Off-road driving is a way of life. Some drivers depend on a car that can take to unpaved trails, maneuver through muddy terrain, and take on Mother Nature’s obstacles. Two off-road vehicles are making a splash this year, but when you break down the 2021 Ford Bronco vs 2021 Jeep Wrangler, which one is actually better-equipped to endure the most grueling conditions?
Jeep has been a staple of the off-roading scene for decades now, and the word “Jeep” is practically synonymous with images of SUVs splashing through mud or taking a kayak down to the banks of a river. Of their popular off-roaders, the Wrangler seems to be the model that, year after year, is consistently the most capable across all terrain. It’s not advertised to carry the kids to school or zoom down a racetrack; it’s an off-roader, through and through.
However, Ford has revived the off-road-oriented Bronco SUV, thoroughly modernizing it while staying true to its classic design with that signature front end. Just like the Wrangler, the Bronco is available as a compact two-door or a roomy four-door, and you can take the roof and doors off for an open-air ride. However, does the new 2021 Bronco hold up against modern competitors, like the long-favorite 2021 Jeep Wrangler?
We’re breaking down the latest from off-road power and trailblazing engineering. From Ford and Jeep’s latest offerings, which one is actually more capable off the beaten path? Does the classic Jeep maintain supremacy, or is the new Bronco here to unseat it?
How They Drive
First, let’s take a look at their driving performance. Off-road vehicles may be designed to endure difficult terrain, but they should also be practical enough for everyday use. After all, you probably don’t need to go rock crawling to get to the grocery store. Which of these two off-road SUVs is actually worth driving on asphalt?
The 2021 Ford Bronco comes standard with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that produces 300 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. For the best 6-cylinder power in its class, upgrade to the 2.7-liter EcoBoost for 325 horsepower and highly tow-capable 415 lb-ft of torque. As for the transmission, your choices depend on your setup and include a 7-speed manual or 10-speed automatic, both of which feel tuned to all-terrain driving.
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler has multiple engine types but lacks the power of the Bronco. The base model is equipped with a standard 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft. The other popular option being a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with only 270 horsepower but 295 lb-ft of torque. A powerful V8 was made available for 2021, but you will have to spend well over $70,000 to get a Wrangler with that engine. On top of being down on power, the Wrangler suffers from imprecise steering and a generally rough ride. Overall, it seems to be so optimized for off-roading that it can feel unpleasant on paved streets.
One of the most attractive features of the 2021 Ford Bronco is its Terrain Management System, which comes standard in every model. Scroll through up to seven GOAT (goes over all terrain) modes to optimize your Bronco for what’s going on underneath it. Modes like Sand and Slippery adjust the drivetrain to keep you in control when traction is hard to come by, and modes like Sport or Eco adjust for performance or efficient driving.
There are endless features available for the Bronco that enhance off-road driving, including high-performance off-road stability suspension, a feature of the Sasquatch package. The 2021 Bronco can ford through 33.5 inches of water, while the available front and rear locking differentials can power you forward despite the odds as long as one wheel has grip. Meanwhile, available steel bash plates protect your Bronco’s underbody, even when it slams against rocky surfaces as you crawl through the wilderness.
The 2021 Wrangler is known for its off-road capability, and the 2021 edition doesn’t disappoint. However, it falls short of the Broco, with less ground clearance and lower approach and departure angles. The ride isn’t particularly comfortable, although it’s certainly serviceable when you want a good off-road experience. Though it’s more costly, the Rubicon edition’s 33″ off-road tires are a huge boon to your potential, but again they fall short of the 35″ rubber available for the Bronco.
Bronco’s Off-Roader Basics
At AutoInfluence, we shudder at the thought of vehicles that are advertised to have certain perks, then lock these features behind higher, more expensive trims. A low MSRP can be a real bait-and-switch when the base model is a poorly equipped shadow of the advertised models. So how do the 2021 Bronco and Wrangler fare? Does each one provide a base model capable of taking on difficult terrain?
Ford advertises that its base 2021 Bronco “comes with only the absolute essentials.” They claim that such a bare base model exists to enable full customization. Select the trim that caters to your off-roading needs – like the quick Wildtrak or the daring Black Diamond – add the accessories that matter to you, then leave out the rest. You save money by only getting what you actually want out of your vehicle, even if a wealth of choices can overwhelm all but the off-road experts.
Nonetheless, Ford managed to equip this base model with enough features to enjoy off-road driving. Standard 4×4, for example, delivers power to every wheel to stabilize unsteady drives and ensure good traction on slippery terrain like mud, sand, and wet trails. You also get a powerful base engine that’s torque-heavy and responsive.
Even better, the base Bronco has easy-to-remove doors and roof panels, so you can turn your Bronco into an open-cabin off-roader in a few easy steps. Snap the panels and doors back into place, and your 2021 Bronco is one hardy SUV. The base model also includes the GOAT Terrain Management System, a smooth 7-speed manual transmission, 30″ all-season tires, and the same overall hardy platform that can endure rough-and-tumble treatment. Overall, it’s a win. While there’s more out there to love, including the bash plates, rock rails, and rock crawl driving mode in the souped-up Badlands trim, even the basic Bronco is anything but.
Wrangler’s Off-Roader Basics
As for the 2021 Jeep Wrangler, the base model is slightly less generous. In fact, it’s decidedly underwhelming, with such shocking omissions that one might wonder who the heck would buy this thing. The base, or “Sport,” edition is a plain 2-door Wrangler that has none of the following: power windows, power locks, or automatic headlamps.
However, the base model’s engine and off-road equipment are respectable enough. That being said, building up from the base model can feel more like bringing the base model into the 21st century than customizing it for extreme off-road power. Also, note that the best-performing trim, the Rubicon, will cost you roughly $40,000. Meanwhile, the Bronco supplies all its best off-road features as part of the Sasquatch package available on every trim.
In terms of capability, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler gives you more of the same. Changes for this year’s model are small and focus on offering more engine types and slightly enhancing fuel economy. Meanwhile, the 2021 Bronco is totally reimagined, redesigned, and enhanced from hood to tires for the best off-roading experience out there. While drivers may need assistance making sense of its outrageously customization potential – including nearly 200 accessories – the right Bronco will deliver in unexpected ways.
We can’t recommend against either of these off-road demons, both of which will certainly deliver on their expectations. However, the ability to craft your own 2021 Bronco or Bronco Sport, designing it around your off-road needs while still experiencing pleasant on-road driving, makes the Ford all-terrain SUV far too satisfying to pass up.