When my friends Josh, Winslow, and I set off north into eastern Washington state for our four-day overlanding trip, we felt like royalty. No, that doesn’t quite impart the gravitas, the weight of the moment.
We felt godlike.
That’s because of the three vehicles in the convoy, one of them was the 2021 Ford Bronco Four-Door in Black Diamond trim.
In the days leading up to the trip, I think we all imagined we’d be treated like backcountry rock stars. I for one imagined throngs of outdoorsmen and overlanders pressing their noses to the glass and pounding roof and doors as we rolled through the woods — all just so they could get a better look at God’s latest gift to dirt, the all-new Bronco.
Tension and hopes were high, as we cranked our steering wheels for the first turn off the pavement and onto dirt. Each of us half expected a parade to break out in the Bronco’s honor. But a funny thing happened: nothing.
No clap of thunder, no songbirds trumpeted a triumphant tune. The Bronco’s entry into the Naches Trail was unceremoniously marked by nothing more than a light breeze that rustled the dark green branches of the overhanging trees.
Funny. Maybe this thing won’t be that exciting after all.
How wrong I was.
For this trip, I saddled up a relatively fresh (only 2,300 miles on the odometer) Bronco 4-Door Advance 4×4 in Black Diamond trim finished in Antimatter Blue Metallic paint and grey/black vinyl seats.
In the Bronco hierarchy, the Black Diamond falls in the middle of the seven-trim range. My tester was powered by the base 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed manual gearbox (six plus a crawl gear). The twee EcoBoost packs more punch than its displacement might lead you to believe. It churns out 275 horsepower and an impressive 315 foot-pounds of torque.
That’s more power than the Tacoma’s most powerful engine option, the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6. The Ford 2.3’s horsepower rating is also just shy of the Jeep Wrangler’s Pentastar V6 horsepower output, 285 ponies. Though the Bronco’s 2.3-liter handily bests the Pentastar’s 260 ft-lbs of torque. And that’s just the base engine. Broncos can be optioned with a more potent 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6, too. We can discuss that powerplant another time.
In addition to the standard features of the Black Diamond, my tester included 17-inch black painted steel wheels, 32-inch all-terrain tires, locking rear differential, hard top, keyless entry, and roof rails. All told, this Bronco stickers out at $42,125.00.
We found adventure as soon as we made our first turn off the forest road and onto the off-road track.
From the driver seat of the Bronco, I watched Josh bounce his Land Rover 110 halfway up the deep ruts of the first trail, which had been recently slicked by rain. The 110 lost momentum and came to a halt, its wheels spinning fruitlessly. My heart sank a bit.
If a 110 is having trouble, I am hosed.
Josh backed up and gunned his newly installed 4.6-liter Rover V8. His open axles rocked and articulated furiously, trying to find grip, as one wheel grabbed, bounced up, and lost it again, sending power to the other wheel. Eventually the violent, mud-slinging dance worked. The 110 inched and slid its way to the top of the hill.
It was the Bronco’s and my turn.
I pushed the 4-Low button on the electronic transfer-case shifter, punched the rear locked button, selected Mud/Ruts on GOAT mode knob, pulled the gearbox lever down into Crawl gear, and went for it.
The EcoBoost whined. Its revs neared the red line. The Bronco rushed up the hill. Like the 110 before it, the Bronco was overwhelmed by the ruts and got hung up.
I quickly realized Crawl gear matched with the low-range gearing put too much torque to the wheels. In this case, more power was the problem rather than the solution. I rolled back a bit and tried second gear.
This time I sawed the wheel back and forth as we jumped forward, hoping even the mild A/T sidewalls would find enough front-end traction to pull us up the track. With lower revs, the Bronco was able to drag itself through the ruts and up to the top of the hill.
If the entire track is going to be like this, it is going to be slow going.
This, as it turned out, was the worst bit of the trail. The rest of it was much easier going. The first day was pretty technical, as we wound our way through the woods. The second day, however, took us out onto open plateaus carved up with rocky trails and outlined by dry canyons dotted with scrub trees. Other than some basketball-size boulders here and there, the trail wasn’t that tough.
Just because the Bronco didn’t get as hung up on the rest of the trip, though, doesn’t mean its low-slung nature didn’t rear its ugly head from time to time.
After settling into the Bronco, I began to sort of forget about it. And that’s a good thing.
The wireless Apple CarPlay kept me connected to my favorite tunes. Excellent seating position and outward visibility meant I had a near-perfect sight on the trail and scenery around me. The vinyl seat themselves were incredibly comfy, too.
The interior design is very handsome. The trim and touchpoints are high-end. Even with the smaller, standard infotainment screen, I didn’t feel like I was subject to a constant reminder that I didn’t get the bigger screen. That’s because a lot of automakers design their interiors to suit the biggest, optional screen. If you don’t get it, they fill the gaps with chunks of crappy, ugly plastic. It’s almost as if they want to shame you for not paying for the fancier stuff.
Maybe if you worked a little harder…
Not the Bronco, though. Even in the middle trim, I felt very much in a utilitarian but comfortable place.
Because of that well-sorted cabin, the Bronco eventually became an extension of myself. I didn’t think so much that I was piloting a machine more than I felt like I was traversing the track myself. I hope you can relate to that feeling.
This lose-yourself feeling (god, did I just make an Eminem reference?) is due in part to, yes, the super-comfortable seats (no, really, they’re that good). However, it’s more a byproduct of the Bronco’s right-sized-ness (totally a word).
From where I sat, the Bronco is perfectly sized. It’s wide and chunky without being too big. I had ample room in all directions without feeling like I was piloting a 747 down the track.
The suspension, too, is expertly tuned. The rear coil springs are dual rate. When sitting still, the top five-or-so coils are completely compressed. Out on the trail, they open up and allow for some impressive rear suspension articulation.
Unfortunately, I was regularly snapped out of that warm, engaging feeling I enjoyed as I bopped along the track by the sounds of the bottom of the Bronco colliding with the terrain beneath it.
The Bronco might be a perfect width, but the Black Diamond trim simply doesn’t have enough ground clearance.
The trailing arms, low-slung fuel tank (which is in the middle of the chassis), and rear differential got hung up on or bumped off of roots and rocks constantly. We didn’t sustain any damage. But the sounds and reverberations rattled the cabin and our brains often.
This added with the limited traction that 32-inch all-terrain tires offer and I can’t help but feel that Black Diamond trim isn’t totally suited to overlanding. It simply sits too low and the tires aren’t grippy enough to confidently head out on even a moderately challenging overlanding journey.
Luckily, that’s not your only option.
You can step up a couple levels to the Badlands, which is built for extreme off-roading. Or you can just add the Sasquatch Package to any trim level you want. This, if you’re not aware, adds 35-inch mud-terrain tires and locking differentials at the front and rear.
Best of all, you can add Sasquatch to even the Base trim. Though, as this is written, you cannot Build & Price a Bronco with the manual gearbox and Sasquatch Package. So, you have to have the 10-speed auto, too. That is probably the transmission you want anyway. We can save that conversation for another day.
I am confident that the Bronco would haven’t even skipped a beat on anything I tossed at it, if it’d been fitted with the Sasquatch Pack.
It’s been a couple weeks since I tested the Bronco. I think about it a lot. It was able to capture my imagination in a way few vehicles have been able to. It’s great looking. It’s capable. It’s well priced. It’s rugged without being overly utilitarian. And it has a supercar-cache that few vehicles below $250,000 are capable of capturing.
I wish my tester had been optioned with the Sasquatch Package, but that’s only because I wish I hadn’t been able to see even a whiff of hesitation in it.
Coming into this trip, I had incredibly high expectations for the Bronco. Aside from a hero’s welcome in the backcountry, the Bronco met or exceeded most of my other, more rational expectations. With the Bronco, I can confidently say that Ford has really delivered on its hype. If you’re in line to get a Bronco, I applaud you. You made a brilliant (albeit relatively blind) choice and I suspect you won’t regret it for a second.
See you on the trails. And if I do, I’ll throw some confetti for you. I know that even a little pomp and circumstance can go along way.