If there is one thing the pandemic did that was somewhat positive, it’s that it drove people outside. Outdoor recreation flourished during those beginning months of COVID, with half of the American population taking part in some form of outdoor activity. Camping, too, increased in popularity, and stores promptly sold out of equipment and merchandise. It should come as no surprise, then, that this interest in camping has coincided with the rising interest in recreational outdoor vehicles, such as the 2022 Ford Bronco vs 2022 Jeep Wrangler, its immediate rival.
These two vehicles, more than any other currently on the market, define the outdoor adventure mentality that has come to grip this country. Since I’m interested in cars here, I thought I’d share with you what makes these two rivals excellent options for the aspiring outdoor adventurer. They both come from a long line of outdoor, recreational pedigree, and each have their own sets of unique off-roading features (some better than others). I’ll take you on a tour of these two vehicles, including a brief look at their histories, and show you why either could be the perfect choice for your next adventure.
The original Ford Bronco was introduced to the world in 1965 and was the world’s first Sport Utility Vehicle, or SUV. Essentially a glorified box on wheels with a 4WD drivetrain and adorable round headlights, the original Bronco was the go-anywhere kind of vehicle that exemplified the beginnings of modern American adventure-seeking. It was light, nimble, and capable of excellent off-road performance.
Over the years it grew in size, maintaining its square stance but eventually ditching the round headlights in favor of rectangles. Reduction in sales in the late 1990s brought about an end to the Bronco—that is, until 2021, when Ford could no longer afford to ignore the market for outdoor adventure that had been—and still is—dominated by Jeep. The Bronco made its triumphant return to American auto showrooms in June 2021, still square and rocking some excellent round headlights.
During the Second World War, the United States military needed a 4×4 recon truck, and Willys-Overland responded by designing the Jeep. These go-anywhere vehicles were rough-riding and tough-as-nails—exactly what the Allies needed to win in the European Theater. After the war, however, there was a surplus of these vehicles, which were then sold back to the veterans that owed that little metal box their lives. Willys-Overland soon realized that the Jeep was a commercial success and continued building improved versions of the vehicle that were designed for the civilian market.
Though Jeep has been traded to several different companies over the years—Willys to AMC to Chrysler—the overall look of the iconic WWII fighting machine has stayed the same: square stance with a vertical-lined grille and round headlights. Who doesn’t love round headlights? Anyway, the Wrangler—as it’s been known since the mid-’90s—is descended from that same lineage that helped win the war. And, its popularity, as evidenced by the 205,000 sold in 2021, has lasted for nearly 80 years.
What Is a Lifestyle Vehicle?
Now, both the Bronco and the Wrangler are what’s known as Lifestyle vehicles, meaning that they’re intended to cater to certain lifestyles (in this case, adventuring). The spirit of adventure has been with America since its founding and it’s not about to stop. We love to explore the Great Outdoors and spectate the natural beauty of our nation. Instead of cathedrals and ancient cities, we have National Parks. We have the woods and the streams and the deserts and the tundras. There’s so much land to explore, and the Bronco and Wrangler will help you explore it.
The Tech-Filled New Kid
Now, if you’re looking for something new, and I mean something that’s just starting to catch on, you may want to check out the new Bronco. It comes as either a 2-door or 4-door vehicle, among a bevy of options. I won’t go into everything—that would take days—but I will give you the basic layout of what Ford is hoping will take a significant bite out of Jeep’s market dominance.
The base Bronco comes with the following standard features: 4×4 drivetrain with Terrain Management System and 5 G.O.A.T modes, 30” all-season tires, cloth seats, 7-speed manual transmission with a crawl mode or 10-speed automatic transmission with electronic driver-selectable gear changes, and an 8” SYNC touchscreen infotainment system. That’s your standard Bronco—and I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty loaded!
You can go up through the 8 different trim packages, each catered to a specific type of off-roading adventure, and get lost in configuring the thing. The important matter for you aspiring outdoorsy folks to know is that, at the outset, you have 4WD capability, HOSS-tuned suspension with heavy duty dampers for comfort, removable roof and doors, and a 2.3-L turbocharged inline-4 making 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Not bad for being fresh off the showroom floor now, is it?
Oh, and before I delve into the Wrangler: G.O.A.T modes are code for Go Over Any Terrain, and you can get up to 7 of them. These driving modes include Normal, Sport, Eco, Slippery, Sand, Mud/Ruts, and Off-Road.
The Old-School Sage
Now, the Jeep, based on its own lineage, doesn’t need any of that fancy G.O.A.T tech to get where it’s going. If you prefer pure grunt and decades of honing off-road capabilities, then you may be better suited for the Wrangler. The Wrangler holds a title known as Trail Rated 4×4. This means that it’s been tested mercilessly—against hazardous outdoor conditions—and found to be worthy of your usage off the beaten path. Legendary traction comes in the form of a transfer case that delivers a perfect 50/50 power split between the front and rear wheels. High-performance wheelbase and ride height, along with underbody protection, mean you can maneuver through the trails like a hot knife through butter.
The powerful and efficient 3.6-L Pentastar V6 engine produces 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. This is just one of four engine options available on the Wrangler. Oh, and for you stick shift fans out there, you can get yours with a 6-speed.
Now, the trims and specs on the Wrangler are as varied as the Bronco, with 11 different levels to choose from. Since I went over the base Bronco, I’ll fill you in on what you get with a base Wrangler, called the Sport: everything I just listed above plus a removable roof and doors, 2-door or 4-door configurations, and satellite radio. You have to go way up in trim level to get anything close to the kind of interior comfort you’ll find in the Bronco, but Wrangler owners are about getting to where they’re going. They’re not as concerned with creature comforts.
What They Bring to the Campsite
I mentioned camping earlier, and it’s worth noting that both the Bronco and Wrangler come with some factory backed accessories that make them perfect camping buddies. The Bronco factory roof rack can hold 110 lbs while in motion and 450 lbs when stationary. The roof rails and the racks are connected to come standard on all Broncos and remain attached to the vehicle—even with the roof panels removed.
Jeep does not offer roof racks standard on the Wrangler. You can, however, get them through aftermarket vendors like Extreme Terrain Off-Road Outfitters. Depending on the type of rack you get, it can carry upwards of 300 lbs—though you’ll sacrifice roof panel removability. Factory-backed accessories for the Wrangler include the Trail Rail system, which is a series of rails and cargo loops attached to the rear storage area; these allow you to configure the space depending on what you plan on bringing with you.
The reason I bring up the roof rack system is that a lot of people are purchasing rooftop tent kits through companies like Thule or Yakima. These companies partner with automotive brands to create products that will specifically work for your chosen vehicle. The beauty of a rooftop tent is that it’s extremely safe; it’s incredibly easy to set up; and, if you need to dash, you can take it down in a flash, then drive away without the hassle of camp cleanup. You can also haul boats and a whole manner of other sporting goods on roof racks.
So, it’s no secret, then, that these two vehicles will be tools in your box of off-roading tricks. They come from a long line of off-roading and adventure-hardened vehicles, and either would suit you perfectly for your next adventure. They can be accessorized to your heart’s content through factory packages and aftermarket additions.
What it all boils down to is: What type of off-roader do you think you are? Do technology and a comfortable interior excite you? You’re probably gonna go for the Bronco. More old-school? The Wrangler is your pony to bet on. Either way, both will get you where you want to go—no matter where that may be—and you’re bound to have fun along the way.