When Ford finally unveiled the new 2021 Bronco Badlands in July after months of anticipation, it quickly won over the hearts of automotive enthusiasts worldwide. Its rich heritage, timeless design and aggressive persona are being unanimously praised, leaving many to wonder if there’s a new king of the off-road SUV segment waiting to be crowned.
However, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon didn’t just fall off a cliff, and it isn’t about to surrender its title so easily. This clash of the titans is the Rubicon’s war to lose, but the off-road savvy Bronco is certainly equipped for the challenge. Though automotive journalists have yet to get behind the wheel of the 2021 Bronco, we will analyze how the 4×4 flagship battle between Jeep’s Wrangler Rubicon and Ford’s Bronco Badlands stacks up on paper.
Ground clearance is often one of the largest concerns when maneuvering over treacherous terrain. Large rocks, tree roots and other obstacles pose a threat to sensitive equipment underneath the vehicle, so creating additional ground clearance with larger tires works to minimize this issue. The Rubicon comes standard with 33-inch tires, while the Badlands eclipses this mark if you opt for the Sasquatch package with 35-inch meats.
Both the Rubicon and Badlands feature locking front and rear differentials, electronic sway bar disconnect, and impressive approach angles and crawl ratios. However, the Bronco earns the nod here with its independent front suspension and its ability to adapt to different driving conditions with G.O.A.T. mode (Goes Over Any Terrain). Derived from the original Bronco nickname, this technology features eight selectable driving modes that include normal, eco, sport, slippery, sand, baja, mud/ruts, and rock crawl.
A 3.6L V6 comes standard on all Wrangler trim levels and makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. While the majority will opt for the automatic transmission, a six-speed manual is an option for those who prefer to row their own gears. An available 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a slightly more fuel-efficient option, but can’t be configured with a stick.
Perhaps the most interesting option is the new 3.0L EcoDiesel engine that yields an EPA estimated 25 miles per gallon and can withstand up to 30 inches of water. Featuring a stump-pulling 442 lb-ft of torque and a respectable 260 horsepower, you don’t have to sacrifice performance for improved efficiency either. An eight-speed automatic is the sole transmission configuration with the EcoDiesel, which is unfortunately not offered in the two-door Wrangler Rubicon.
The Ford Bronco Badlands will come standard with a 270-hp 2.3L EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and a seven-speed manual transmission with a “crawler” gear. The short gear ratio and the Bronco’s low-speed transfer case allow the vehicle to move forward as slow as 1 mph with the clutch fully out—an invaluable feature for safe and smooth off-road maneuvering.
A more powerful 2.7L EcoBoost V6 producing 310 hp and 400 lb-ft is also available for those seeking straight-line thrills in addition to off-roading fun. Paired exclusively with an automatic transmission, it’s easily the most powerful engine offered in either model. As a result, we fully expect the V6-equipped Bronco Badlands will display a significant acceleration advantage over the Wrangler Rubicon once proper road tests are conducted.
The two-door 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands starts at $43,590, while the four-door version will set you back $46,085. It’s important to clarify, however, that this starting price includes the 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder engine and not the more powerful 2.7L EcoBoost V6.
The two-door 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon’s starting MSRP is significantly cheaper at $40,190, while the four-door Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited starts at $43,690 after destination charges. These pricing figures include the standard 3.6L V6 engine and a manual transmission.
Like the Bronco, Rubicon prices can escalate quickly based on which options you add. Opting for the new EcoDiesel engine adds an additional $6000 to the starting MSRP ($4000 for the engine and $2000 for the required eight-speed automatic transmission.)