But its road manners make it better than its biggest rival.
If you're into off-roading, 2021 might as well have been named the year of the Bronco. That's because the 2021 Ford Bronco was hot on everyone's lips for all manner of reasons. While it was a strong enough contender to be crowned the CarBuzz Off-Road Warrior winner in our 2021 Awards, it also faced several quality issues in equal measure to having praise heaped upon it for its off-road prowess, on-road refinement, and in some circles, even tunability. But if there was one area of the Bronco that remained shrouded in mystery, it was safety. Of course, safety ratings matter little when you're climbing rocks, but to many family-minded buyers, this is an important factor in the buying decision. Now, the results are in, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in any case.
Unfortunately for Ford, the Bronco has missed out on the agency's coveted Top Safety Pick award for 2021. The reason behind this is two-fold. Firstly, the Bronco suffers from poor headlights that fail to adequately illuminate curves at night. Poor headlights is one of the most common reasons vehicles miss out on top scores from the IIHS and it's not uncommon to see the Top Safety Pick award only applicable to certain trims with specific headlights. The second reason is a little less common: the head restraints don't provide adequate protection against whiplash injuries. That resulted in the Bronco scoring a rating of Adequate, while in the five other crashworthiness metrics, it scored best possible ratings of Good.
It's a common misconception that headrests are used in cars to aid comfort. In fact, they are an integral safety element, designed to absorb impacts on the occupants' head and neck. It's also why it is highly important for a headrest to be positioned correctly. According to the IIHS, "a restraint should be at least as high as the head's center of gravity, or about 3.5 inches below the top of the head. The backset, or distance behind the head, should be as small as possible."
The Bronco meets these criteria, but when being hit from behind by a vehicle of a similar size at 20 mph, the seat did not provide enough support.
As for the headlights, the Bronco's two available systems both fell short, earning Marginal ratings due to poor low-beam performance. A Top Safety Pick award is given to vehicles with at least one Good or Acceptable headlight system, while the coveted Top Safety Pick + is only given to vehicles that boast Acceptable or Good headlights as standard on every trim.
As for the Wrangler, the Bronco's chief rival, it may have scored better for the seats and head restraints, but it was found lacking elsewhere, with Marginal and Poor headlight ratings, marginal small front overlap results, and limited forward collision-avoidance tech.