Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A group of friends are shown near a light blue 2021 Ford Bronco Outer Banks on a beach.

Wrangler or Bronco, Which is Safer?

If you’re looking to buy an off-road SUV, especially one in the midsize category, then I imagine you’re probably focusing on the Jeep Wrangler and the new Ford Bronco. Both of these vehicles are great for hitting the trail, there’s no doubt about it, and they both have a lot to offer in terms of overall performance and impressive interior features. But one thing you might not check into as much as you should is how well both of these vehicles rate in terms of their safety features.

I get it; you’re really into going off-road, and so you’re focused on things like ground clearance, suspension travel, and the breakover, approach, and departure angles on these vehicles. Large, beadlock-capable tires are awesome, sure, but what happens if someone T-bones you while you’re on your way to your favorite trail on a Saturday morning? Even if we put aside other vehicles, things can happen on the trail, so you should be thinking about how well your vehicle will be able to keep you safe when you’re out having fun. Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) published their Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards, and both the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler missed out.

A red 2022 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is shown driving down an empty road.

Safety Problems: Jeep Wrangler

Although both the Jeep Wrangler and the Ford Bronco came up short on being named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS, in some ways, the Wrangler’s issues are far more egregious. The IIHS runs numerous crash and road tests to see how different safety features and systems on a vehicle perform, and they see how well the vehicle can protect passengers inside in a collision. After the tests are run, they provide a grade from Poor (P), Marginal (M), Acceptable (A), or Good (G).

When testing the crashworthiness of the Jeep Wrangler, it received a G in every category except one: small overlap front: driver-side. This test has a vehicle go straight at an obstacle and slam into it in the front corner on the driver’s side to see how well it can handle the impact. In the tests performed by the IIHS on this type of collision, the Jeep Wrangler crashed into the obstacle and then tipped to the side and landed on the passenger’s side of the vehicle. This occurred both times the IIHS ran this particular test, which resulted in an M score for this test.

The other major area of concern in the IIHS testing is the Jeep Wrangler’s headlights, which received an M rating at best and a P rating at worst. This is because the headlights on the Wrangler vary based on trim. Those with halogen headlamps or even with LED lights that don’t have high-beam assist technology were all rated a P – only models with the Advanced Safety Group package that includes high-beam assist received an M. This is because the lights come up well short of illuminating as much of the road as they should and visibility in darkness was quite poor on left and right curves.

Other than these two issues, the Wrangler scored G in every category, but their poor headlights and serious issues with the crash testing kept it from receiving a Top Safety Rating award. This really isn’t too much of a surprise since there’s not a single Jeep model that has received this award this year. If this is enough to keep you away from a Wrangler and steer you more toward a Bronco, then I’ve got some bad news for you.

Safety Problems: Ford Bronco

Fortunately, the Ford Bronco doesn’t have the crash test issue that the Wrangler has; it received a G in the small overlap front testing and most of the other crashworthiness categories from the IIHS. Where the Bronco fell short in this testing, however, was the head restraint category, in which it only received an A instead. According to the IIHS’s testing, the neck of a crash test dummy was subject to moderate force, and the seat didn’t support the dummy’s neck or head well, which could result in a whiplash injury.

In addition to this, the Bronco also had issues with its lighting, receiving an M rating for its headlights. This was regardless of trim level, so they’re rated better than the Wrangler’s standard headlights, but the range of the low beams was still unimpressive. Furthermore, the Bronco’s high beams help, and they come with high-beam assist regardless of trim, but they still offer inadequate visibility on sharp curves. The only other blot on the Bronco’s record was an A rating for child seat anchors due to the lower anchors being too deep in the seat and the tether anchor being easily confused with other hardware on the seats.

One interesting footnote to the recent announcement of these awards (or lack thereof) is that while the standard Ford Bronco didn’t meet the IIHS’s standard, the smaller Bronco Sport received a Top Safety Pick+, their highest rating. The Ford Bronco Sport received a G rating in every single category other than child seat ease of use for the same reasons as the standard Bronco. I should also point out that Ford has several other midsize SUVs that have received high ratings: the Edge and Mustang Mach-E are both Top Safety Picks, while the Explorer is a Top Safety Pick+ winner from the IIHS.

A man is shown sitting on top of a black 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands parked in the desert.

Which Is Safer?

With all of this in mind, which vehicle is actually safer? For my money, I’d say the Ford Bronco is a better way to go if you’re worried about keeping yourself and your loved ones safe. For one thing, the fact that the Jeep Wrangler repeatedly flipped onto its passenger side due to a front-end collision is a huge deal-breaker that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s one thing to have poor headlights – though that’s something both companies should look at – but when your vehicle tips over, you might as well be selling a large SUV in the mid-90s.

I’d like to see Ford address the issues with its seats and headrests in the Bronco; Ford has also made changes to headlights on vehicles like the F-150 in recent years to improve visibility, so I could see them doing this with future Bronco models. Although I’d like to give Jeep the benefit of the doubt and see if they make some improvements to the Wrangler, given the fact that none of their vehicles have a Top Safety Rating from the IIHS, I’m not sure this is something they’re really worried about. I have no proverbial horse in this race, as I’m not a long-time Wrangler or Bronco fan; I just want to see car companies make their vehicles as safe as possible.

Finally, the IIHS also mentioned that every Ford Bronco model comes with Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking, which is only an available option for the Jeep Wrangler. So when it comes to front crash prevention, the Wrangler received a “Superior with Optional Equipment” rating, while the Bronco earned a “Superior” rating even with the standard package. One of my biggest gripes with Jeep is that their standard safety systems are pretty lacking, which I would love to see them address. Perhaps the added competition of the Ford Bronco will push Jeep to up their game and improve not only the options available but also how safe the Wrangler is. Until then, if you want to stay safe on the road, you’re probably better off in a Bronco.