The off-roading contest has only just begun. There are new entries coming from unlikely candidates such as the Honda Passport Trailsport and from likely ones such as the Land Rover Defender. The two to watch are still the new Ford Bronco and the long-time champion Jeep Wrangler.

The Build

Both models come in two-door and four-door choices. Both are rugged, built high to escape trail debris. The tight build with shorter overhangs up front and in back reduces the chances of snagging while skid plates keep vital systems from getting hammered.

The Bronco allows you to remove the roof and doors just as you can on the Wrangler. Both have soft- and hard-top varieties. Ford can brag about their frameless doors that are made to fit in the rear storage area of the four-door.

Jeep can point to its new Mopar flip-top on the hardtop that gives a driver open-air flexibility fast as well as its Sky One-Touch roof. Before you go shopping, you’ll want to calculate the car price you can afford. There are endless options for both brands.

Drivetrains and Terrain Management

You can buy either brand and be assured of a four-by-four drivetrain. Both have an upgraded 4×4 for some higher models. Ford’s new terrain management has five standard modes including slippery and sand. It adds Baja for desert runs, mud and ruts, and available rock crawl.

Ford utilizes solid rear axles, but has an independent front suspension, giving itself an advantage in terms of road ride quality. Off-roaders may prefer the solid front axles on the Jeep

Performance and Fuel Economy

Bronco fuel economy is better with the standard engine and 10-speed automatic. Compared to the Wrangler’s V6, the four-cylinder turbo saves about $2,000 for the Ford Bronco driver over five years, according to the Fuel Calculator (U.S. Department of Energy).

Many test drivers have given the Bronco the nod, but personal preference may win the day when it comes to the affordable engine choices. The Wrangler V6 creates 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

The Bronco turbo generates 275 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque with regular fuel or 300 hp/325 lb-ft with higher octane fuel. A new Jeep turbo improves fuel economy and offers 275 hp/295 lb-ft of torque.

Jeep takes over the lead with a Diesel engine and a high-horsepower performance engine. It has also come out with hybrid and plug-in hybrid technologies.

Initial Value

The two-door Wrangler and two-door Bronco have similar starting MSRP. However, the four-door Bronco is more expensive than the four-door Wrangler.

At the base level, the Bronco lacks 1.3 inches of ground clearance compared to the Wrangler. Approach and departure angles aren’t as good either.

However, the Bronco makes a strong case for itself by providing so much technology. Only Ford is supplying automatic high beams, post-collision braking, pre-collision assist, and automatic emergency braking for pedestrian and forward-collision dangers.

The dash tech is slightly better, too, with a larger touch screen and push button start. For off-roading, Hill Descent Control is standard on the manual transmission. Ford’s exclusive Trail Control and Trail Turn Assist are standard with the automatic transmission.

It really is a game to figure out which one of the many trims and packages of either brand will give you the best bang for your buck. If you are not climbing the trim level, however, the Bronco does seem to be the best value. On the other hand, you can find used Wranglers at prices that will save you even more.


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