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Video | The 1996 Ford Bronco Is How SUVs Used to Be

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2019

I recently had the chance to drive a 1996 Ford Bronco, which is a big old SUV that just isn't the sort of thing anyone makes anymore. For many people, this might be a good thing, as the Bronco certainly has its drawbacks -- but it was interesting to spend the day with a reminder of the old SUV days.

Here's the basic overview: The Bronco came out in the 1970s, and eventually it evolved into the final generation model, which was sold through the 1996 model year. There was also a smaller version, called the Bronco II, which was offered throughout the 1980s. I reviewed the cream of the crop: a 1996 Bronco, from the final year, with the optional 5.8-liter V8 that made the puny little base-level 5.0-liter V8 look like a tiny compact car 4-cylinder.

Actually, that's not true at all. The 5.8-liter V8 in the Bronco had about 210 horsepower and 328 lb-ft of torque, while the 5.0 had 205 hp and 275 lb-ft. In fact, I'm not even sure why Ford offered two different V8s in this car, as that would be considered absolutely ridiculous today -- but they did, and I drove the one with the bigger V8, because I wouldn't settle for anything less.

My day with the Bronco was interesting, largely because it really did remind me of how SUVs used to be before the SUV really took off as an indispensable family car that everyone seems to need. I say this because the Bronco is several things that modern family SUVs are absolutely not.

The most obvious difference between a Bronco and a modern SUV or crossover is the 2-door situation. It's almost hard to believe, but Bronco models are 2-door vehicles, as that was the standard of the time -- and they had direct competition from the Dodge Ramcharger and Chevrolet Blazer, which were also 2-door SUVs. It was normal back then. But 2-door SUVs are no longer desirable, and so that stuff is long gone.

Another big difference between the Bronco and a "normal" SUV is its powertrain and efficiency. Specifically, the Bronco is tremendously inefficient, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rated its massive V8 at just 12 miles per gallon in the city and 16 mpg on the highway. The owner of this particular Bronco told me he didn't even reach those numbers. That's long gone, too, as SUVs have all migrated to efficient powertrains.

And then there's another telltale sign of the old-school SUV: The Bronco is slow. I mean really, impressively, tremendously slow. It can get out of its own way, sure, but not much more than that -- it very much feels like you're taking it on the highway to just reach modern cruising speeds of 70 to 80 mph. It is, after all, really heavy, and it only comes with a 4-speed automatic, so high speeds aren't really its "thing." This isn't true of modern SUVs, which are now very much designed for all types of uses, rather than hunters and ranchers like SUVs of the Bronco's era.

The Bronco also isn't exactly light on its feet. Turning the wheel provokes some response in the Bronco's steering, but not much, as it's tarnished by vague steering, a slow steering rack and excessive body roll. SUVs from the 1980s and 1990s were not built with the same standards of performance and drivability in mind as modern SUVs.

And, indeed, that was my takeaway from driving the Bronco: Even though it's only been 20 years since it was on sale, it very much feels like it's been longer than that. The SUV has evolved quite a bit in those 20 years, and rather quickly, and things just aren't made like this anymore. There are drawbacks to this, of course, as the Bronco's blocky styling, roomy interior and charming design are certainly benefits -- and items you rarely see anymore in the days of smaller, lookalike compact crossovers. But mostly, when you drive the Bronco, you just think of it as a relic -- a very interesting relic of what the SUV looked like before it took over the world. Find a Ford Bronco for sale

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Video | The 1996 Ford Bronco Is How SUVs Used to Be - Autotrader