Buyers are paying luxury money for the new Bronco. Is it worth it?
Very few buyers will cross-shop the 2022 Ford Bronco with the 2022 Land Rover Defender. One is a rugged, truck-based vehicle with a $28,500 starting price, and the other is a semi-luxurious vehicle with a $51,700 price tag. If anything, Bronco buyers will likely compare it to the Jeep Wrangler, the longstanding benchmark in the off-road vehicle segment. So why then are we comparing the Bronco to a vehicle that costs nearly twice as much? We'll refer that question to capitalism.
Go into any Ford dealership and try walking out with a shiny new Bronco at sticker price. We'll wait. Are you back? So, how much of an outrageous dealer markup or long waiting time did they quote you?
Depending on the trim level, these markups can push the Bronco well into the Defender's price bracket and unlike the Ford, Land Rover has inventory that's ready to leave at MSRP. Should you pay the premium? Or are you better off walking to the Land Rover dealership and picking up a Defender for similar money?
One thing is for sure, the Ford Bronco and Land Rover Defender present vastly different outward images. The Bronco's instantly recognizable styling harkens back to the 1965 original, while taking the design into the modern era. Available as a two-door or four-door, Ford's revived off-road will have Jeep Wrangler owners doing a double-take as they mistakenly give their notorious "Jeep Wave" to the enemy. Especially when equipped with the 35-inch Sasquatch Package tires, the Bronco looks eager to pull off the paved road at every opportunity. The design is as rugged and head-turning as they come, with the added bonus of a removable roof and doors.
As for the Defender, it retains a boxy shape but diverges greatly from the previous generation's utilitarian design. It's still rugged but clearly built with a dual purpose. The Defender will happily spend the week romping in a muddy field, have a quick wash, and head to a fancy party on the weekend. It presents an air of class and prestige, but lacks the humble personality that many loved about the original.
In many ways, the new Bronco feels like the more appropriate successor to the original Defender. The new Defender feels more like a G-Wagen on a budget.
Ford offers the Bronco with two engine options, both of which hit the sweet spot for an affordable off-road vehicle. The base 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder delivers 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft on regular fuel, but Ford says it can squeeze out 300-hp if you feed it premium. That power goes out through a ten-speed automatic, or if you are feeling fun, a six-speed manual with additional crawler gear. A 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 is available too, bumping the output to 310 hp (330 hp on premium) and a stupendous 400 lb-ft. These numbers best the Jeep Wrangler's Pentastar V6 and optional four-cylinder turbo, but pale in comparison to the Defender.
Like Ford, the Land Rover offers two available engines. The Defender's base 2.0-liter turbo-four produces similar performance as the Bronco's, 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is impressive considering the starting prices. It's the 3.0-liter mild-hybrid inline-six where the gap widens, with 395 hp and 406 lb-ft. Since its introduction, Land Rover now offers the Defender with a 5.0-liter V8 shelling out 518 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque. In terms of raw power, this is a one-sided comparison.
The new Defender will shock owners with its user-friendly off-road capability. There are no heavy levers to pull or complicated off-road modes to engage. Land Rover wanted its SUV to be accessible for everyone. Drivers can choose to lock the rear and center differentials manually, but most owners will let the Terrain Response 2 system automatically sense the terrain, and put the vehicle in the ideal mode to handle it. Available air suspensions help the Defender float over tough terrain, while offering enough ground clearance to avoid obstacles.
But where the Defender feels like a clever off-road computer, the Bronco remains lovingly old-school. The Sasquatch Package delivers maximum off-road performance with 35-inch tires, front and rear locking differentials, G.O.A.T modes, and a clever trail turn assist function that brakes an inside wheel when executing a sharp turn. Just from the tires alone, it's easy to tell which of these vehicles was built to live its entire life offroad. If we had to get somewhere in a hurry and a steep mountain blocked the path, we'd grab the keys to the Bronco.
Ford put Jeep on notice with the new Bronco, offering a package that's much more livable on the street than any existing Wrangler. The steering rack is the most significant difference. Rather than copy the Wrangler's sloppy recirculating ball steering, the Bronco uses a proper steering rack that provides feedback and allows the driver to feel what the front end is up to. Independent front suspension also lends itself to better road manners. Inside, the Bronco feels utilitarian with available water-resistant vinyl seats and rubber flooring.
The Bronco may win the civility battle with the Wrangler, but the Defender clobbers it. Here, the novelty of the Bronco's removable roof creates a deafening noise at highway speeds. By contrast, the Defender is as quiet and refined as you'd expect of a Land Rover, with an interior that feels rugged and luxurious at the same time. Land Rover designed a stellar cabin that mixes premium materials with durable surfaces. The steering, suspension, and chassis all feel more suited to the highway, and make the Defender a far more enjoyable daily driver. If all you're after is a rugged-looking SUV that's nice to drive, the Defender is a much better place to spend time.
With regards to practicality as family vehicles, the Bronco and Defender aren't too far apart. Both SUVs offer two-door variants with cramped back seats and puny trunks. Most buyers will opt for the four-door models, both of which fair better as family vehicles. The Bronco offers slightly more cargo space in soft-top configuration, though the five-seater Defender slightly outmatches it. Land Rover also offers the Defender with an available (albeit small) third row, which takes away cargo space but offers seating for seven passengers. This category feels like a draw.
This is where the crux of our argument comes into play because the Bronco and Defender are two vehicles that should not compete on paper but do in the current market due to dealership markups. With deliveries hampered by production issues and supply shortages, some Ford dealers are asking anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 over MSRP. We've even heard of a Bronco First Edition owner flipping his car for a $30,000 profit just three days after taking delivery.
A base two-door Bronco only costs $28,500, but a decently-equipped model will easily surpass $50,000. With market adjustments, some dealers are listing their inventory anywhere from $70,000 to $80,000. This is in line with a decently specced Defender, which is a more premium vehicle.
Though Land Rover struggled to deliver units early on, dealerships now have plenty of inventory, meaning you can purchase a Defender with no outrageous market adjustments. If you can get the more expensive vehicle for essentially the same price, why wouldn't you?
The Ford Bronco is a stupendous off-road vehicle that finally gives the Jeep Wrangler something to think about. We are glad to have the Bronco back on the market, but it has some clear shortcomings with regard to daily refinement. By comparison, the Defender may disappoint some off-road diehards, but will impress modern Land Rover customers that want a luxury SUV first, and a capable adventure toy second.
These two SUVs cater towards different buyers, but if price weren't a factor, we'd park the Land Rover in our driveway. Sure, the Bronco is the better vehicle for the 2% of the time we'd spend off-roading, but the Defender is the more enjoyable experience for the other 98%. If you can find a Bronco at sticker price, we'd advise you to take it and run. But if the dealers comes back to the table with a five-figure market adjustment, we'd head to the nearest Land Rover dealership.