This isn’t your standard MotorTrend comparison test about how the new 2021 Ford Bronco stacks up to the 2021 Jeep Wrangler off-road. That showdown will come later; for now, we looked at how the basic vehicles compare in terms of common features that potential customers will use and experience every day. We recently had simultaneous access to a 2021 Ford Bronco Outer Banks and a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4xe, and since the two trims that don’t quite line up for the proper sort of comparison, we looked at things like their removable doors, interior usability, visibility, open-air experience, and cargo area. Read on to find out if the Bronco outsmarts the Wrangler at its own game.
Both the all-new Bronco and the new hybrid Wrangler have removable doors, but each manufacturer approached the engineering in different ways. The Jeep’s doors are tall and support the mirrors, making them somewhat awkward to move around and store once you remove them. Ford decided to give the Bronco a frameless-window design and kept the mirrors mounted to the car’s cowl, making the doors very compact. In fact, four-door Bronco owners can carry all four doors upright in the cargo area. This also means Bronco owners don’t have to think about an aftermarket solution for mirrors when the doors come off in order to legally drive their rigs doorless on the pavement.
Although this might be a big selling point for the 2021 Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler fans will tell you they like having the mirrors stay with the doors, especially when they plan to take their Wrangler on tight trails where the giant Bronco mirrors could become a liability. The Jeep camp will also tout the Wrangler’s exposed door hinges, which make removing the doors a much easier affair than it is on the Bronco: The Ford’s hidden hinges require precision to return the doors to the vehicle without marring the paint.
One area where the 2021 Ford Bronco Outer Banks should really shine is its interior, which boasts a user-friendly layout, especially for secondary controls, and modern technology. A high-resolution 12.0-inch display dominates the dash, and the center console eschews manual four-wheel-drive controls in favor of electronic selectors. The latter free up console space for additional storage and added features, such as a wireless charging pad. However, the Bronco suffers from ill-fitting pieces, a mix of cheap plastics with visible gaps and seams, and parts that don’t feel attached to the vehicle particularly well. These things don’t exactly give owners a perception of quality and solidity.
Despite less storage and a smaller but still hi-res 8.4-inch screen, everything in the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe is within reach and is easy to operate. We much prefer the mechanical shifter’s positive engagement and the old-school handbrake, which allows for some four-wheel-drive techniques not possible with the Bronco’s electronic parking brake. The Wrangler is also much better at telegraphing information to the driver. Whereas the Bronco’s driver display feels overly styled and gimmicky, the Wrangler’s still feels modern with its configurable and clean information center, even offering a mechanical tachometer that is much easier to read than the Bronco’s strange digital execution.
Ford and Jeep also approached the grab handles differently, with the Bronco’s grab handles located at the edges of the dash and one down by the passenger’s knee. Each one feels like you could yank it right off with a stout tug. Conversely, the Wrangler has A-pillar-mounted handles and a dash-mounted passenger grab bar that feel sturdy enough to tie a tow strap to for recovering another vehicle stuck in the mud.
Outward visibility is important in any off-road vehicle, and both the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler are designed to maximize driver awareness of outside surroundings. The Bronco has great camera views to supplement the generous side glass area afforded by the frameless windows. To combat its tall fender creases, Ford installed “Trail Sights” to let the driver know exactly where the Bronco’s front corners are. To the rear, the Bronco is a little more restricted with its step-up beltline and high-mounted spare tire.
The Jeep Wrangler has great forward visibility thanks to a tapering nose and a forward-facing TrailCam. In back, the Wrangler offers more glass where you want it, making rearward and over-the-shoulder visibility better than the Bronco’s.
Both the Ford and the Jeep offer a great open-air experience, though the Bronco features a halo-style rollcage that omits the crossbar over the B-pillar for the ultimate openness for rear passengers. That is, if you can get the tops off. With our tester, the factory roof rack prevented us from removing the rear top panel, negating our open-air fun.
The Wrangler doesn’t offer a factory roof rack, but it also doesn’t offer a removable panel over the second row like the Bronco does. Jeep’s counter is the powered Sky One-Touch roof, which gives everyone an open-air experience at the touch of the button. You can unlock more openness by popping out the rear-quarter glass.
Rear Cargo Area
Cargo areas are extremely important for any adventuring SUV, and the Bronco and Wrangler are very similar in this regard. We give the slight edge to the Jeep because it has six tie-downs instead of the Ford’s four, plus more sculpted interior panels that allow for more places to stuff gear and a tailgate design that requires less force to open. The Wrangler also exclusively offers storage places for the doors’ and top’s mounting hardware, while both vehicles are comparable in the amount of dust intrusion that sneaks past the rear seals.
Which Way to Go?
Both the 2021 Ford Bronco Outer Banks and 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe are excellent machines that do incredible things no other vehicle on the market can accomplish. Ford did an outstanding job with the Bronco, and it is well-matched to the Wrangler. However, it isn’t perfect. The new Bronco may have a leg up in modern tech and interior amenities, but it falls short in the details of fit and finish as well as materials quality. In everyday usability, the Wrangler’s details feel more refined. The Jeep also enjoys better build quality, and it does the little things well. For now, and in the context of this head-to-head comparison, the Jeep Wrangler gets our nod.
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