Search Cars for Sale

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

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

MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
Video | The Hummer H1 Alpha Is the Ultimate $200,000 Off-Roader
Video | Here’s Why the 2020 BMW 750i Is an Ultra-Luxury Sedan
Autotrader Find: Shockingly Good Lamborghini Diablo Replica

Sign up for Autotrader newsletters

The best cars and best deals delivered to your inbox

Email Address 

By subscribing, you agree to our privacy policy

Where You Can Buy

Loading dealers...

4 COMMENTS

  1. This may be the worst article I’ve ever read about “they don’t make em like they used to “. The low compression but large displacement of these engines means they ran forever, like well over 200,000miles. The body on heavy frame construction (as compared to unibody for most today) also means they hold up tremendously in a crash. The fiber glass rough is a compromise of solid structure and relative light enough weight that one person can remove it. While it’s hp output isn’t impressive, the torque is still adequate even good compared to vehicles of today as its tow rating was 8,000lbs. These trucks could tow well, carry a family of four and go topless for weekend off roading, which is what they were made to do. No current truck can check all the boxes, hence “they don’t make em like they used to.

    If you compared any current model to a model 23 years ago you’d find worse handling and lower fuel efficiency. This article was a disservice to the bronco, blazer and ramcharger.
  2. The other thing to remember is that, although it’s a ’96, the third generation Bronco debuted in 1982, using the new for 1980 F-150 chassis meaning it’s really closer to a 40 year old vehicle than a 20 year old one.
  3. I can’t believe you didn’t make mention that the rear 3-point seatbelts are mounted to the fiberglass roof! Not that the Bronco is a car I’d want to be in the back of in the event of a roll, but jeez….if the belt is attached to what amounts to a “break-away” part, then I REALLY wouldn’t want to be back there!

    Also, on the horn/airbag thing. It seems to me that this was a safety design feature for some manufacturers. Basically they didn’t want people putting their hands on those old, first gen, airbags to honk the horn as they went into a collision…only to have the bag explode into their hand. Some European markets required the buttons to be separate. 

Leave a Comment

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

Most Popular Articles

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: First Look

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid jumps to the head of the hybrid class.

Best Truck Deals: September 2021

These are the best deals on trucks for the month of September 2021.

Search By Style

More Articles Like This