We finally drove the 2021 Ford Bronco and it was everything we dreamed it could be and we understand completely if you’re fully on board the hype train. But before you decide to take the plunge yourself, there’s an egregious shortcoming that Ford cannot quickly or easily address: Bronco may be “here,” but from a customer perspective, it basically doesn’t exist.
Context is king when comparing any car to another, or as in this case, off-road legend to off-road legend. Without it, the Jeep Wrangler would be a footnote next to the Land Rover Defender or Mercedes G-Wagen. Prices tags are a thing, though, meaning these SUVs with broadly similar M.O.’s often aren’t directly compared. They serve different markets. The Land Rover creeps into six-figure territory thanks to its new V8 option, and as for the Benz? Uh, yeah, I don’t think I need to explain it. Essentially, if somebody tells you a G-Wagen is “better” than a Wrangler, chances are your response will be “for that price, it had better be.”
Unfortunately, the state of Bronco supply is generating an artificial price gap, and while the Bronco may have many advantages over the Wrangler, most of them are dependent on what you’d pay for one. At MSRP, Ford’s revived nameplate is incredibly compelling, but once you start to factor in the state of Bronco production and the reality of today’s super-hot and supply-constrained market, none of those advantages really matter.
The base Bronco with the Sasquatch package should be a $35,000 punch to the Wrangler Rubicon’s $42,000 face, for example, but in reality, it’s more like a $39,000 slap, because the cheapest Bronco combo (Base/6MT/Sasquatch) isn’t even slated to be produced for the 2021 model year. You can get one with an automatic, but that adds to the price, creeping closer to the Rubicon, which comes with more goodies than you’re getting with the stripper-spec Bronco.
And that’s ignoring the fact that some Base model Broncos are listing for $50,000 or more on some platforms right now, and anything even approaching the capability of a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon could set you back more than those halo-spec Land Rovers we mentioned above. Is a Bronco worth that? Um, nope. You’d have to be insane to spend that kind of money, and frankly, if you don’t need a car, I’m concerned for your mental well-being if you’re shopping for anything new at all right now. But don’t take my word for it; just ask “Doctor” Byron:
This entire situation is vaguely similar to the concept of a “paper launch.” That happens when a manufacturer announces the availability of a new product that you can’t actually purchase or use because it hasn’t made its way into the hands of customers yet. In the car world, Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” feature is a prime example of this. Now, on paper (sorry), this may seem no different from what we see at high-profile auto shows all the time, but the key difference is that automakers don’t generally make availability claims that they can’t back up. A new product announcement usually comes with an on-sale date, even if it’s something as vague as “late this year” or “in the fall.”
Car enthusiasts have gotten a taste of that over the past 24 months, with several vehicles being delayed and even some model years being effectively written off or extended in an attempt to correct for supply chain and delivery issues. And while the Bronco is ostensibly available, the reality is that even those holding early reservations may have to wait until the 2023 model year to take delivery unless they settle for a different build.
The term “paper launch” is often used with derision, so I want to be clear: I don’t believe that there has been any deliberate duplicity on Ford’s part. The Bronco launch debacle has been one of coincidence, not incompetence or even negligence. The timing sucked, plain and simple, and even if Ford can’t seem to get its story straight on availability, I don’t believe it’s for lack of trying.
So, yes, I do believe that the Ford Bronco is the better 4×4. But is it the better buy? Right now, in this environment? Absolutely not. If you must buy at all, buy a Wrangler. Take advantage of their slow depreciation and get on the bandwagon when the market settles down. Your wallet will thank you.