The Ford Bronco is in the same category as Chevrolet's big Blazer and the GMC Yukon-somewhat aged but still selling to fans of the big, brawny V8powered four-wheelers. It's our impression that Ford has done a little more upgrading on the Bronco than either Chevrolet or GMC has done with its offerings. We tested an Eddie Bauer Edition and felt as though we just put on an old favorite pair of hunting boots. A word of caution: If you're looking for a 4WD sport utility to complement your suburban gentility, this probably isn't your vehicle. Bronco is a big, powerful off-roader that you have to clamber into. Although its road manners are tame enough, this vehicle is built for more than an occasional trip off the pavement. It also looks good.
The sticker price on our test vehicle was $28,765, so the older Bronco format, with some outdated features, is almost up there with the more sophisticated Ford Explorer Limited and Jeep's Grand Cherokee Limited. Yet the people who buy Broncos, Blazers and Yukons usually understand all this and are on their second or third vehicle. They want that size and power-and a few knickknacks be damned.
Yep, the 1994 Ford Bronco is still big-looking. You can dress it up in Royal Blue with Tucson Bronze accents and Eddie Bauer identification, but it's really built to take on the rough country. Ground clearance is not unusual but this vehicle sits high. And it's apparent you're going to have to step up to enter. While this is a boon-docker, it doesn't look the part.
No flat paint or black-out treatments. No meaty black wheel arch or bulky bodyside moldings. The paint is set off by bright bumpers and attractive forged deep-dish aluminum wheels. A swing-away spare tire carrier is included in the Eddie Bauer package. Fit-and-finish rank with the best we've seen on a sport utility vehicle.
Trimmed in what Ford calls Medium Mocha, the interior of our test vehicle had leather seating surfaces as part of the Bauer package. Up front were captain's chairs for both driver and passenger, with inside fold-down center armrests. The driver's chair has a power lumbar adjustment, which we found to be one of the best in a sport utility. The seats were comfortable and supportive. The Bauer package adds many extras to the Bronco, such as a retractable cargo cover, a rear cargo net, an overhead console with compass, an outside temperature display and map lights. The package also includes tinted glass, a rear defroster, visors with extenders and lighted mirrors, and a rearview mirror that dims itself at night so bright lights don't blind you.
The rear bench seat folds up for additional storage. Ford says it will seat three, but we think two is more appropriate. One complaint: The rear seatback is not split to allow for long cargo while still accommodating a passenger.
Out back, the spare tire carrier swings away easily to provide access to the cargo area. However, this is where the old technology is in need of an update. The Bronco has a tailgate that folds down, getting in the way of loading and unloading. To drop the tailgate, you use the key to lower the glass into the gate, then reach inside and operate the latch on the inside of the gate. You won't be carrying anything when you're doing this.
Visibility was good except for small blind spots on either side due to the door pillar. A taste of the old technology we liked was the vent windows for driver and passenger.
We also liked the instrument panel and the clear display of the analog gauges. New for '94 (along with sidedoor guard beams), is an air bag mounted in the steering wheel. Ford thought this one through and managed to include the air bag and still find room on the steering wheel for cruise control buttons. We also liked the positive-acting rotary controls for the heater and air conditioner. Incidentally, the air conditioning system uses CFC-free refrigerant.
Our test Bauer Bronco came standard with an electronic shift four-speed transmission. It was powered by the optional 5.8-liter 351 CID 2tO-hp V8. The standard engine is the 5.0liter CID V8 that puts out only 5 hp less than the optional power plant. The 4WD system was the optional Touch Drive electronic shift two-speed transfer case with shift-on-the-fly capability and automatic locking hubs.
With all the power in this package, you develop a sense of invincibility on the road. You're up high, so you can see way ahead and all around. Put the gas pedal down and you move quickly.
The transmission is flawless in handling the power. You also have swift, sure stopping power with a standard four-wheel anti-lock braking system that also was flawless. We did have one small complaint about the power steering: It felt like it had a dead spot when traveling in a straight line. However, it was fine when turning or parking.
The ride, with Ford's traditional Twin Traction Beam front suspension and gas shocks all around, was very stable. There was minimal body roll in sharp turns and very little choppiness on uneven surfaces.
We took the Bronco off-road for some mild four-wheeling and a little hill climbing. The power train, brakes and suspension combined to make the experience a joy.
Like the Chevy K Blazer, the Bronco is a bit of a dinosaur. It's big, bulky, hard to climb into and somewhat outdated in looks and off-road chic. But the vehicle also has a staunch following who love its brawn, bulk and impressive power. Even on the most rugged trails of our test drive, the Bronco exhibited little body roll or choppiness. Add to this an interior that is comfortable, functional and pretty darn good-looking, and the package becomes even more attractive.
Because of its intimidating presence, you might not use the Bronco to take your children to ballet lessons, but for off-road escapades it's more than at home.
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