Is the new Ford Bronco better than the mighty Jeep Wrangler?

The highly anticipated Ford Bronco is finally here. Discontinued after five generations in 1996, the Bronco nameplate returned after almost 25 years. That’s big news for SUV enthusiasts, but it’s equally important that Ford finally offers a competitor for the Jeep Wrangler.

The latter is by far the most popular option when it comes to rugged, off-road-ready SUVs, so the Bronco has a very difficult mission upon its return. Does it have what it takes to compete with the Wrangler? Is it better than Jeep’s tried-and-true off-roader? Well, these are questions that will get solid answers once the Bronco starts rolling off the assembly line and we get our hands on one. But until that happens, here’s a thorough comparison that reveals how they stack against each other on paper.

Exterior design

Ford Bronco vs. Jeep Wrangler Exterior Wallpaper quality
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When it comes to exterior design, the Jeep Wrangler is the ultimate vintage-inspired SUV.

The nameplate goes all the way back to 1986 and looking at the previous generations, the YJ, TJ, and JK, it's pretty obvious that the Wrangler's design didn't change much.

Just like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and the Land Rover Defender (until 2016), the Wrangler carried over with minor changes for decades. What’s more, the modern Wrangler still sports styling cues made famous by much older Jeeps, like the CJ from the 1970s, its direct predecessor, as well as the iconic Willys MB, first introduced in 1941.

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Although the Bronco doesn’t have a successor that traces back to World War II, its roots go back to 1965, when Ford introduced the first-generation model. Back then, the Bronco was developed to specifically compete with the Jeep CJ-5, but after 12 years on the market, it became a full-size SUV aimed at larger haulers such as the Chevrolet K5 Blazer, Dodge Ramcharger, and Jeep Cherokee. The full-size Bronco debuted in 1977 and remained on the market for four generations, until 1996. Ford kept the nameplate a two-door SUV for all these years. The Bronco also retained its original boxy design through its entire production cycle, even in its later years, when other SUVs started featuring sleeker design cues. Fortunately for Bronco fans, the new-generation SUV is heavily based on the original hauler.

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Just like the Wrangler, the new Bronco is a modernized version of its spiritual predecessor. Up front, Ford kept the round headlamps at the edges of the grille, while the grille itself features big "Bronco" lettering in the center. The yellow lights that flank the Bronco badge mimic the grille trim of the first-generation SUV. The current Wrangler was designed using the same recipe that borrows important styling cues like the headlamps, the grille, and the shape of the front bumpers from the early models.

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Notice how the profile of current-generation Wrangler is basically identical to its predecessor? I can’t say the same about the Bronco, because production of the last generation stopped in 1996, but the new SUV looks a lot like the original model. The profile is pretty much rectangular box on wheels with a smaller box on top as a cabin.

It's awfully spartan when you compare it to most modern SUVs, but that's exactly what Ford wanted.

If you want to compete against the Wrangler, you need a nameplate that goes back a few decades and an SUV that preserves the design that made it famous. The big wheel arches, the removable top and the safety bars add to its appeal.

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While these SUVs have rather different profiles, their rear sections looks very similar. Sure, they incorporate unique cues of their own, but they share many features of the rugged variety. Both come with spare tires mounted on the tailgate, and both have tailgates that open horizontally, being hinged on the right side. They also feature taillights mounted on the body rather than integrated into the sheet metal like on modern haulers. Finally, both are decidedly boxy with the roof in place, just like their classic predecessors.

When it comes to features that set them apart, the Wrangler comes with square lights, whereas the Bronco features rectangular, vertical light units. The Wrangler features a smaller bumper that extends further away from the body, while the Bronco features a thicker bumper that’s almost flush with the body. The Bronco also features a much taller beltline, visible not only from the back, where it results in a bigger area for the tailgate, but also from the sides. As a result, the Bronco roofline also looks a bit lower.

But what about dimensions?

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Well, the Bronco is a bit bigger than the Wrangler overall.

The two-door Bronco is up to 174.8 inches long, which makes it exactly eight inches longer than the Wrangler two-door.

The Bronco’s wheelbase comes in at 100.4 inches, 3.6 inches longer than the Wrangler’s. The Bronco is also wider at 75.9 inches, an extra 2.1 inches over the Wrangler. Finally, the two-door Bronco is 71.9 inches tall, and that’s 1.7 inches below the Wrangler two-door.

Ford Bronco vs Jeep Wrangler - two-door exterior dimensions
Ford Bronco Jeep Wrangler
Length 174.8 Inches 166.8 Inches
Width 75.9 Inches 73.8 Inches
Height 71.9 Inches 73.6 Inches
Wheelbase 100.4 Inches 96.8 Inches
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Moving over to the four-door models, the Bronco is still longer, but the difference is smaller.
The longest Bronco comes in at 190.5 inches, 2.1 inches more than the Wrangler. When it comes to wheelbase, on the other hand, the Wrangler benefits from extra 2.3 inches at a total length of 118.4 inches.

Width measurements remain the same, but the tallest Bronco four-door is 1.7 inches taller than the Wrangler four-door.

Ford Bronco vs Jeep Wrangler - four-door exterior dimensions
Ford Bronco Jeep Wrangler
Length 190.5 Inches 188.4 Inches
Width 75.9 Inches 73.8 Inches
Height 75.3 Inches 73.6 Inches
Wheelbase 116.1 Inches 118.4 Inches

Removable Roofs and Doors

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That fact that it comes with removable doors and a removable roof helps make the Jeep Wrangler the popular SUV it is today. So it’s not surprising that Ford took the same route with the Bronco. Just like the Wrangler, the Bronco can be stripped of its doors and its roof, with the latter available in a variety of configurations.

The two-door model comes with a hard-top as standard, but it has three removable sections. You can take off two panels over the front section and a larger one over the rear section. The smaller ones fit in the trunk, but the rear section doesn’t, so you’ll have to leave it behind.

The four-door model comes with a soft-top as standard, just like the Wrangler, but you also get a four-section hard-top. Remove them and you’ll unveil roll-over bars and a cross brace behind the rear seats instead of between the B-pillars, like on the Wrangler. This means that you’ll get an uninterrupted view of the sky with the top removed.

Ford Bronco vs. Jeep Wrangler
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Both SUVs have removable doors, but Ford adopted a more innovative concept. Unlike the Wrangler, the Bronco doors have frameless windows, which makes them smaller and easier to store. Actually, they’re small enough to fit in the cargo area, so you can take them off whenever you feel like it without having to worry about storage space. Unlike the Wrangler, the Bronco will still have mirrors with the doors removed, because these are mounted on the body. What’s more Ford promises to offer different door designs as accessories.

The only thing you get on the Wrangler and you don’t get on the Bronco is a foldable windshield.

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Interior

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The vintage vibe of the Wrangler's exterior continues inside the cabin. Jeep's SUV is a cool blend of spartan design and new technology.

The flat dashboard with the round A/C vents remind of older Wrangler and CJ models, but the infotainment display on the center stack and the small screen in the instrument cluster are clues that this Wrangler is as modern as they get. The ruggedness continues further down the center stack, which a big, boxy block of plastic, but it’s fitted with a variety of buttons and knobs that offer access to the A/C system and the Wrangler’s main functions and features.

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The Bronco follows a similar recipe. There's a massive, block-style dashboard with vertical A/C vents that makes it look a lot bigger than the Wrangler's. Although rugged in appearance, the dashboard feels fancier than the Wrangler's overall, especially when it's not black.

The steering wheel also looks a bit more upscale thanks to its large center section and thinner trim around the spokes. The Bronco’s center stack looks cleaner too. The control panel for the A/C system is smaller and more ergonomic features just a cleanly installed infotainment display.

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And screen options are better than in the Wrangler. Jeep offers three displays, starting with a tiny 5.0-inch unit as standard.

You can also opt for a 7.0-inch screen, but there’s also the range-topping 8.4-inch display.

The Bronco, on the other hand, comes with an 8.0-inch screen as standard, while the optional unit is a much larger 12.0-inch touchscreen.

The bigger screen in the Bronco comes with a newer infotainment system called Sync 4. It’s much quicker than the old Sync 3 and features wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and over-the-air updates. The Wrangler comes with a Uconnect system that’s a few years older. The Bronco comes with a bigger display in the instrument cluster.

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The good news is that both infotainment systems include a wide variety of trail maps to explore, but it’s safe to assume that Ford’s Sync 4 system comes with more data.

Both SUVs look a bit dull in standard trim when it comes to materials, but things become fancier as you move to the more expensive trims.

Although they’re not premium vehicles, both the Wrangler and the Bronco can be equipped with leather upholstery, contrast stitching, and interior trim that matches the exterior paint. Ford has yet to release a full list of options and accessories, so a proper comparison is not yet possible.

Drivetrain

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The Ford Bronco is available with two gasoline engines.

There’s a four-cylinder and a V-6, pretty much what Jeep is offering on the gas front. However, things are as similar as they seem just by looking at the numbers of cylinders offered.

The Bronco range starts off with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost mill. This turbocharged four-cylinder is a familiar sight that’s been offered in numerous Ford models over the years. The 2.3-liter in the Bronco is shared with the Ranger truck and it cranks out 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Jeep’s four-cylinder is a 2.0-liter that’s also turbocharged. It generates 270 horsepower, identical to the Bronco, but torque is rated at 295 pound-feet. That’s an extra 15 pound-feet for Bronco.

2018 Jeep Wrangler
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Jeep’s four-banger is offered with an eight-speed automatic transmission only, whereas Ford’s EcoBoost comes with a seven-speed manual (with a crawler gear) as standard, with a 10-speed automatic available. It’s also worth noting that Jeep’s four-pot is a mild-hybrid, featuring an eTorque system that improves fuel economy and off-road performance. The final difference here is that Ford offers the four-cylinder as a base engine, while Jeep’s unit is an option to the 3.6-liter V-6.

The latter is the familiar Pentastar unit that’s available in a variety of FCA models. Carried over from the previous-generation Wrangler with improvements, the naturally aspirated V-6 cranks out 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.

Ford offers an entirely different V-6. The 2.7-liter unit is turbocharged, so it delivers notably more output. Rated at 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of twist, it's benefits from an extra 25 horses and a whopping 160 pound-feet.

Being Jeep’s standard engine, the V-6 comes with a six-speed manual transmission as standard, while the eight-speed automatic is optional. Ford offers it the other way around. The 2.7-liter V-6 is the optional mill and it’s offered exclusively with the 10-speed automatic.

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So when it comes to power, the Ford Bronco wins on paper. And I say on paper because Ford has yet to release curb weight figures for the Bronco as of July 2020. If the Bronco is notably heavier than the Wrangler, the extra power won’t make a difference.

But Jeep does have an advantage here, in the form of a third available engine. Unlike Ford, Jeep offers a diesel.

The 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 comes with 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque on tap. Although it’s no match for any Ford engine in terms of horsepower, it outguns both units as far as torque goes. I know this isn’t a fair comparison, but if you like torque, Jeep has you covered. At the moment there are no signs that Ford might offer a diesel for the Bronco, but it could happen at some point.

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Both the Wrangler and the Bronco feature four-wheel-drive systems, but they come in different setups and one company offers more options that the other. The Bronco, for instance, can be fitted with one of two systems. The standard FWD features a two-speed, electronic, shift-on-the-fly transfer case with a 2.71:1 low ratio. The optional system has a 3:06.1 low ratio and adds a 4A mode that automatically goes between 2H and 4H when needed.

With the Wrangler, you can go with one of three 4WD systems, starting with Selec-Trac. This layout features a full-time mode that automatically switches from 2WD to 4WD and a Smart Lock feature that maintains constant 4WD when you drive on off-road trails or challenging road conditions. Then there’s Command-Trac, which enables you to shift-on-the-fly into low-range for rock crawling and neutral for towing. The third AWD system is called Rock-Trac and delivers enhanced capability in off-road conditions thanks to electronic locking front and rear differentials and an electronic front sway bar disconnect.

Off-road gear

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The latest-generation Wrangler retained the body-on-frame construction and solid axles of its predecessor. The Bronco features a fully boxed, high-strength steel frame that will find its way into the next-generation Ranger truck, but it features an independent front suspension with coil over springs. Although an independent suspension usually comes with less travel, Ford claims that the Bronco can have 17 percent more suspension travel than its closest competitor. Of course, this is something that has to be tested in the real world.

When it comes to ground clearance, the Bronco offers 8.3 inches with the four-door model and 8.4 inches with the two-door version. That's notably less than the Wrangler, which comes with 9.7 inches of ground clearance as standard.

However, a Bronco equipped with the optional 35-inch wheels will ride higher than the top-level Wrangler, which comes in at 10.8 inches. The Bronco will be good for 11.6 inches with the off-road tires, almost an inch more than the Jeep.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Exterior
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Moving over to approach angles, both Bronco body styles benefit from 35.5 degrees with the standard tires and 43.2 degrees with the 35-inch tires. The Wrangler offers 41.4 to 44 degrees. The Bronco’s breakover angle starts off at 21.1 degrees versus the Wrangler’s 21-degree rating, but the 35-inch tires increase the angle to 29 degrees (versus 27.8 for the Wrangler). Departure angle ranges between 29.8 to 37.2 degrees for the Bronco and between 35.9 and 37 degrees for the Wrangler.

The Bronco benefits from a higher maximum water fording rating of 33.5 inches. That's an extra 3.5 inches over the Wrangler.

It’s not much, but it’s another figure that makes the Bronco look good on paper.

Ford also offers tech like a hydraulically controlled stabilizer that can be disconnected when on an angle and under load. This is offered on the range-topping Badlands model. The range-topping Wrangler model, the Rubicon, is fitted with electronically disconnecting front sway bar and locking differentials.

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Both SUVs can be driven in terrain-specific modes that alter various drivetrain components and vehicle setting based on driver selection. All Wranglers come with four modes, including Auto, Sport, Sand/Mud, Snow. The Trail Hawk models gets a fifth Rock mode, which uses low speeds, evenly distributed torque, locking axles, and Hill Descent Control to help you crawl over big obstacles. Ford offers a similar setup, but these modes are packed under the GOAT name, which stands for Go Over Any Terrain, a term Ford used when it launched the original Bronco back in the 1960s. Standard modes include Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand, but some trims will also get Baja, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl.

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But the Bronco benefits from a few more modern extras, such as Trail One-Pedal Drive, which improves precision while rock crawling. It also includes Trail Control, a low-speed cruise control system for off-roading borrowed from the Ford Ranger. Finally, there’s a Trail Turn Assist feature that uses 4WD torque vectoring to tighten turning radii for improved maneuvrability.

Ford Bronco Sport Off-Road Specs
Base, Big Bend, and Outer  Banks Badlands and First Edition
Ground Clearance 7.8 Inches 8.8 Inches
Approach Angle 21.7 Degrees 30.4 Degrees
Breakover Angle 18.2 Degrees 20.4 Degrees
Departure Angle 30.4 Degrees 33.1 Degrees
Maximum Fording Depth 17.7 Inches 23.6 Inches
Maximum Suspension Travel 7.4 Inches (f) 8.1 Inches (r) 7.4 Inches (f) 8.1 Inches (r)

Pricing

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Full pricing information for the Ford Bronco is not yet available as of July 2020, but the automaker did say that the SUV will start from $29,995. As expected, this sticker puts the Bronco in the same bracket with the Jeep Wrangler, which retails from $28,295.

Opt for the four-door Bronco and pricing jumps to $34,695, which is almost $3,000 more than the four-door Wrangler, priced from $31,795. With the off-road ready Rubicon priced from $38,695, the matching Bronco Badlands will probably start off at around $41,000.

Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
About the author

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