of what all these runs actually mean (we explain the conditions of each run). In the end, the 2.3L EcoBoost makes about 230RWHP and 280RWTQ.
On the topic of inevitability, comparison of the Bronco with the Jeep Wrangler is inevitable. Let me tell you, beyond occupying the same market segment; there is no comparison. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a Ford engineer on the Bronco with that project was in its infancy. The first thing he mentioned was that the Wrangler drives like crap, and that Ford can do much better. Well mission accomplished. That is largely due to the Bronco having Independent Front Suspension with rack and pinion steering while the Wrangler has the venerable setup of a Solid Front Axle and Recirculating Ball Steering.
The 2.3L EcoBoost I-4 may not have been the engine everyone was hoping for, but it is well matched to this 2-Door Bronco.
There’re certainly two competing points of view in the IRS vs SFA debate, but I’ll give you my point of view for this market segment. Simply put, stock-for-stock there’s nothing a similarly equipped Wrangler can do that the Bronco can’t. However, there are absolutely some things (especially anything high-speed or comfort related) that Bronco will crush where Wrangler will merely leave you with crushed kidneys.
The argument that SFA guys will make is that the SFA is stronger. To that I say ‘why isn’t Jeep putting 37s on a Dana 35 from the factory?’ BRaptor comes with 37s, ‘Squatch comes with 35s, Rubicon rolls in with 33s (or 35s if you really want to set your wallet on fire). These aren’t 1-ton trucks, and for now the factory doesn’t see an economic value in slapping a Dana Super 60 under one of these trucks.
If you want a Full/Detailed Look at the under-body componentry of the Bronco, check out the video posted earlier in the review. Thanks to the use of Pro-Dyno's lift, we got to break down all the details hidden underneath.
The one real advantage an SFA setup has is its ability to be lifted on the cheap. For many Jeep owners, that is a major selling point. However, ‘Squatch already sits like a basically lifted Jeep and BRaptor takes that to a level beyond most would be willing to go to with a bolt-on aftermarket kit. Ford’s thought seems to be to forget the suspension aftermarket and to stance their trucks properly right off the showroom floor.
Though outwardly it may not appear so, Bronco and Wrangler are very different vehicles. Don’t believe me? Head to the dealers and drive two back-to-back. The driving dynamic difference is stark. Some of you (like me) may not mind the sloppy steering and handling of a Jeep. I personally have fond memories of putting 200,000 miles on my old Jeep XJ Cherokee, though I did have to turn the steering wheel about half a turn before the front wheels actually did anything. However, that feeling may best be left as a memory. All I can say is that as of now I’m a Bronco believer. After 1,000 miles behind the wheel of one I’m hooked. I plan on adding at least one to our fleet in the not too distant future. Now the question is which flavor?
(the good ones)
Photos by StacyStangz (the good ones) and Author (the ones shot with a potato)