If you were a carmaker planning, conceptualizing, and executing a competitor to the venerable Jeep Wrangler, one might think one easy win would be found in building a better interior. After all, a Wrangler is designed to be cleaned out with a garden hose. Functional? Absolutely. But nice? Perhaps in the eye of the beholder, but measured on a scale with interiors across autodom, the Jeep’s leaves much to be desired. So, does the all-new 2021 Ford Bronco 4×4 SUV get a jump on its main competitor by simply having a better cabin? Not exactly, as some parts of the new Bronco’s interior are great, some need some work, and one attempts to turn a round object into a rectangle. Read on for what we found within a four-door Outer Banks model.
The new Bronco’s cabin is built around Ford’s latest, though optional, Sync-powered 12.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The screen is large, legible, quick to respond, and even logically laid out. The F-150 has the same screen, but we like the way the Bronco’s is programmed better. The right third displays drivetrain info, whereas on the pickup there’s just a bunch of white space. Perhaps most important, Apple CarPlay is perfectly integrated. We’ll assume (and take on all the risk that entails) that Android Auto behaves in a similar fashion. We also love how Ford chose to leave the audio and climate controls out of the touchscreen. Primary controls shouldn’t be digital, and Ford understands that.
The G.O.A.T. Modes control knob is also a pleasant piece of kit. It’s large and chunky and feels right at home inside the Bronco. In addition to putting you into Mud/Ruts, Sand, or Rock settings, the G.O.A.T. Modes—which stands for Go Over Any Terrain—controller also engages Sport and Eco, not that you’ll ever use the latter. The controls for 2-HI, 4-HI, and 4-LO are found within the center of the knob, as is the off-road cruise control button. Yes, the Bronco uses electronics to engage the low gears, and that’s not as satisfying or reassuring as the lever found in the Jeep Wrangler. However, there are packaging advantages to Ford’s way. For instance, putting the transfer case controls on the mode knob allows the Bronco to offer a wireless phone charger, something the Wrangler does not have in its feature set. One more thing we like about the Outer Banks’ cabin: The good-looking blue trim pieces atop the dash, along the waistrails, and on the seats. Looks sharp.
There’s a sense of cost-cutting inside the Bronco’s cabin that we weren’t expecting. This cheap feeling begins when you open the door. Since Ford decided to go with frameless doors, even a moderately strong pull causes the window glass to wiggle back and force. All that’s missing is a boing boing boing sound effect. It’s quite disconcerting. Once you’re seated, poking around reveals the grained and gloss pieces don’t even kinda match, meaning that one part of the interior is shiny and smooth, whereas a part that meets it is coarse and dull. Check out where the black plastic bit that houses the cup holders meets the transmission tunnel. Pretty low rent. Also, the top and bottom dash pieces seem pretty flimsy for what’s supposed to be a Built Ford Tough SUV.
Then there are the grab handles. All three of them wiggle a bit, and two of them are in pretty bogus locations, but the one by the passenger’s left knee can be moved quite a bit in either direction with a single finger. Inside the Jeep Wrangler, the large grab handle that stretches across and above the glovebox is so securely mounted it feels as if you could use it to pull another Wrangler. Then there’s the Bronco’s removable hardtop roof. We know the Bronco was delayed—and for some people who put money down on reservations, still delayed—because of supplier issues directly related to the roof. (And some customers who have received their Broncos are still reporting problems.) If we were in charge of the Bronco, we’d keep the delay in place. At 50 mph the cabin gets loud, as lots of road noise suddenly intrudes. At 70 mph, there’s so much wind noise in the cabin it sounds like the roof is off. Want to make a phone call at 80 mph? Not going to happen, unless you like shouting, “Wait, what?” every third sentence. And our particular Bronco had the optional Sound Deadening Headliner. We can’t even imagine how loud and borderline intolerable things would be without it.
The You’ve Got to be Kidding Me
Most of the above you can learn to live with, but we think we’d still hate the primary display after years of ownership. We found the tachometer in particular to be annoying at first glance, and an object of derision after living with the SUV for a week. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with a round, analogue tach. Nothing! We think of it as settled tech. No need to reinvent it. Second, the Bronco’s tachometer looks like the fuel gauge, which is confusing. Redline is difficult to ascertain; after a few hundred miles we’re still not totally sure what it is. Maybe 5,100 rpm? Who knows? How would they know? Here’s hoping this is one of the first things that gets changed at the midcycle refresh.
The rear seat is mostly comfortable, especially for this sort of vehicle. Would a 6-foot-tall adult want to spend 1,000 miles back there? No, but a hundred-mile or so trip seems totally doable. Ford made a pretty big deal about how open air the Bronco feels with the roof panels removed—especially for back seat passengers who won’t have to look at a bar, as on the Wrangler, that stretches from B-pillar to B-pillar. Perhaps, but if you’re in the back of a Bronco with a roof rack, the cross bar is in that exact spot, effectively cancelling out the Halo view. But that last part probably isn’t an issue, because if the roof rack is in place you can’t actually remove the rear roof panels. Weird but true!
The cargo area is large, and most important, larger than the Wrangler’s. At least on paper. However, the Bronco has large plastic sidewalls on either side of the cargo area, where the Wrangler doesn’t. Meaning you can stuff oddly shaped and softly packed items into random nooks in the back of the Jeep that don’t exist in the Ford. Moreover, Ford chose to hide the Bronco’s tie-downs under a rubber mat. Why not cut holes that would allow you to then secure cargo on the rubber, carpet-protecting mat? No clue.
So, the new Bronco gets some things right and some things not so right—and it’s clear there’s much room for improvement. What’s worth mentioning is that Ford did a surprisingly competent job right out of the gate in creating its Wrangler fighter. The good news is that competition only makes vehicles better, and we have a feeling Ford and Jeep will be pushing each other to make their hardcore off-roaders even better. The future is looking sweet!
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