KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine – Last week The BRAKE Report attended the New England Motor Press Association’s annual Ragtop Ramble which enabled me to sample two different new off-road capable vehicles for this edition of TBR Drives – the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid.

The organization invites auto makers to bring the latest examples of their products for members of the New England-area media to drive from Brookline, Mass. to Kennebunkport, Maine for lunch and then return to the starting point.

The vehicles this year ranged from a MINI John Cooper Works Convertible to a 470-horsepower Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 to a Mustang Mach 1 to a Cadillac Escalade to a BMW 430i Convertible. For the first leg of the journey, I was lucky enough to score the keys of the just-on-the-market, much-anticipated Ford Bronco; in this case, the Badlands version.

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Ford Bronco – return of another equine icon from Ford

The all-new Ford Bronco represents the first true competitor for the Jeep Wrangler since the Toyota FJ Cruiser was discontinued following the 2014 model year.

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The original Bronco, built on a unique platform, was introduced in 1966 to compete with the Jeep CJ5 (a Wrangler ancestor), then was replaced in 1978 by a larger model produced on a short-wheelbase version of the F-Series pickup.

The 1996 introduction of the Ford Explorer ended Bronco production until this year when the purpose-built, off-road capable sport-utility vehicle was brought to market.

A more detailed look at the Bronco, as well as the Jeep 4xe will come later this year when I can spend more than a few hours behind the wheel, but I was still very excited to climb UP behind the wheel of the latest version of this Ford iconic brand, even if my time was going to be limited.

When I say climb up, I mean high. The Badlands version with the optional Sasquatch package’s lift kit, added a few extra inches of height to the Bronco, which produced a commanding view of the road and all surroundings. I felt like the king of all I could see as I drove through the streets of downtown Boston and within the traffic cruising along Storrow Drive.

The ride was a bit stiff thanks to a suspension in this Bronco version set up for less compliant surfaces than I-95. I did not have an opportunity to experience the four-door SUV’s off-road capabilities, but with the 35-inch all-terrain tires, suitable suspension pieces and 11.5-inches of ground clearance I have no doubt it could live up to Ford’s GOAT-mode four-wheel drive – Go Over Any Terrain – system.

Inside, the no-nonsense arrangement of knobs, buttons and switches allows for easy operation of both included equipment or off-road add-ons like light bars and winches. A large touch screen in the center of the dash coupled with Ford’s Sync 4 infotainment system, allows the Bronco to provide a modern environment for passengers regardless of whether they are going for a long road trip or a short mountain journey.

The Badlands version was also equipped with a full-set of advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) like blind-sport monitoring, front automatic-emergency braking (AEB) with collision warning system and advanced cruise control.

Modern, adaptable and a lot of fun to drive, the new Ford Bronco is a very worthy entry into the rugged, off-road capable sport utility segment.

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Jeep Wrangler 4xe

There are and have been numerous sport utility vehicles sold in the U.S. during the past four decades capable of conquering a wide variety of off-road challenges, but none has been used in this manner like the Jeep Wrangler. At one time, surveys indicated more than 20 percent of Wrangler owners did serious off roading, a figure which dwarfed any other brand of SUV.

Jeep has remained true to its customer base, ensuring each Wrangler continues the tradition of being “Trail Rated,” thoroughly tested and vetted to handle virtually any terrain its owner can find. Jeep has also endeavored to continuously improve the Wrangler, adding versions and features its devoted followers request and demand.

Most recently the Stellantis division introduced two wildly different variants, with two polar-opposite powertrains.

I did not get to sample the rip-snorting Jeep Wrangler 392 with its 470-horsepower hemi V8, but those who did came away with huge smiles on their faces. That Wrangler pushes the envelope for ultimate factory-provided performance, as well as lots of towing capability thanks to its 470 pounds-feet of torque.

For those who want Jeep off-road adventure but experience the brands initial move to develop a zero-emission product portfolio, Jeep introduced the Wrangler 4xe, a four-door plug-in hybrid version.

Make no mistake, though — the 4xe produces tremendous performance thanks to 370 horsepower and 470 pounds-feet of torque produced by its 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine combined with the electric motor. Being a Jeep, this power is transferred to all four wheels through one of two different  full-time four-wheel-drive system.

The Wrangler 4xe can go up to 21 miles on pure electric power or some 370 miles on hybrid operation from a tank of gasoline. Using a level 2 charger, the Wrangler’s battery can be completely replenished in two hours. On the road, a generator plus regenerative braking helps keep the battery charged.

Driving the Wrangler 4xe was like driving other Wrangler four-doors, except this one could be driven silently (when under electric power at lower speeds) or with extreme verve when all that power was requested through liberal use of the accelerator pedal.

I saw 19 miles per gallon during my relatively short stint, a great fuel-economy number for a Wrangler with this much power!

The Bronco and Wrangler represent two iconic names in off-road vehicles. The two versions I drove live up to the hype, the legacy and the promise provided by their legendary names.

Next week TBR Drives the Toyota Sequoia.