Written by William Byrd (aka a Jeep Wrangler owner)
I’ll start this article off by saying I’m a Jeep guy, but even as a Jeep Wrangler owner, I’m not a “Jeep guy.” You know what I’m talking about, I’m a fan, but it’s not an obsession.
Yet. I just returned for an epic cross-country trek, where I started to fall more and more in love with my 2017 Wrangler Unlimited. It’s the “Big Bear Edition” which is one of several special editions that Jeep sells each year. I was attracted to this one on the dealership lot mostly because of the styling, lots of blacked out trim and a cool map on the hood.
Well that, and our 2012 Yukon XL threw a rod (or rods) and I had to scramble to find a new vehicle. This is my second JK in the last decade, so I knew what I was getting.
It’s mostly stock, save for some minor updates like a rearview camera, side-step boards and a hitch receiver. But that’s a slippery slope, as many of you know. On my recent trip, I spent time with a good friend who owns a lifted Rubicon JL. Before I left his place in San Antonio, I was calling his local shop looking for take-off Rubicon suspension that would give me a slight lift before we headed to Moab.
From there, I know what will happen. I’ll start looking for larger wheels and disappear down a rabbit hole of Jeep mods.
And then I saw the 2021 Ford Bronco.
Literally a day or so after I returned and had washed and waxed the Jeep, it arrived in my inbox. The Bronco. The material was embargoed until 8pm on Monday the 13th, but I couldn’t stop looking at it. I also got a special invitation to go see it in person. Our local press association, WAPA, was kind enough to coordinate the event, held at a local marina.
They only brought one Bronco, the same orange two-door that has been making the TV morning show rounds. The video of Tim and I discussing the experience highlights some of my thoughts, but I wanted to expand a bit. These are three key areas that the Bronco will need to match — or beat — the Wrangler to succeed in winning this Jeep Wrangler owner over!
What the Wrangler offers, that no other current SUV does (well, did), is that open air driving experience. It’s literally had no competitors up to this point. Even competitors like the 4Runner and the FJ Cruiser, which hasn’t even been in production since 2014, couldn’t match the Jeep’s open-air abilities.
The Bronco does. It isn’t a shot across the Wrangler’s seven-slot nose, it’s a shot directly up its nose. Proverbially speaking of course. I predicted Ford wasn’t going to half-ass this, and the spy shots that came out along the way started to validate that.
The Bronco has take-off doors, “freedom panel”-style removal roof sections and removable clamshell across the back. The four-door even has two sections of removable panels to give you just the right amount of open air motoring.
I was able to spend some time picking up the two-door Bronco’s removable bits, and they are quite light. The doors on my JK weigh around 70 pounds (front) and 45 pounds (rear) while the use of aluminum in the JL means that weight is down by 20% or so. While I couldn’t get a confirmed weight, I lifted the Bronco’s doors and have no doubt that they are significantly lighter. The dude who was shuttling the car around estimated that they are around 35 pounds, and I don’t doubt that.
The panels were even lighter. I have my JK’s freedom panels removed at the moment, and so I had the opportunity to do a 1-to-1 comparison. The Bronco panels are stupid light. The clamshell rear section is, too. I lifted one side of it, and I’d say it’s significantly lighter than the 120-pound roof on my JK. However, I expect you’ll still need two people to remove it, just because it is so wide and bulky.
For category one, the Bronco is looking good.
A huge trait of the Wrangler, obviously, is the ability to go anywhere. My stock JK followed the lifted JL Rubicon through a ton of Texas mud and mixed surfaces, we even parked them in a darn river. The Bronco had to match that, and from early impressions, they did it.
I won’t get into the technical bits, Tim and company have covered what the Bronco offers with regard to off-road features. Suffice to say, the average Wrangler owner won’t be able to say that the Bronco isn’t off-road focused enough to compete. With Ford’s experience with the Raptor and other off-road vehicles, I have no doubt that the Bronco will succeed. Sasquatch is coming.
I am curious to see how the materials chosen for apparent lightness will stand up to the punishment of leaving the pavement.
Oh, and most Wrangler owners where I live rarely see dirt. So for a lot of buyers, the image is more than enough.
My Wrangler is also my daily driver. Well it was, back when I drove places daily! That means that it has to be a fairly normal conveyance when it’s not skittering over rocks and tromping through mud. Having just spent dozens of hours in mine (with two teenagers) while driving across this beautiful country, I can say that the Wrangler does that quite well. It was reasonably comfortable, it’s no long distance GT car, but did everything I asked. That included 80+ mph driving, hauling all of our camping gear, and just being generally reliable.
The Bronco appears to have some of those elements. The EcoBoost options are fairly proven, although long-term reliability is still a question mark. With it’s more raked windshield and reasonably economical engines, the Bronco should match or beat the Wrangler’s mpg rating. The meme about a cow being more aerodynamic than a Wrangler is shockingly accurate, it’s shaped like a brick. That made for 14-19 mpg on my trip and two petrol fill-ups per day. I also had a visit from Safelite when I got back to replace my windshield that was not only a bug magnet but also a rock magnet as well.
The JL, with it’s new powertrain and lighter components has already proven more economical than my JK; it has already cracked 20 mpg combined (with the diesel at 25 mpg). My early estimates for the Bronco, based on ballpark curb weight and engine options are likely around 23-24 mpg combined for the 2.3L and probably around 22 mpg for the 2.7L.
So, where does this leave me? Well, I already reached out to a friend who manages a local Ford dealer. He owes me some ballpark JK trade-in numbers before I’m willing to plunk down a deposit. Even though I just put more 6,000 miles on it, it’s still only at 37K, pretty solid for a 2017.
So will this Jeep Wrangler owner trade, or stay? You’ll have to stay tuned, I also just bought a new bikini top from Quadratec (for the Jeep, not me).
I already have several.
That got weird, sorry. Regardless, it’s great to be here at Pickup Truck + SUV Talk!
EDITOR’S NOTE: if you’re looking to compare Bronco pricing to Wrangler, check out our pricing comparo.
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