2024 Ford Bronco Wildtrak

PHOENIX — It seems since Ford reintroduced the Bronco — the highly capable SUV that combines on-road practicality with go anywhere terrain capability, open-top fun, and a "must have" retro look — it has become the most talked about darling of new vehicles. But now in its fourth year, there's still a waiting list should you decide to spec one out the way you want it and order it from the factory.

You will be asked to comply with an acknowledgement that because of high demand and global supply chain constraints, not all models and trims or features are available to order.

Should you decide to forego the "build it your way" and search dealer inventory your choice will be slim pickings if they have any in stock at all. Most but not all dealerships we searched on new car dealer web sights like Cargurus.com were offering their Broncos from $5,000 to $15,000 over MSRP on the factory window sticker.

Additionally, those same Broncos included an addendum price list of dealer installed extras like tires filled with nitrogen, fabric protection, paint protection, window etching, theft alarm systems and countless others that added thousands of extra dollars to the firm sale price for things you normally wouldn't buy.

For 2024 the least expensive new Bronco is the Big Bend model starting at $41,025 having discontinued the $36,785 base model. Aside from the Big Bend, prices across eight of nine different Bronco models offered all have a factory price increase of at least $1,000 with the Bronco Raptor, which added a new Code Orange accent package, now has a base price of $91,730, a not so insignificant price increase of $3,255 over the 2023 model. There's even a modest price increase for some of the optional equipment. Only the Big Bend didn't see a price increase.

For media testing purposes, Ford loaned us the Wildtrak trim level with a starting price of $60,565. Only the Raptor has a more expensive starting price. Other than price, little has changed for 2024 with just the 12.0-inch infotainment screen that's now standard, replacing the 8-inch screen in the 2023 model.

Ford has really loaded up on the number of Bronco model variations, as well as offering two-and four-door body styles, two transmissions, three engines, soft-and hardtops roofs, and a gorgeous palette. Certainly enough choices for the right combination and style for those with the desire to grab a new Bronco.

We've driven and tested the three previous model year Broncos, but this is the first Wildtrak trim level we've gotten our hands on. While lower trim Bronco models come with a standard 300-hp 2.3-liter four-cylinder, Wildtrak power is courtesy of a 330-hp twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission sending power to all four wheels.

After a week behind the wheel of our Wildtrak it was easy to conclude the Bronco is a fierce off-road superstar right out of the box  and clearly had Jeep's Wrangler Rubicon in its gun sites for off-road capability bragging rights. Ford went all-out in constructing a Herculean all-terrain monster ready to handle rugged abuse with its HOSS — "High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension shocks and springs included with the Wildtrak's standard Sasquatch package, that shods the brute with gnarly 35-inch LT315/70R17 M/T tires surrounding the 17" black aluminum deadlock-compatible wheels, an electromechanical transfer case, locking front and rear axles, oversized fender flares, additional suspension clearance, and heavy-duty Bilstein shocks.

The closest thing Rubicon offers to a Wildtrak Sasquatch Bronco adds 17-inch wheels wearing 32-inch mud tires, shocks and rock rails, a limited-slip differential and beefier brake calipers. Admittedly, we haven't off-road tested these two in a showdown, but if on-pavement civility features in the decision choice for buyers we give the nod to the Bronco with it's surprisingly SUV manners on the highway.

But before we hit the paved surfaces we'll spend a few minutes on the Bronco's eight G.O.A.T modes. Simply stated, the acronym stands for "Goes Over Any Type of Terrain." Some would suggest that for off-road driving settings "Greatest of All Time" is a more appropriate definition. Controlled and set by a round dial on the center console, G.O.A.T. modes have been designed to engage eight presets for various driving conditions. Four of the setting: Normal, ECO, Sport, and Slippery are all good settings for regular and normal paved roads. Off-road settings are the opposite. Here's a rundown of the settings and what they specialize in:

Slippery: For rain, snow, slush, when roads are slick, then slippery mode is the best selection. The setting defaults to either 4-wheel drive Automatic (4A) or 4-wheel drive High (4H) and lowers throttle response.

Sand: This is the perfect setting for beach driving or dry, sandy off-road river beds. You should still lower the air pressure in your tires.

Mud/Ruts: Self explanatory.

Rock Crawl: Use when carefully climbing up or down rocky or strewn boulder areas. Rock Crawl locks both differentials, disconnects you stabilizer, and turns on your trail camera. Selecting Rock Crawl defaults into 4-low mode so you can't shift out of it until you come to a complete stop. Also, won't work at high speeds. Rock Crawl is not available on Wildtrak models.

BAJA: This is the mode of choice when driving on loose gravel or sandy surfaces. While "Sand" mode is designed for deep sand, Baja is for high speed speeds. Think desert running for Baja mode but it's also excellent for loose dirt.

So one of the most pleasant surprises of the Wildtrak isn't on an off-road trail. It's just assumed it will perform magnificently and to absolutely no one's surprise it does just that. The real surprise is how much it is like a truck-based SUV by closely matching a more genteel family hauler when it comes to moving people, gear and your dogs with aplomb, comfort and space. Now don't mistake it for luxury SUV like a Range Rover, Escalade, Navigator. It isn't that plush. It's much more basic than that but it won't beat you up either. Think more like a pickup truck ride. Not plush, but it won't shake your teeth loose either.

Additionally, while we think the Bronco is candy to the eyes, there really isn't anything special inside the cabin. There's no shortage of hard plastics, forget about wood veneers and leather instrument panels, this is a fairly basic execution of a mid-grade Ford pickup truck. We think Ford could have done a much better job of creating a unique identity for its reintroduced iconic moniker.

Other gripes we've noted with more than passing annoyance is the excessive tire noise that dominates the cabin. Granted it is far less noticeable in the hardtop Bronco versus the fabric top convertible models, but along with its noisy drive train it completely permeates the cabin and conversations are impossible especially on the highway.

Skip the premium sound system unless you mostly plan to listen to it while parked. And while fuel economy is rated a straight 17 mpg — city, highway, combined, the best we could muster was an overall 16.4 mpg. Be forewarned, with premium unleaded recommended and the gas tank sizes ranging between 16 and 20 gallons depending on the trim level and model options, your maximum range in the city is between 256 and 400 miles before an estimated $100 or more cost to refill an empty tank.

Overall, the Bronco Wildtrak is an easy vehicle to fall in love with. On looks alone it's a winner — it really looks tough and in a way you do not in a Wrangler Rubicon. Not to say the Rubicon isn't capable it just isn't as sharp and as eye catching. The engine in our Wildtrak was great with ample power at all ranges including when dialing the different G.O.A.T. selections. But fuel economy is at best dismal and with the price of premium fuel as of this writing over $5 a gallon, refills are expensive. While we think the ride is better than the Wrangler, it isn't by much but steering and handling are significantly better.

But inside the cabin the Bronco isn't that nice of an experience. It's overall quite spartan, way too much road, tire and wind noise especially if you're coming from a nicer SUV.

Bottom line — when compared to the Wrangler Rubicon, the Wildtrak is a much better vehicle. It drives better, has better technology, the interior looks more modern, and the 2.7-liter V-6 is a fantastic engine. And perhaps most important, it's a vehicle that's finally a credible alternative to the Wrangler Rubicon when it comes to off-road capability. If you're a Bronco fan, and you're one of the tens of thousands who has an order in for one we think you'll love it. It's a very cool vehicle.

Vital Stats

Base Price: $60,565
Price as Tested: $67,445
Engine/Transmission: 330-hp, twin turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel-drive
EPA Fuel Economy: 17-17-17-MPG - City-Highway-Combined
Seats: 5

Where Built: Michigan

Crash Test Safety Ratings: "Good" rating for crashworthiness by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Highest possible overall rating of 5-stars by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Competes With:
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Land Rover Defender

Superb off-road capability
Outclasses Wrangler Rubicon by almost every measure
Wide range of incredibly cool-looking models

Excessively wind, tire and engine cabin noise
Economy-look and feel interior materials
Long wait, often price gouging

— Jim Prueter