|Positives: Fun with manual transmission, powerful turbo-four engine, plenty of room in both rows, great infotainment, tremendous off-road capability.
|Negatives: Excessive road and wind noise at highway speeds, poor gas mileage, strange instrument cluster.
|Bottom Line: The Ford Bronco in its most basic configuration is a remarkable off-road beast with room, good on-road driving manners, solid technology, and a great manual transmission.
As much as the current Wrangler has improved with its on-road driving experience, the Bronco is better. Even with the big tires, the Bronco has good on-pavement manners and feels more controlled and less jarring. Even with the base engine, power is palpable, and the control with the 7-speed manual is excellent.
Ride Quality: The ride is firm, but the Bronco absorbs bumps and gaps very well. It feels compliant and comfortable for the most part.
Acceleration: Acceleration isn't spritely, but it's still pretty good for a seriously heavy SUV. 0-60 takes about 8.5 seconds, but it feels quicker. The 7-speed manual is pretty good. It's not super-precise, but shifting duties were no problem, and the clutch action was very good. Not too firm and not too soft. It makes the Bronco fun to drive.
Braking: With the big tires, there's some nose dive, but we had no problem bringing it to a stop well. The pedal is progressive, and we didn't feel any mushiness.
Steering: The steering effort is good, and precision is decent, as well. It definitely feels better than the Wrangler, but that bar is pretty low.
Handling: Of course with an SUV like this, you'd expect some body roll, but it's not out of control. The Bronco actually feels pretty balanced and manages its weight well. The tall sidewalls give a bit, but it's not unmanageable.
We really do love Ford's SYNC 4 system because it's remarkably responsive and very intuitive. The setup gets OTA updates, connects to the cloud, and provides wireless connection to smartphones. Also included are Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot that requires a subscription. We love the standard six AUX switches located overhead. They come pre-wired for connecting lights, radios, etc.
Infotainment System: Lower trims get the 8" touchscreen, as ours had. It's crisp, clear, and easy to read in bright sunlight. We love the menus and the way the system responds to inputs. The digital instrument display is weird, though. The tach is a vertical bar, and off to the side is 3/4ths of an analog speedometer.
Controls: We quite liked the presence of the Bronco's no-nonsense physical controls for climate, audio, and drive selector. All of it is pretty intuitive and easy to use.
The Bronco looks like nothing else on the road, and that's a very good thing. It eschews aerodynamics for a blocky off-road demeanor that's impossible to mistake for anything else, even a Wrangler. Even in a primer gray with steel wheels, it looks pretty awesome. The cabin is no-nonsense but still ruggedly handsome in a way that matches the exterior.
Front: The perforated matte black grille, round headlights, and big black powder-coated bumper are all business. It's by no means handsome, but it's definitely masculine and distinct.
Rear: Okay, so this is the one angle from which it could be mistaken for a Wrangler. The boxy roof and body look good, as do the rectangular taillights.
Profile: The Bronco doesn't look especially stylish from the side, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work well. The slab sides and the boxy profile fit the bill very well, and we really do love the basic black steel wheels that give it a truly utilitarian and no-nonsense look.
Cabin: We've accused Ford of using way too much dark plastic in its interiors, but it seems to work well in the base Bronco. It's clean, unobtrusive and remarkably easy to live with. We quite like the look because it's no-nonsense.
Make no mistake in thinking that the Bronco in its most basic 4-door form isn't comfy. There's no leather, no wood, and the seats are manually adjustable, but that doesn't mean it's not great for a family. We quite like the marine grade vinyl seats, as well as the roominess inside this SUV. Because the doors are removable, Ford had to move the window switches to the center, but the fact that they're on the armrest and below the lid overhang makes them really hard to use. Big demerit for that choice.
Front Seats: The seats are wide and accommodating, and there's just the right amount of bolstering and cushioning. We had no trouble getting the seats in the right position, even though they're manually adjustable.
Rear Seats: There's room for three back here, and seat comfort is good in the outboard positions. The center spot gets shorted in the cushion, and the seatback bulges a bit too much.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The wind and road noise gets seriously noticeable at highway speeds. We can't imagine taking this on a long road trip.
Visibility: The driving position is very good, and the pillar width remains good all around. Sightlines are actually very good for the Bronco, and that's not something we see often in the segment. It's better than the Wrangler Unlimited.
Climate: Overall climate comfort is pretty good. We didn't experience any difficulty getting it to temp. The real test is the heat in bitter cold weather, which we didn't get to test. The fact that there are removable doors, and a removable roof mean seals could come into question.
The Bronco does pretty well in safety tests, and even in its most basic form, the rugged SUV is more than adequate for families. The one issue we had was with the apparent lack of safety tech such as adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic emergency braking.
IIHS Rating: Although the Bronco doesn't win any awards from the IIHS, it does very well in crash testing. Its demerits occur with headlights, LATCH ease of use, and headrests.
NHTSA Rating: It earns five stars overall from the federal government. It only gets dinged by one star in the rollover risk category.
Standard Tech: Aside from traction control, airbags, ABS, an individual tire pressure monitor,m and a rearview camera, there's not much in the way of standard safety tech.
Optional Tech: None.
The Bronco would be nothing without good interior storage and solid levels of cargo room. The four-door provides additional length and more than doubles the two two-door Bronco's cargo space.
Storage Space: Webbed door pockets and seat back pockets provide room and flexibility. A big center armrest, a binnacle and cupholder in the center console, and a small cubby in front of the shifter provide easy access for small to medium-sized daily gear items.
Cargo Room: The four-door Bronco provides 52.27 cubic feet behind row two and 82.97 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded flat. The cargo section also gets Molle grid webbing for easy gear attachment. It prevents gear from rolling around the back, a great addition for off-roading needs. Stock up on those carabiners.
The presence of a turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood helps the gas mileage for such a big vehicle, and were guessing the manual transmission also helps a little bit. We didn't expect excellent numbers due to the 4,500-lb curb weight. We were able to come decently close to the EPA estimate, but we do like revving it up with the manual transmission.
Observed: 20.4 mpg.
Distance Driven: 114 miles.
There's nothing especially great about the Bronco's 6-speaker stock audio system. There was no distortion, but the bass and fullness were just average. Nobody who buys the base Bronco will expect symphonic levels of sound quality, so we didn't think it was a big deal.