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A tale of two Ford Broncos: On-road vs. off-road driving

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I recently had the two-door Ford Bronco for a weeklong test, and I took it from Chicago to Indianapolis for a road trip. It was a miserable experience with excruciatingly loud wind noise.

But I hadn’t driven it off-road yet, so I only assumed the off-road capability would make up for the on-road dynamics.

Then Ford Motor Co. invited me to the Las Vegas Off Roadeo to test the Bronco in freshly fallen snow, and it was downright magical.

The Janus-faced Bronco managed to produce the best of times and the worst of times within a couple short weeks.

So, let’s dig into that a bit.

Off-road driving: The best of times

To say I was impressed with the Bronco’s capability would be an understatement. While I’m not an off-road guru, I do my fair share of playing in the dirt and I’m looking toward a run at the Rebelle Rally in 2022. So, I’m not a novice, either.

I would put Bronco up there with the best stock off-roaders there are: Jeep Wranglers and pretty much anything Land Rover (well, except for the Evoque).

I was in a First Edition model with the Sasquatch package, which means you’ve got 17-inch wheels, 35-inch tires, front- and rear-locking differentials, Bilstein position-sensitive monotube shocks and high-clearance fenders.

We sloshed through mud puddles, tip-toed carefully over ice and inched our way down virgin snowy hills.

The Ford Bronco handled it all with ease, as if to say: What else you got?

I played around with the various G.O.A.T. modes and had a shit-ton of fun in Baja mode, topping speeds of more than 65 MPH on a stretch of open desert.

Ford Bronco

I also tested the Sta-bar disconnect balancing act, with two wheels perched precariously on opposing rocks and two wheels dangling in air. When I hit the disconnect button, the Bronco almost seemed to sigh, releasing air from over-full lungs and dropping down into a relaxed position with all four wheels once again touching solid ground.

I will now call Sta-bar disconnect the bendy button, because it allows the suspension to twist enough to allow all four wheels to stay on the ground.

The beauty of this button in the Bronco: You can press it while the vehicle is loaded. Not all competitive systems can say the same.

Another invaluable feature: the front cameras that activate in certain G.O.A.T. modes with tread-mark projections showing exactly where your wheels will hit when you can’t see potential obstacles over the hood when it’s pointed nose up.

In various off-road vehicles, I’ve driven through everything from dried river beds in Greece to steep rock-face steps in Moab, Utah, and I’d rate the Ford Bronco up there – and in some cases better than – the best of them.

The worst of times: On-road driving

On the road down to Indy, my husband thought it would be a good idea to talk to our insurance agent about changes to our plan for 2022.

I thought he was a nutcase because every other word our agent said over the Bluetooth phone connection was lost in a vacuum of sound with both wind and tire noise reverberating through the cabin. And I’ll point out, we had the hard-top two-door version for this trek. I was literally shouting at the agent via the speaker mic and finally just told him to email me.

Conversations with my husband, who was sitting right next to me, were also difficult and we finally settled into “silence” with the white noise of wind humming in the background.

My husband turned on the radio, but even that was an indistinct mumble of sound lost in the cacophony of wind and tire noise.

I kind of hated the Ford Bronco in that moment.

Ford Bronco

However, I will say after my test in Las Vegas, I do have to wonder if the unit I was driving in the Midwest had the top inappropriately attached because the wind noise wasn’t as egregious in Las Vegas model – but I also kept speeds below 70 MPH, which I did not do in the at-home tester.

Outside of the noise issues, I appreciated the Ford Bronco for what it was – a kitschy off-road lifestyle vehicle with mediocre road manners, incredible parallel parking abilities and abysmal fuel economy. On that latter point, EPA estimates 17 MPG in city and highway driving. I averaged 16.4 MPG.

The tester was equipped with the 315-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 engine, and the one complaint I didn’t have was in the get-up-and-go department.

Oh, and after 6 hours in the driver’s seat, I think it’s also safe to say I also really liked the seat comfort.

The bottom line on the Ford Bronco

People who buy the Ford Bronco are looking to make a statement. They want a lifestyle vehicle that reflects a bad-ass personality and the potential to go over all terrain (ICYMI: that’s the G.O.A.T.). They probably aren’t looking at it as a road-trip car.

So, the ills of on-road driving are probably less important than the cool factor, which is incredibly high.

For what it is, the Ford Bronco is pretty flipping amazing. It looks good, has some decent tech and has room for some active-lifestyle gear in the back. I just won’t be taking it on a road trip again any time soon if I can avoid it.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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