2021 Ford Bronco vs. 2021 Land Rover Defender: Which Is the Best Off-Road SUV?

2021 Ford Bronco vs. 2021 Land Rover Defender: Which Is the Best Off-Road SUV?

Tested to the limit at the Edmunds’ test track and in the desert

  • Ford and Land Rover re-imagine two of their most famous models for a new generation.
  • Both combine superb off-road ability with impressive on-road manners.
  • Edmunds tested both to the limit at our test track and off-road.

The briefs for the 2021 Land Rover Defender and 2021 Ford Bronco were the same: re-imagine an iconic nameplate for a modern generation. To succeed, both need to appease diehard traditionalists while seducing a new type of customer.

Last year, Edmunds brought together the Defender, Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner for an epic off-road test. We came away hugely impressed with the Land Rover's blend of on- and off-road skills, but there was a Bronco-shaped elephant in the room. This year the elephant came to life and we were finally able to head into the desert for a classic confrontation: Bronco vs. Defender.

A philosophical mismatch

Land Rover will tell you that the Defender is the most alpha vehicle it makes. While the Range Rover is all about luxury and the Discovery emphasizes versatility, the Defender is supposed to be all about hardcore adventure. Except that it doesn't really look and feel that way. Park the Defender next to the Bronco and it looks a bit soft and cartoon-like. As we say in the video, it's more wine bar than dive bar.

The new Ford Bronco, in contrast, is much more utilitarian and self-consciously so. The exterior recalls classic Broncos in a more obvious way and it's strictly functional. It also has a distinct sense of fun: The doors and (depending on trim) roof can both be removed for the full alfresco experience. Philosophically, it's actually much closer to the Jeep Wrangler than it is to the Land Rover.

The inside story

It's a similar story inside. Trim for trim the Defender is always a few thousand dollars more than the Bronco, and you can see and feel where the money has been spent. The cabin is awash with soft-touch furnishings that definitely feel more SUV-like than traditional off-roader. There are more hard surfaces in the Bronco and it doesn't feel as sophisticated, but it's still an appealing design. In the trim we tested, both models benefit from large touchscreen interfaces featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.

The Bronco and Defender also offer a decent amount of passenger space, even in the two-door trims we tested here. There's room for two adults in the rear of both, but the Defender offers additional knee room. The trade-off, however, is a minuscule trunk in the Land Rover: With the rear seats up, it offers just 15.6 cubic feet of space versus a still modest 22.4 cubes for the Bronco. For context, a Honda CR-V provides 39.2 cubic feet of space behind its rear seats.

2021 Ford Bronco vs. 2021 Land Rover Defender

2021 Ford Bronco vs. 2021 Land Rover Defender

On- and off-road

Let's start on the terra firma. Here the Land Rover has a key advantage. Its overall level of comfort and refinement is significantly better than the Bronco's. While the Ford always feels like an off-road-centric vehicle, the Defender does a good job of posing as an SUV. It's the car you'd want to commute in or take on long road trips. But we shouldn't be too negative about the new Bronco. Its on-road manners are vastly superior to the rival Jeep Wrangler's, making it a more appealing everyday choice. The steering in particular is more precise and controlled, eliminating the need to make constant corrections on the highway as you do in the Jeep. And as you'll see in our video, both the new Bronco and Defender performed similarly at the Edmunds' test track.

Off-road, both offer a range of electronic aids to help the driver and can be specified with additional off-road hardware. The trims we tested are actually more road-focused but both performed exceptionally well on our off-road course. Our test Defender's 20-inch wheels invite damage in the rough compared to the 18-inch wheels and higher tire sidewalls of the Bronco, but the Land Rover continues to impress with its traction and articulation. They will both excite the off-road hobbyist.

The Ford Bronco does have a trick the Land Rover doesn't: Ford's Trail Turn Assist function. This feature automatically brakes the inside rear wheel, turning it into a kind of anchor that the Bronco can pivot around. Activated on loose terrain, it greatly helps reduce the Bronco's turning circle. It works really well and is also great fun.

Edmunds says

As you'll see in the video, both the 2021 Ford Bronco and 2021 Land Rover Defender offer a combination of virtues that would have been unthinkable even a generation ago. However, while both started with the same brief, their execution is significantly different. The Defender is more expensive but feels more expensive. It's really a luxury SUV with extraordinary off-road ability.

The Bronco, by contrast, feels more like a descendant of the original Defender. It's more rugged, more versatile and more old-school in appeal, but no less capable for it. Both Land Rover and Ford have done a superb job of re-imagining two of their most iconic models and providing a new level of choice and ability in the off-road market.

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