By Hannah Elliot, Los Angeles
First, the bad news: The 2021 Ford Bronco Advanced 4×4 First Edition I drove last week is sold out.
Both the two- and four-door versions.
So if you’re waiting on me to sell you on it, you’re already way too late.
Ford was planning to make just 3,500 of its top-of-the-line Bronco model variant, which comes with goodies such as standard 35-inch knobby tires, fender tie-down hooks, and steel bash plates.
But when that batch sold out the night it was launched in July 2020, Ford brass decided to double the production volume – as if that would somehow satiate the demand for what is arguably the country’s most iconic SUV and the first real new Bronco since the company discontinued the line in 1996.
“The demand is overwhelming,” Mark Grueber, the head of Bronco Brand Marketing, told me on August 5th.
There were multiple delays – both coronavirus- and semiconductor shortage-related – but those have only increased consumer appetite for the return of O.J. Simpson’s preferred SUV.
“Generally speaking, you’re not getting [a loaded Bronco] until 2022.”
Here’s the good news: There are plenty of other versions to be had.
With a model line that starts at $30,000 and a toolbox treasure trove of upgrades that transforms it into a Fast and Furious-ready, rock-crawling dune dominator, the new Ford Bronco has something for everyone.
As long as you don’t already prefer Jeep.
Playful Tonka Toy
The version that I drove last week in and around Los Angeles County came clad in a First-Edition exclusive color, “Lightning Blue Metallic,” stacked with knobby tires, LED lighting, bash plates, a removable hardtop, and a lot of tow hooks.
I took it up a series of hills off road near Pasadena, where views of the Angeles Crest forest glowed in the background.
It excelled there, conquering my weekend-warrior assault on steep grades deeply rutted from rain and wear.
A seven-mode “terrain management system” and the requisite 4L, 4H, 4A, 2H gear selections proved impeccable moving from dusty silt-like surfaces to gravel to grass and back to highway.
The electronic locking front- and rear-differential optimized my traction so precisely that I felt I could trust the rig to drive itself uphill and downhill inch-by-inch.
Hill start assist, one-pedal drive, and a host of other “trail control” systems come standard.
It’ll haul, too, at least for weekend flea-market warrior types.
Once I folded the back seats flat and opened the back gate – which splits in half with the bottom opening out wide and the top glass portion lifting up – it easily fit that large bamboo rocking chair I ordered from Chairish, though the hydraulics on the bottom portion made it awkwardly slow, even difficult, to push open by hand.
Interior finishes in leather – down to the gear knob and steering wheel – are minimal and durable and feel slightly more upscale than the competition at Jeep.
There’s plenty of leg- and headroom for two adults in the front seats, though not so much for the back. The storage nets in the door and cell phone ports throughout make for convenient living inside.
While the Bronco interior is far from a luxury item, its practicality and tactile-friendly controls do well in rugged conditions, even if rugged just means juggling dogs, children, sports gear, and coffee on a Saturday morning.
Good, Not Perfect
That said, I drove the Bronco mainly in the city, darting out on reporting runs to Gardena, cruising through old salvage yards near Vernon, and lumbering up the hilly streets around Hollywood Reservoir.
All of which was by design: I have received far more inquiries as to how the Bronco does as a “daily driver,” “grocery-getter,” “around-town fun-haver” than how it performs on dirt.
To me, that makes complete sense. Most people assume (correctly) that with such a heritage, the Bronco performs well off road; you can visit the King of the Hammers off-road races in the California desert for that visual.
I’m happy to report that the Bronco is fast and agile on neighborhood streets—gutsy, with a domineering seat height that looks down on Toyota 4Runners and Land Rover Range Rovers and makes the Evoque seem like a tiny sedan.
I was able to dart through traffic, rolling and diving on its 10-speed automatic transmission, squishy suspension, and sticky rubber wheels.
It is fast in a way that made me grin and spread my elbows wide like I used to in basketball games—give me SPACE!—as I gripped the steering wheel weaving through traffic on the 101.
Was that a snarl that escaped your lips, you ask? Who, moi? The Bronco had me channeling Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
But city driving also highlighted some flaws.
As many critics and fans of the brand have already noted, the Bronco cabin gets loud with road noise and wind buffeting at speeds above 50 miles per hour; it’s the kind of thing that would make this vehicle taxing to take on a road trip.
The 84-decibel constant roar at speeds above 70mph (113km/h) wears on the nerves and emotions.
There’s also the issue of body roll, which is diverting if you enjoy roller coasters but may prove taxing to those hoping for a more serene ride.
The frameless doors, while stylish and deliciously care-free when you remove the top and store those panels in the back, lack the kind of framing that allows us to shut car doors with a resounding and satisfying slam.
I found myself accidentally gripping bare and wobbly window panes, which quickly left them oily from sunscreen-laden fingers. Bronco offers a rag top and a removable hardtop but no fixed roof.
Elsewhere, window controls placed in the center console rather than on each door take some getting used to.
The lack of air vents and general body room in the small rear seat dissuaded me from inviting others to sit there in California August temperatures.
The rear seats themselves, in a car with ground clearance of almost a foot, will prove a formidable access challenge to friends who are on the shorter or less flexible side.
The front seats don’t have a lot of forward lean and prohibit easy access in the back.
The Bronco is thirsty, too: 17 mpg (7.3km/l) to 22 mpg (9/4km/l) on the highway, depending on the trim line.
Jeep, it should be noted, is already selling a hybrid Wrangler.
A Ford sportsperson declined to confirm whether a Bronco hybrid is on the way.
If You Want It, Keep it Simple
Still, there’s plenty to love about the return of the Bronco.
Your best chance of getting one sooner rather than later—which is what half of my friends on social media (including some Jeep owners) have asked me—is to stay casual.
Be flexible. Keep it simple! You dig?
“There are certain versions of the Bronco that will be available quicker, specifically the Bronco four-door with a soft top, the base engine, which is a 2.3-liter engine, and with the auto transmission,” Grueber says, noting buyers will likely be able to get those by the end of this year.
“It still has 300 horsepower, but it’s the base engine, and then without a couple of the options like the 35-inch tires. If customers are flexible and want to get a Bronco as soon as possible, they can get a configuration like that a lot quicker than some of those higher-end versions which have such great demand.”
That said, it seems that most consumers in America are willing to wait.
Since June, Ford has delivered 4,078 Broncos nationwide in addition to delivering 62,820 units of the four-cylinder Bronco Sport since the beginning of 2021.
The bulk of the Broncos slated to be delivered are the ones that come with bigger engines, more upgrades, and flashier exteriors—those that approximate the $60,000 price tag on the 300-horsepower V6 First Edition I drove.
“The majority of customer demand is at the higher-end right now,” Grueber said. “We have 125,000 orders in, and 70% of those are our higher trim lines. So people are really loaded up in terms of where the demand is.”
The full edition list includes the base model, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer banks, Badlands, Wildtrak, and First Edition trim lines, each with assorted packages that come standard to their variation and in accordance with their price tag.
With an MSRP of $56,915 (R839,211) the First Edition is the most expensive of the lot; mine cost more, thanks to upgrades such as storage bags and keyless entry that, to my mind, should come standard.
Don’t hold your breath for a deal on any of them anytime in the next few years, regardless of which edition you want.
While the separate Bronco Sport, which started production in 2020, may offer some limited sales incentives, Grueber said, the full-fledged Broncos won’t.
I expect the relative few who do find a dealer that can sell them one will be pleased with their luck.
The Ford Bronco is back, baby, and then some.