2021 Ford Bronco Black Diamond Review – Cheap(ish) Wheelin’

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2021 Ford Bronco Black Diamond Fast Facts

Powertrain
2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (275 horsepower @ 5,700 RPM (300 @ 5,700 RPM w/premium fuel), 315 lb-ft @ 3,400 RPM (325 @ 3,400 RPM w/premium fuel))
Transmission/Drive Wheels
Seven-speed manual transmission, four-wheel drive
Fuel Economy, U.S.
17 city / 19 highway / 18 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
Fuel Economy, Canada
13.8 city / 12.4 highway / 13.2 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$39,340 (U.S) / $52,299 (Canada)
As-Tested Price
$42,720 (U.S.) / $57,584 (Canada)
Prices include $1,495 destination charge in the United States and $2,195 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Those who’ve studied the build and price site for the Ford Bronco will note that the company labels the upper trim Badlands and Wildtrak versions as the ones you should select if you plan to go wheelin’ often. That’s before even thinking about adding the Sasquatch package.

The "Save the Manuals" crew will also note that the Badlands trim is the only way to get a loaded Bronco with a clutch pedal.


I am here to tell you that if you’re willing to live without certain creature comforts and off-road-assistance doodads, a Black Diamond Bronco with three pedals is a pretty good way to do it.

The Black Diamond will save you thousands over a Badlands trim, and, assuming I’ve used the configurator correctly, it appears to be the most upscale, in terms of comfort features, way to build a stick-shift Bronco without going to the Badlands.

I also found out during an off-road test this spring (yes, a ’21 was still in the press fleet in 2022, it happens) that the Bronco Black Diamond can do a lot of what the more-badass Badlands and Wildtrak trims are capable of.

Just ask my terrified ladyfriend, who was good enough to accompany me despite the “ stuck in a swamp” fiasco that happened with a Jeep at the very same off-road park. She’d concede that even though some of the hill climbs scared her, and even though she was worried I’d be stuck again on some of the muddier trails, we got through just fine. Yes, the skid plate scraped once – but that’s what it’s there for.

Credit goes in part to the seven-speed manual transmission’s “creeper” low gear – this helped keep speeds appropriate slow during hill descents.

Creeper gear aside, the Bronco is just well built for wheelin’. On paper, that would appear to apply even to the Base trim – which I don’t believe I’ve driven – and it certainly applies to the Black Diamond, which is two steps up from the Base and described by Ford as being for “adventure off-roading”. For comparison, the Base is called “the essential Bronco” and the Big Bend trim, one step down from the Black Diamond, is listed as being for “mainstream off-roading.”

The G.O.A.T. modes (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) are immensely helpful since they let the driver easily adjust to the terrain. Thirty-two-inch, all-terrain rubber on 17-inch rims also certainly didn’t hurt.

As a reminder, Ford offers two engines in the Bronco – a 2.3-liter turbo four and a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 – and if you want to shift it yourself, you have to get the 2.3, which makes 275 horsepower (300 on premium fuel) and 315 lb-ft of torque (325 on premium fuel).

Off-road, the Black Diamond was properly prepped for the off-road park, thanks to full-vehicle skid plates (“bash plates” in Ford speak), spotter mirrors, and a pair of tow hooks at both the front and rear.

On-road, the Bronco shows slightly better road manners than the Wrangler, though it still makes the same tradeoffs that any off-road-oriented utility vehicle will make. Meaning it gets a bit loud at highway speeds and the ride can be a bit on the “trucky” side. Like with the Jeep, you’ll need to make fairly frequent steering corrections on paved roads in order to keep a straight (ish) line.

As a reminder, Ford offers two engines in the Bronco – a 2.3-liter turbo four and a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 – and if you want to shift it yourself, you have to get the 2.3, which makes 275 horsepower (300 on premium fuel) and 315 lb-ft of torque (325 on premium fuel).

Off-road, the Black Diamond was properly prepped for the off-road park, thanks to full-vehicle skid plates (“bash plates” in Ford speak), spotter mirrors, and a pair of tow hooks at both the front and rear.

On-road, the Bronco shows slightly better road manners than the Wrangler, though it still makes the same tradeoffs that any off-road-oriented utility vehicle will make. Meaning it gets a bit loud at highway speeds and the ride can be a bit on the “trucky” side. Like with the Jeep, you’ll need to make fairly frequent steering corrections on paved roads in order to keep a straight (ish) line.

The shifter isn’t exactly a joy to row, but it’s more than good enough, with a bit of an old-school notchy feel. The clutch is weight nicely but takeup can be a tad abrupt, at least until you get some miles under your belt and adjust.

There’s torque a plenty from the four-banger – though, having driven the V6, I can understand why one might pay more and sacrifice the third pedal for more power. Not enough torque for you to say that the Bronco is fast, exactly, but enough that you’ll move away from stoplights with relative ease.

The wash-it-out-if-it’s-muddy interior works well. Some folks might look upon the digital gauges with disdain, though I think the look works fine, and it’s nice being able to adjust information via menu buttons on the steering wheel. Ford’s Sync system is present, of course, and while I’ve experienced bugs with Sync in the past, it seemed to work well during my week with this test mule. Ford has integrated the infotainment screen into the center stack nicely, and the audio and HVAC controls are simple to use. The seats did get a bit uncomfortable after a while during our long highway slog to the off-road park, but the comfort level is just fine for shorter drives.

My biggest beef with this particular trim is that if you want to get certain niceties, such as front heated seats and dual-zone climate control, you need to select the Mid Package, and that means you must also select the 10-speed automatic transmission. While Ford surely has its reasons – packaging decisions aren’t made wily-nily, there’s an eye on production costs at all times – it still kinda stinks. Then again, I could probably do without most of what one must sacrifice for a stick-shift Black Diamond, save maybe the heated seats, and even that’s only because I live in Chiberia.

I’ve also found it odd that Ford won’t offer the manual with the V6, or on any trim, Black Diamond or not, that’s considered “mid.” It’s strange that if you want to row your own, you either buy a lower trim and avoid options packages or get a Badlands and go nuts with options packages to your heart’s content. You can load a four-cylinder Badlands with a manual with all the creature comforts, but you can’t even heat the seats in a Black Diamond with the same powertrain.

Jeep allows you to build a Willys – probably the closest comparable Wrangler – with the 3.6-liter V6 and a manual with plenty of creature comforts, including heated seats (unless you go for the off-road package with 35-inch wheels, in which case you must select the 2.0-liter turbo four with eight-speed automatic).

Whatever. The Black Diamond is still darn good, on-road and off, with this setup. And maybe I’m just spoiled now – I grew up without heated seats and dual-zone climate control, after all. Maybe an old-school mentality is needed here.

Indeed, if shifting for yourself matters and you can live without certain niceties, you can get into a Black Diamond like this one for under $45K. My test mule cost $42,720, with limited options (hard top molded in color, keyless entry, towing package, cargo-area protector, and roof rails).

If you must have a Bronco, and it must be a stick, you can choose to wheel on the cheap or go full boat on the Badlands. There’s no in-between. If you choose – or your budget forces you – to be on the cheap side, you could do a lot worse.

What’s New for 2021

The Bronco nameplate returns to the Ford lineup in 2021 after a very long absence.

Who Should Buy It

This particular Bronco trim is the one for those who want adventure – and perhaps, a clutch pedal – without breaking the bank. It also requires a bit of sacrifice if you really want to row your own.

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey, Bonnie Bernat/TTAC; Ford]

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Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

More by Tim Healey

Comments
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2 of 24 comments
  • 2ACL 2ACL on Aug 16, 2022

    What tickles me is that the Bronco looks the business with virtually none of the black plastic cladding many less capable crossovers use.


  • SPPPP SPPPP on Aug 17, 2022

    I got a kick out of the three paragraphs beginning with "As a reminder..." and ending with "straight(ish) line". In no small part because they showed up twice in the article. As I scrolled past the next picture, I was gleefully excited to see if they would show up a third time. But no, the rest of the article continued as normal. Competent though it was, the magic was gone.

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.
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