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Review: I took the new Ford Bronco off-roading to see what all the hype was about — and I get it

Jules Rogers   

Review: I took the new Ford Bronco off-roading to see what all the hype was about — and I get it
  • After 25 years off the market, the Ford Bronco off-road SUV is back to take on the Jeep Wrangler.
  • We took a $56,000 Bronco off-roading recently and came away impressed, both on-road and off.

The 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands added two accolades to its portfolio at September automotive event Mudfest in Shelton, Washington. This all-new Bronco model earned a runner-up position in the mid- and full-size family vehicle category, and a runner-up title in the Extreme Capability category, coming in second to the 2022 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392 in both.

The exterior styling is very desirable on Ford's new Bronco, and the model we drove had a gorgeous dusty blue paint job called "Area 51" paired with a black vinyl interior. Just looking at it had me itching to grab the keys and head straight to the off-road course.

Drivers of the 2021 Ford Bronco have seven trims to choose from:

  • Ford Bronco: two-door ($28,500); four-door ($33,200)
  • Bronco Big Bend: two-door ($33,385); four-door ($35,880)
  • Bronco Black Diamond: two-door ($36,050); four-door ($38,955)
  • Bronco Outer Banks: two-door ($38,955); four-door ($41,450)
  • Bronco Badlands: two-door ($42,095); four-door ($44,590)
  • Bronco Wildtrak: two-door ($46,980); four-door ($49,475)
  • Bronco First Edition: two-door ($56,915); four-door ($61,110)

The options list for the Bronco is huge, and you can find what's included in every trim here.

We drove the two-door Badlands trim with four-wheel drive, decked out with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost (read: turbocharged) V6 engine producing 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, and paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. This setup can earn a combined 17 mpg, according to the EPA, which unsurprisingly isn't the most impressive in its class considering its rather brawny powertrain.

On pavement, the 2021 Bronco Badlands handles nicely, offering a grounded driving and braking experience when speeding around tight corners.

The Badlands model we drove included the Sasquatch package, which is rigged out with massive 35-inch tires, locking front and rear differentials, and high-clearance suspension and fender flares made specifically for off-roading.

We took the Badlands on a small off-roading course, complete with a steep hill that dipped into a puddle, angled corners, and a loose log bridge. The Badlands handled like a pro on those obstacles, featuring dynamic capability driving over the hurdles while providing a grounded driving experience throughout the track. Even over the dirt moguls, the Badlands provided a relatively smooth driving feel because of its high-clearance suspension and mud-terrain tires — part of the Sasquatch package.

I had the option to put the Badlands in Slippery, Rock Crawl, Sand/Snow, or Mud/Ruts drive modes — the GOAT modes, as Ford calls them, which stands for "Goes Over Any Terrain."

These modes are simply labeled, making it super easy to know which to choose depending on the landscape — and easy to change modes quickly with the dial control system. Basically, instead of making a bunch of tweaks yourself to make the Bronco handle better in the mud, you just click "Mud" and the Bronco will do it for you.

The Bronco Badlands model we drove featured a cargo-area protector, extra towing capability, keyless entry keypad, a brush guard, and a roof rail with crossbars as additional options. Ford offers approximately 200 accessory options for the Bronco, so drivers can really customize this vehicle to their terrain preferences. It's perfect for tackling heavy-duty outdoors obstacles, or even just going off-roading for fun.

Although the base MSRP for the standard 2021 Ford Bronco is $28,500 and the starting price for the Bronco Badlands is $42,095, the model we drove came out to a total of $56,150 with all the fixings.

All 2021 Bronco models come standard with push-button start and wireless smartphone connectivity, as well as removable doors and a removable top that drivers can customize to be a mesh shade top, canvas soft top, or hard top. The two-door models can seat four passengers, while upgrading to a four-door Bronco costs about $2,000 extra.

For me, the 2021 Bronco Badlands was my favorite SUV among midsize and full-size competitors, mainly due to its enjoyable ride and handling experience and responsive braking on the pavement track and on the off-roading course.

The 2021 Bronco Badlands is equipped with a heavy-duty front bumper, skid plates, a rubberized interior, rock rails, marine-grade vinyl seats, and navigation, as well as automatic high-beam LEDs, tow hooks, and fender tie-down hooks, making off-roading a breeze.

The 360-degree camera makes it easy to point your wheels where you want to go, even when you don't have a good visual of the terrain through the windshield due to steep angles or obstacles. This is a super convenient feature when driving over steep dirt hills, when your windshield is pointed practically straight up to the sky and you have no visuals through the windows — just check on the Bronco's screen where your tires are and what's around them, and steer accordingly.

And, with the rubberized interior, motorists can easily hose everything down at the end of a long day hauling through mud or sand.

Taking a look at rival SUVs, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon also comes in two-door and four-door body styles with removal tops and doors — and an excellent off-roading capability — giving the Bronco Badlands a run for its money with better fuel efficiency and a plug-in-hybrid powertrain option. On the other hand, the Bronco Badlands is the vehicle with the stronger four-cylinder and V6 engine options in this case.

At the end of the day, this tailor-made Bronco hits the mark on relative affordability, a comfortable driving experience, and as an exhilarating off-roading vehicle.


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