Ranking Every Ford Bronco Generation From Worst To Best (2024)

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by Karl Furlong Off-Road / 5 Comments

Even the lowest-ranked Bronco generation was a great SUV.

Read in this article:

  • Fourth Generation (1986-1991)
  • Third Generation (1979-1986)
  • Fifth Generation (1991-1996)
  • Second Generation (1977-1979)
  • Sixth Generation (2021-present)
  • First Generation (1965-1977)
  • Bonus: The Other Broncos
  • - Ford Bronco II
  • - Ford Bronco Sport

After a 25-year hiatus, the Ford Bronco successfully returned to America in 2021 as a legitimate Jeep Wrangler rival. Before that, there were five older generations of this respected nameplate, starting with the original model that appeared in 1965. Ford's first-ever SUV, the Bronco laid the foundation for many other SUVs from the Blue Oval. All six generations never wavered in their mission to provide adventure seekers with a rugged, fun SUV that could withstand quite a lot of abuse. There isn't a genuinely bad Ford Bronco in this lineup, but some are more revered than others. Here's our somewhat subjective ranking of every Bronco generation from worst to best.

Ranking Every Ford Bronco Generation From Worst To Best (1) CarBuzz

6. Fourth Generation (1986-1991)

The fourth-generation Ford Bronco - known as the "brick nose" - went into production in 1986 for the 1987 model year. It received more streamlined styling, with a front fascia reminiscent of the F-Series of the time, upon which this Bronco was based. A more modern dashboard formed part of a substantially upgraded interior.

Engine options included a 4.9-liter six-cylinder and a powerful 5.8-liter V8, which had electronic fuel injection. In 1988, Ford introduced a five-speed manual along with a new Borg Warner 1345 transfer caste with optional Touch Drive electric shift. Another key advancement was the addition of rear anti-locking brakes.

Like other Broncos, this one came with several special editions, including the Nite Edition with its blacked-out trim and the Silver Anniversary Edition in 1991 commemorating 25 years of the Bronco.

Although capable, the fourth-gen's bland styling and the fact that other Broncos are simply more desirable leave it at the bottom of our list.

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5. Third Generation (1979-1986)

Development of the third-gen Bronco began before its predecessor was even released. The third-gen Bronco went into production in 1979 for the 1980 model year, and was aimed at addressing its predecessor's dramatic weight gain to some extent. Part of this goal was a lighter frame for 1980 and 1981 models with holes punched into it. Referred to as the "Swiss cheese" frame, it was criticized for being weaker, so a stronger, more rigid frame was introduced in 1982.

Another notable update was the switch from a solid front axle to an independent front suspension called Twin-Traction Beam, as Ford sought to create a more refined driving experience. Engines included the debut of the Windsor V8 which made over 200 hp, while the popular and extremely reliable 300 inline-six became available.

Sales of the third-gen model were strongest in its last two model years. One popular upgrade was the Eddie Bauer Package with iconic two-tone paint and other extras like upgraded velour upholstery and a unique tire carrier; this package was an early example of combining rugged SUV capabilities with more upscale features.

Besides the early frame issues and the fact that many of the carburetor-equipped engines are underpowered by today's standards, the third-gen model was a solid chapter in the Bronco's history.

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4. Fifth Generation (1991-1996)

The last of the old-school Broncos, production of the fifth-gen Bronco started in 1991 for the 1992 model year. The familiar chassis introduced over a decade earlier was retained, but this Bronco gained much more modern and aerodynamic styling, with a more rounded front fascia than before.

New features included the fitment of a driver's airbag in 1994, available four-wheel ABS in 1993, a much more comfortable interior with premium sound systems, the first availability of leather upholstery, and optional remote keyless entry.

Eventually, every Bronco in the fifth generation was powered by V8 engines.

The fifth-gen Bronco gained infamy when it was involved in a highly publicized police chase involving O.J. Simpson. He was in the back seat of a white, fifth-gen Bronco driven by his former teammate and friend, AI Cowlings. Approximately 95 million viewers tuned in to watch the low-speed chase.

Unfortunately, Ford no longer saw the need for a three-door full-size SUV, and the fifth-gen Bronco lacked the driving refinement of more modern rivals. It was discontinued in 1996, with Ford introducing the Expedition in 1997 as a replacement.

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3. Second Generation (1977-1979)

Adapted from the Ford F-Series and sharing styling cues with the pickup, the short-lived second-generation Bronco was a brute of an SUV when it went into production in 1977. Downsizing was a trend in the American automotive scene at the time, but this Bronco grew by around 28 inches in length and 11 inches in width while gaining as much as 1,600 pounds of weight.

The lift-off hardtop body style with three doors retained the Bronco's sporty nature, and it still had a solid front axle. New features included air conditioning and a tilt steering wheel, and the much wider body allowed the Bronco to seat six for the first time.

More capable than ever, the second-gen's growth spurt and concerns about efficiency following that decade's fuel crisis didn't stop high demand for this Bronco. Sales overtook the Chevrolet Blazer and Dodge Ramcharger for the first time.

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2. Sixth Generation (2021-present)

After a 25-year absence, Ford revived the Bronco nameplate for an all-new model that went on sale in 2021. Unlike the derided use of the Mustang nameplate on an electric crossover in the Mustang Mach-E, there were no complaints about the new-gen Bronco reviving a classic nameplate. Although far more modern than any Bronco before it, the new one follows a similar recipe with its butch styling, off-road prowess, body-on-frame construction, and the versatility of a removable roof. There is also a fun two-door version.

Times have changed, though, and the modern Bronco is now a mid-size model with more efficient four-cylinder and V6 power plants, as opposed to the thirsty V8s of older Broncos. In the case of the Bronco Raptor, you get a 418-hp twin-turbo V6 and exemplary off-road performance.

If you want a modern Bronco but can't resist the nostalgia of the original, you can pick up a Heritage Edition model with classic wheel designs and plaid cloth seats.

Although it hasn't resulted in the demise of the older Jeep Wrangler as some expected, the modern Bronco has been a hugely successful return for Ford's original SUV.

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1. First Generation (1965-1977)

Ford sells no less than seven unique SUVs in America today, and it all started with the first Bronco in 1965. The original brochure describes it as an "all-purpose vehicle" that can be used for ranching, in-city errands, or outdoor recreation. Ford even encouraged customers to take the Bronco on cross-country rallies.

The first Bronco came in three body styles: a Wagon with a full-length roof, a Sports Utility with a short roof, and the Roadster without a roof or doors. The Roadster's windshield could even be folded flat on the hood and locked in place. Decades later, the current Bronco also follows this blueprint of open-air driving with its removable roof and doors. By today's standards, the original Bronco would be a compact SUV. It had a tailgate width of 56 inches and a load capacity at the back of 32.1 cubic feet.

The first Bronco had a specially developed chassis, four-wheel drive with a shift-on-the-fly Dana 20 transfer case, and a choice of six-cylinder or V8 engines. Although sold only with a three-speed manual initially, demand led Ford to introduce a three-speed automatic optionally.

At little more than $2,000 back then, the Bronco's solid construction and appealing styling endeared it to many. It still looks timeless today, and the purity of its mechanicals and sparse specification only add to its desirable, totally unpretentious nature. It's little surprise that the values of first-gen Broncos have climbed in recent years.

Of all the Broncos, it's the first one that is the most significant and that's why it tops this list.

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Bonus: The Other Broncos

It hasn't happened often, but Ford plastered the Bronco name on other models that diverged from the main Bronco lineup. We excluded them from our ranking of Bronco generations as they're essentially completely different from the main Broncos:

Ford Bronco II

The Bronco II debuted in 1982 but was unrelated to the full-size Bronco. Instead, it was a compact SUV based on shortened Ranger underpinnings and was closer in size to the first-gen Bronco. It competed with the Jeep Cherokee and Chevy S-10 Blazer.

The concept for a smaller, more efficient SUV that was still rugged enough to do some off-roading was sound, but the Bronco II had a serious safety issue. In 1989, Consumers Union (which published the Consumer Reports magazine) urged consumers to avoid the Bronco II for "poor emergency handling," as per coverage by The New York Times at the time. In an obstacle course at 42 mph, the Bronco II repeatedly lifted two wheels off the ground, making the SUV susceptible to a rollover.

Ford initially denied claims of the Bronco II's heightened susceptibility to roll, but the lawsuits streamed in. Ford even canceled one of its own testing procedures for the Bronco II due to the risk it posed to its test drivers. In 1997, Ford reached a new class-action settlement with owners for new safety warnings and repairs and modifications to the SUV. At that point, it was reported by the Los Angeles Times that 260 people died in Bronco II rollover crashes. In 2001, TIME estimated that damage settlements for the Bronco II cost Ford $2.4 billion.

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Ford Bronco Sport

Introduced before the all-new Bronco, the Bronco Sport is a compact crossover that roughly follows the recipe of the Bronco II, in that it offers a modicum of off-road capability but in a smaller, more efficient package. The Bronco Sport has unibody construction, though, and no low-range transfer case. However, technologies like the G.O.A.T. Modes (Goes Over Any Terrain) and an available twin-clutch rear differential make it a superior off-roader compared to rivals like the Honda CR-V.

Two turbocharged four-cylinder engines are available, topped by a 250-hp 2.0-liter EcoBoost mill.

In a reversal of fortunes on the sales charts, the Bronco Sport outsold the larger Bronco in 2023, moving 127,476 units. It's safe to say that this extension of the Bronco brand has been a lot more successful than the Bronco II.

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