The two SUVs appear to be working from similar blueprints: Both feature rugged, boxy designs with retro-styled round headlamps. Both boast the capabilities of their four-wheel-drive systems through beefy off-road suspensions and knobby tires. Heck, both SUVs even have removable roofs and doors. But the similarities really end at these surface-level comparisons. The Ford is a much more modern take on this tried-and-true formula and is much easier to live with every day.
There are multiple trim levels to choose from when speccing your Bronco, each with a cool, outdoorsy name like Big Bend, Black Diamond or Outer Banks. My example is a Bronco Badlands, and it's arguably the sweet spot in the lineup, where the balance between street-friendly features and off-road capability begins to tip toward the latter.
The Badlands upgrades include a more capable suspension, 17-inch aluminum wheels, 33-inch all-terrain tires and a trick front stabilizer bar that can be electronically disconnected at the touch of a button for increased articulation at low speeds. Inside, the Badlands has rubberized flooring and marine-grade vinyl seats that can be easily hosed down when dirty. However, my example is equipped with the Lux upgrade package, which swaps out the vinyl for leather.
The Bronco is available with two EcoBoost engine options; Ford's 2.3-liter turbocharged I4 is standard. Paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, this engine sends 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque through the Bronco's standard four-wheel-drive system.
My Badlands tester is powered by the upgraded option: a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6. It makes 330 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque, and is also managed by a 10-speed automatic. Ford's 4x4 system features electronic engagement, which allows for on-the-fly swaps between its high-ratio four-wheel and two-wheel-drive modes; it can even automatically toggle between the modes in its automatic/on-demand setting.
The Bronco can be had with a seven-speed manual transmission, and for 2022, you can pair it with the optional Sasquatch off-road package. Still, the manual only works with the four-cylinder engine, which is sort of a bummer for buyers looking to pair the best engine with the most interesting gearbox.
Compared to a Wrangler, the Bronco is easier to drive. It's more planted on the road with nicer ride and handling characteristics. The Bronco soaks up bumps at speed with significantly less drama and the steering is leagues better than the loosey-goosey Jeep's. Road and wind noise are still pronounced on the highway, but that's sort of par for the course with a brick-shaped aerodynamic profile and 33-inch all-terrain tires.
What's more, the Bronco's street friendliness doesn't seem to come at the expense of any off-road performance. You can still yank off the roof and doors and pull up the carpet when you want to get muddy, and the Ford is every bit as capable as the Jeep in the vast majority of trail and overlanding situations.
Boosting the Bronco's off-road prowess is a laundry list of trail-ready tech. There are up to eight GOAT (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain -- so yeah, that should be GOATT) modes depending on the trim level chosen, which are presets designed to enhance performance over a variety of surfaces, and the settings include things like Mud/Ruts, Baja or Rock Crawl. On top of that, the Bronco has Trail Control, which is like low-speed cruise control for off-roading. Trail One-Pedal Drive automatically brakes when you lift the throttle, increasing control on more technical crawls and steep descents. Trail Turn Assist reduces the Bronco's turning radius by holding the inner wheels' brakes while the outer wheels scoot around -- it's sort of like Tank Turn and should only be attempted off road on low-friction surfaces.
None of the SUVs in this rough-and-tumble class boast particularly good fuel economy, but the Bronco is at least in the same ballpark as its competitors. When powered by the base 2.3-liter engine, the EPA reckons you'll see 20 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. Upgrade to the V6 and you'll downgrade to 18 city, 20 highway and 19 combined. This Badlands model with its big tires drops to 18 mpg combined and, during my testing, I averaged 18.8 mpg. For comparison, Toyota's 4Runner is also estimated to return 17 mpg combined. Meanwhile, the Jeep Wrangler with its 3.6-liter V6 will do about 20 mpg combined if you're careful, but it's also down on power by 45 hp and 155 lb.-ft. compared to the Ford's turbocharged V6.
The Bronco's cabin tech is just as impressive as the hardware beneath the chassis. This SUV is available with the latest generation of Ford's Sync 4 infotainment tech, upgrading to a massive 12-inch center display if you spec the High or Lux equipment packages. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as well as Alexa integration with Amazon's voice assistant.
Opting for the Mid equipment package adds Ford's Co-Pilot 360 driver aid suite, which includes precollision assist with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams and more. Opt for the top Lux package to get all that plus adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic and evasive steering assist.
For the 2022 model year, the Bronco gains two new colors: Hot Pepper Red and Eruption Green. Additionally, there's a new powder-coated steel bumper with LED fog lights -- which, ironically, get deleted by this example's Badlands upgrade -- and an optional slide-out tailgate accessory.
The two-door 2022 Bronco's base price climbs to $30,795 -- about $800 more than last year -- including a $1,495 destination charge. Other trim levels see a $400 hike. This Badlands model starts at $43,990, but add-ons including the Cyber Orange paint ($595), Lux package ($5,085) and the upgrade to the EcoBoost V6 ($1,895) pump the price up to an as-tested $55,565.
The Bronco's premium price threatens to push top-spec models into competition with the Land Rover Defender 90 ($53,650) which is a much tougher foe to be certain, but adding any options to the Defender quickly prices it back out of that comparison. Of course, that's before you account for the dealer markups, shortages and delays that have plagued the Bronco even into its second year of production, meaning getting one is more difficult than you might think. If you're shopping in this class, the question isn't so much "Do you want the Bronco?" as it is "Are you willing to wait for the Bronco and then pay for the privilege?"
However, with its friendlier on-road performance, more than enough capability and a thoroughly modern suite of driving aids and cabin tech, the 2022 Ford Bronco is worth jumping through a few hoops for and stands head and shoulders above the competition.