Things the new Ford Bronco has to do better than the Jeep Wrangler

There are many reasons why people love the Jeep Wrangler so much. The open top feel, sun and wind in your face. Another is the idea of being able to go wherever, in any weather. There is also its ruggedness and the fact that it does not need special love and care like so many new car – it’s okay if it gets dirty, wet, or bumped – it’s a Jeep.

While the Wrangler and the Gladiator always put a smile on my face, these are from ideal vehicles. While it’s their imperfections that make them so fun, there is many ways that they can be improved. With the new Ford Bronco on the horizon, here are some ways in which its designers can improve on the Wrangler.

Removable Top:

Currently, Jeep offers three mainstream top versions: soft top, hard top, and the hybrid-ish power top. The soft top comes in two flavors, regular and premium. The portion over the passenger area flips backs like a big sunroof. The side and rear windows are zippered in. Once those windows are removed, the roof assembly can then be folded back or removed for a complete topless feel.

The hardtop comes in three pieces: two “freedom panels” over the passenger area and big doghouse-like enclosure in the back. Removing the panels is an easy, one-person job. They are held in place with a latch and levers. Jeep provides a storage bag for them. The doghouse is held by eight torx bolts but requires two able-bodied people to remove. It then needs to be stored somewhere.

The power-top is sort of like the hard-top but the center piece of it is made of soft-top like material. With a press of the button, the whole center portion of the roof, from the windshield to the hatch, slides back. Rear side windows are removable but the hatch glass is not. It’s a really clever design but it has two downsides: the top is not fully removable and it is quite pricey.

Removable Doors:

All these years and Jeep still has not got that right. First, the mirrors are attached to the doors. When you remove the doors, you remove the mirrors. Tools, which Jeep supplies, are needed to remove the doors. There is a clever hardware storage bin in each Jeep but the doors have to be stored somewhere. Half doors are available but they are pricey. The plastic windows that come with the half-doors are annoying at best.

Tailgate:

With either hard-top, the lower tailgate door has to be opened before the rear glass can be lifted. I always found it awkward. In most split tailgate SUVs or pickups with a cap, it is the glass that can be quickly lifted for easy access.

Things are more complicated with the soft-top rear window. For full access, the window needs to be rolled up or unzipped and thrown over the top. Neither is ideal, especially on cold days, when the plastic window becomes brittle.

To be fair, Toyota and Land Rover have been struggling for years with this. The availability of a hard-top and soft-top make rear access really tricky. The fact that all of those vehicles have a full-size spare mounted on the tailgate makes it much more so. If there is a good solution, it’s one that has been used on older soft-top 4Runners and Broncos – power rear window that rolls down into the tailgate. This may require a stand-alone tire carrier.

Road Manners:

The Wrangler has a solid live axle in the front. Outside of some heavy-duty pickup trucks, the Wrangler and its Gladiator sibling are the only vehicles currently on sale with this configuration. Both Jeep and its loyal fan base will say that live axle is the best thing for off-roading. It allows for better axle articulation and higher ground clearance.

Unfortunately, that solid front axle also makes for a rather poor highway performance. Road irregularities are transferred side-to-side, steering feel is bad, and the vehicle is more susceptible tracking in highway truck ruts. Emergency maneuvers can get sketchy. Then there is the whole issue of the death wobble.

Ford already confirmed that the Bronco will have an independent front suspension. For 80 percent of buyers, this is a better option 99% of the time. It is likely that question of off-road advantages will be answered only by the most hard-core of off-roaders, on the most technical, rocky trails.

I personally expected the current Wrangler to offer both kinds of axles on different models. For instance, the Rubicon would have a solid axle and the Sahara would have an independent suspension. But I also expected a third row seat, so my expectations were clearly wrong.

Powertrain:

The most overlooked, if not one of the most important changes from the JK to the JL Wrangler, was the availability of an eight-speed automatic transmission. It shifts faster and smoother. The increased number of cogs allows for much better highway cruising while retaining the needed low gearing. A six-speed manual transmission is standard but has no read advantages other than driver involvement and preference.

Unfortunately, that transmission has not masked the issues of the 3.6-liter V6. It harsh, loud, thirsty, and still feels low on power. The new four-cylinder engine isn’t exactly any better or any worse than the V6. The new V6 turbodiesel is said to be excellent but this excellence comes at a high cost.

Interior:

Despite having substantially grown over the decades, the Wrangler is still rather short on interior space. While vastly improved, the dash and console layout and still leave a lot to desire. Pockets and places for smaller things such as keys or glasses are simply absent. Two cup-holders are rather small and the glove box is a joke. And it desperately needs a dead-pedal, too.

The front seats have a rather short bottom cushion and even with the seat all the way back, tall drivers may find it awkward. The rear bench in the four-door models is great but does not recline and the legroom is rather limited. In Jeep’s defense, many other mid-size body-on-frame vehicles suffer from these issues. Clearly, this can be improved.

Noise is another issue for Jeep. It is relatively quiet with the hard top on but it still isn’t quiet. No one expects S-class-like noise insulation but wind noise from its vertical windows and road noise from its big tires can be further reduced when the top is on.

Can Ford make a better Jeep?

I genuinely love the Wrangler and the Gladiator. The only reason I don’t own one is because I needed a vehicle with a third row of seats. The Wrangler is the vehicle most like to replace my 4Runner. That said, the new Bronco seems extremely interesting, even before anyone has actually seen it. With some clever engineering and design, they can not only steal sales from Jeep and Toyota but can also bring in a whole new customer.

26 Comments

  1. Perhaps not right from the outset (when Ford will be focused on cranking out fully-loaded versions while the demand is still high), but they need to eventually come up with a version where roof and doors are not included, and there are not even any door strikers. It should have a rear seat delete, too.
    https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/edec165ace829fdfd4d40b4383a2748ec381fc47/c=0-242-4581-2830/local/-/media/2017/06/23/USATODAY/USATODAY/636338494223214998-bronco.JPG?width=660&height=373&fit=crop&format=pjpg&auto=webp

    1. Fair warning: If you ever find yourself speaking with the owner of one of these and the topic of fakes, replicas, and/or transferred parts arises, be prepared for a passionate display of opinion seldom matched even within other branches of the numbers-matching car world. I speak from experience, as this has happened to me. Twice.

      1. I presume you told them you are a firm believer that the numbers of wheels on the car should match on both sides of the vehicle.

    2. On 1970s K-5 Blazers the rear seat and front passenger seat were all considered options. Technically the base model was a single seater. Don’t know if any were actually built that way.

      1. Yes, The original Bronco was that way, though technically the standard configuration was a bench seat and the single bucket seat was an option.
        https://www.ford.com/cmslibs/content/dam/brand_ford/en_us/brand/suvs-crossovers/bronco/pdf/66_Ford_Bronco_Brochure_150dpi.pdf

        I saw a Plymouth Trailduster built that way, and recall some early cargo vans built without a passenger seat as a way to keep costs down. I imagine safety standards typically dictate that a passenger seat be in place now, in order to remove temptation for someone to stick a folding chair in its place and have an unbelted passenger, but don’t forget that single seating was the base configuration on the Challenger Demon.

        1. My brother had a thing for early Broncos back when you could pick them up for chicken feed. IIRC, on one of them, the front passenger seat was screwed to the floorpan using only a piano hinge that allowed it to easily flop forward for rear seat passengers to come and go. It could have been cheap bass boat surplus from a prior owner or a JC Whitney special, but was sketchy. From an occupant restraint perspective, they were clearly coming from the tipping tractor school of thought, figuring your best bet was to give occupants a fair chance to be clear of tumbling wreckage altogether by being ejected early in the process. Nearly got to test that theory myself when the air cleaner stud vibrated loose and wedged the throttle butterflies wide open heading into a rural highway intersection.

          On the plus side though, the sheet metal used on the bodies made “military grade aluminum” in my F150 feel like Reynolds Wrap. You could put your whole weight into the fender or quarter panel and wouldn’t deflect at all.

        2. I’ve driven a car using a steel frame kindergarten chair sitting on the floor, and I could see how that could be a problem

          1. I have driven while standing (in a convertible, so looking over the top of the windshield and not crouched over). I also recall being a passenger in a single-seat step van, riding on the freeway while the door was in the ventilation (open) position, I’m keenly aware that passenger logistics and safety logistics might occupy separate areas on the Venn diagram.

  2. Still holding out hope for a full sized two door version.

    I live in a swamp, so, voluntarily exposing myself and my stuff to the elements sounds sketchy. If it involves another person and/or more than a couple of minutes, It’s just not going to be worth it. The door/roof removal seems like a contrivance that brings a whole lot of compromises to me.

    1. There has been unofficial video released showing a swb.

      I’m wondering why they wouldn’t replace the Everest with the Bronco

      1. Right, but I’m talking F150 sized like the 78-96 model year versions. If they used the IRS out of the Expedition, the rear floor/back seat wouldn’t have to be proportioned for orangutans. They could totally make one from the parts bin.

        The Everest looks long in the tooth, not sure what part commonality they might already share with the Bronco, but the body stampings are all ready to go.

        1. I wondered if that’s what you meant. Seems unlikely given the tiny number of 2 door SUVs sold anywhere. Probably the only hope is the aftermarket, the reverse of the Centurion Classic off the old full size Bronco
          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/501da3a866094b2caf1371672e67ae0f8473b8dc209a919e0e0dafd8ec2a0fc0.jpg

          The current Everest only debuted in 2015 in Australia at least although it is based on the 2011 Ranger (calendar year so 2012 model year), with a coil spring rear. Only the basic architecture would be shared, maybe floorpan/firewall stampings. So it could be replaced with Bronco and my opinion is they don’t need both, or at least that would be more profitable.

          If Ford was smart they would have based the Bronco on the next generation Ranger which is due in 12 months or so; perhaps that is why it is taking so long to get to market? I’m not confident.

          1. I just need to be locked in a cave Tony Stark style with a few wrecked Expeditions and a welding/metal fabrication instructor.

        1. As a new day dawns, I can see clearly now that two of those silhouettes are in the lede image of this post. My powers of observation grow stronger, ever stronger. Sounds like neight428 was hoping for a long wheelbase two door? Like a Scout Traveller?

          1. Not a bad idea, but I’m more just thinking about a return to the same relative dimensions of the 78-96 models. It would be an F150 from the doors forward with the wagon body over a shorter than SWB F150 wheelbase/length.

  3. Is it confirmed that Ford isn’t wasting engineering on a folding windshield? I never folded mine on the CJ-7, and no one I knew with a CJ or Wrangler ever did, either. Yeah, yeah, it might help keep dust from settling in the cabin, but not enough to make it worth the hassle.

    1. It is not confirmed but probably not. Internally we agree it’s dumb. I owned to Jeeps and folded the windshield one and then it would not stop leaking. All three of my JL owning friends don’t care about folding windshields.
      But there are many pros – body stiffness, quietness, safety, weight, etc…

    2. You’d think they would show it with the removed doors in the silhouette photo if it was going to happen.

      1. It could be a case of we’re-not-going-to-recommend-it-but-we-will-make-it-easy-to-DIY. Kind of like how kit car manufacturers will sell you an unassembled kit or will sell you an assembled kit less the 600 horsepower engine (which can be installed in an afternoon) and can recommend a shop that can complete it, but they won’t sell a turnkey car.

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