It’s the 2021 Ford Bronco vs the Jeep Wrangler in the battle for greatest off roader. We run down the numbers to see how they measure up.
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The Jeep Wrangler has long held the title of most capable off-road SUV on the market, making its bones crawling battlefields and boulders. Fan loyalty has made it the least depreciating vehicle you can buy. This year, Ford released a new version of the long-lost Bronco to much acclaim, deftly serving the dual masters of nostalgia and modern design. The question then is, can the Bronco possibly measure up to the perennial off-road champion Wrangler? We dig into the numbers to get a better sense of this renewed rivalry.
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The 2021 Wrangler features a wide array of powertrain options, include some exciting new additions coming early in 2021. The base engine is a 3.6L V6 making 285 horsepower paired with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. You can also get the 3.6L V6 with a mild-hybrid assist. Then there’s the 2.0L turbo I4 with 270 horsepower, with the eight-speed automatic as standard, getting 21 city and 24 highway mpg. But for the best fuel economy there’s the 3.0L V6 diesel putting up 260 horsepower and a hefty 442lb.-ft. of torque getting 22 city/29 hwy. mpg (the Rubicon nets slightly worse 21/26).
And yet, four options don’t quite suffice for the Wrangler. Perhaps coincidentally (or not), Jeep released news of both a hybrid and a Hellcat version the same week Ford debuted the Bronco earlier this year. The Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid (that’s pronounced four-by-ee) will combine the 2.0L turbo I4 with two electric motors to produce 375 horsepower and 470lb.-ft. of torque. It will reportedly have 25 miles of electric-only range. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Rubicon 392 trim’s exclusive 6.4L HEMI Hellcat V8 making a matching pair of 470 horsepower and 470lb.-ft. of torque.
Ford kept things a bit simpler with the first year of the Bronco, limiting it to just two powertrain options. The first is the base 2.3L EcoBoost I4 making 230 horsepower. The two-door version comes with a seven-speed manual (technically a 6+1 with the additional crawl gear) while the four-door version gets a 10-speed automatic. The next option is the 2.7L twin turbo V6 good for 310 horsepower and 400lb.-ft. of torque mated to the 10-speed automatic. Ford also has a hybrid version of their off roader in the works, but it likely won’t be seen until at least the middle of next year.
The Bronco and Wrangler are both rated to a maximum towing capacity of 3,500lbs.
The two-door 2021 Ford Bronco is slightly larger than the equivalent two-door 2021 Jeep Wrangler. The Bronco possesses a 3.6-inch longer wheelbase while also being 2.1-5.5-inches wider. Yet, even with greater ground clearance, 11.5/11.6-inches for the Bronco versus the Wrangler’s 10.8-inches, the Bronco ends up 1.7-inches shorter overall.
The extra stature translates to extra cargo room for the Bronco, too. The two-door Wrangler offers 12.9 cu. ft. behind the rear seats and 31.7 cu. ft. in total. The two-door Bronco offers nearly double with 23.6 cu. ft. behind the rear seats and 58.4 cu. ft. in total. It’s the same story in the four-door variants with the Wrangler at 31.7/72.4 cu. ft. versus the Bronco’s 35.6/77.6 cu. ft. (the soft-top Bronco is even more generous at 38.3/83.0 cu. ft.).
As the premier off-road SUV, the 2021 Wrangler offers a healthy list of features to help you along the road less traveled. Off-road systems include a two-speed transfer case (the Command-Trac), a two-speed transfer case with full-time four-wheel drive (Selec-Trac), and the Rubicon exclusive Rock-Trac with front and rear locking differentials, disconnecting front sway bar, and two-speed transfer case with a 4:1 gear ratio.
The Wrangler’s off-road angles breakdown in the two-door Rubicon to an approach of 44°, breakover of 27.8°, and a departure of 37.0°. The longer four-door Rubicon has a 43.4° approach, 22.6° breakover, and a 37.0° departure angle.
Attempting to steal the crown as the off-road king, the 2021 Ford Bronco comes with it’s own bevy of four-wheeling goodies. Here too there are multiple two-speed transfer cases, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, locking front and read differentials, and much more. Drive modes include Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Baja, Mud, and Rock Crawl. Low gear ratios run from 2.72:1 to 3.06:1, not quite the Wrangler’s 4:1 but still pretty good. Then there’s the Sasquatch package which adds 35-inch tires and the HOSS (High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension).
The Bronco’s off-road angles are very close to the Wrangler’s with the two-door version sporting an approach angle of 43.2°, breakover of 29.0°, and a departure angle of 37.2°. The four-door Bronco likewise comes close to the Wrangler with 43.2°/26.3°/37.0°.
The 2021 Wrangler has four principle trim levels along with special editions almost too numerous to count (eight to be precise). These range from the base Wrangler starting out under $30,000 all the way to the special edition High Altitude that starts at $49,515 before options.
V6 paired with the six-speed manual, 4WD, 5-inch touchscreen, cloth upholstery, skid plates, 8-speaker stereo, Bluetooth, and USB port.
Adds AC, power doors (windows and locks), and keyless entry
Premium cloth upholstery, 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Locking front and rear differentials, electronically disconnecting front sway bar, rock rails.
The Wrangler also offers eight different special editions for 2021. These include the Willys and Willys Sport, Islander, 80th Anniversary Edition, Freedom, Sport Altitude, Sahara Altitude, and High Altitude. The latter is the Wrangler’s most expensive offering starting at $49,515 and comes in a four-door only configuration with leather seats and steering wheel and blind spot warning and rear parking sensors.
The 2021 Bronco starts in a similar place to the Wrangler, at just under $30,000 but offers a bit more in terms of features starting out. The Bronco has a total of six trim levels but tops out at the special “First Edition” that starts at $57,410. Compared to Wrangler, the Bronco gets more safety tech features and more available options overall.
16-inch wheels, daytime running lights, skip plates, heated side mirrors, keyless entry, pre-collision emergency braking, a six-speaker stereo, and eight-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The Sasquatch package adds 35-inch tires with beadlocks, front and rear locking differentials, and Bilstein shocks.
Remote start, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED foglights, ambient footwell lighting.
Upgraded bash plates, rubberized floor with drainage hole.
Leather-trimmed seats, body panel colored fender flares, heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, optional 12-inch touchscreen, wireless charging pad, cross-traffic alerts, lane keep assist, and pre-collision braking.
Electronic locking front axle, disconnecting front sway bar, Ford CoPilot360.
Twin-turbo 2.7L V6.
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One thing separating the 2021 Bronco and Wrangler that isn’t easily captured by the raw numbers is curb appeal. The Bronco has two major things going for it, newness and nostalgia. The Bronco has been on a long hiatus and rather than picking up where they left off, Ford wisely decided to harken further back to the first-generation Bronco for design cues. Prior to it’s unveiling, many in the automotive space worried whether Ford would sully the Bronco name with an another derivative, uninspired SUV. Ford exploded this narrative with the new Bronco which perfectly balances the new and old into something genuinely compelling.
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The Wrangler, for its part, has the cachet of always having been here, year-in and year-out. Like your favorite song from high school, your old Basset hound Bud, or that pair of jeans you’ve had so long they’ve gone out of fashion and then back into fashion, the Jeep Wrangler’s cool (and reassuring) because it’s seemingly always been here. A continuous 80-year legacy has a magnetic pull on die-hards and new buyers alike.
Until we get a chance to take the 2021 Bronco out on a muddy trail or two, we can’t know for sure whether it can go toe-to-toe with the Wrangler. But after meticulously scouring the spec sheets, features, and every nook and cranny we could explore, it’s a safe bet the Bronco will come close, very close.