SOME PEOPLE call the full-size Ford Bronco the "Denver Cadillac," and with good reason.
It is as tough as it is elegant, as practical as it is sometimes silly -- with silliness, in this case, represented by the Eddie Bauer designer version of the test truck.
The Bauer Bronco comes with his signature on a dashboard-mounted enamel plate, a fancy exterior paint job, and not much else to justify the extra $4,739 price tag. Save the money, folks, and buy the Ford Bronco XLT, which is as handsome, comfortable and rugged as its designer-dressed twin.
Pretensions aside, the four-wheel-drive Bronco is an excellent go-anywhere, roll-over-almost-anything, haul-almost-anything vehicle. It behaves as well in the bush as it does on smooth, concrete highway banks.
The Bronco has been the most popular, full-size, four-wheel-drive utility vehicle in the United States for nearly seven years now. It figures. It's easy to fall in love with this thing.
Outstanding complaints: Much grumbling from passengers about the tilt-forward, front-passenger seat. Tilting the front seat does not clear enough room to allow easy access to the rear-passenger bench seat, the critics said. The driver's seat, on the other hand, slides forward, creating ample entry space for backriders. Why not give both front seats a little slide, hunh, Ford?
And this: Shorter adults complained about the height they had to lift their legs to climb into the big Bronco. For them, getting into the truck was like climbing onto a horse.
Outstanding praise: Ford Motor Co. makes darned good trucks, and the Bronco is no exception. The most-deserved rave here is for the test model's front suspension -- a twin-beam, independent, well-sprung system that allows the Bronco to roll over some really rough spots without upsetting the truck or its passengers. The test model even bested some respectable potholes.
Ford also gets high marks for overall craftsmanship. Tight seams. No loose screws anywhere. No rattles. Even the little Eddie Bauer pouches in back of the front seats were sewn correctly.
Ride, acceleration, handling: All good. No problems. The test model is equipped with an optional 5-liter, multi-port-fuel-injected, V-8 gasoline engine. Definitely not a wimp powerplant.
Fuel injectors precisely meter -- ration, if you will -- the amount of fuel burned in an engine. This precision saves gas without decreasing power. Multi-port fuel injection means that more than one port, or opening, is used to deliver metered fuel to the engine's cylinders. For example, the test model had eight individual fuel-injection ports -- one per cylinder.
Head-turning-quotient: Some people asked: "Who is Eddie Bauer?" Kind of ruins the effect, don't you think? Still, the Bronco, particularly the XLT, is attractive without the designer touch.
Sound system: AM/FM stereo cassette and radio, Ford factory. Excellent.
Mileage: About 16 to the gallon (32-gallon capacity), combined city-highway and off-road driving, running with mixed loads (driver only on some occasions, and with three to five occupants on others). Minimum use of climate control system. The standard 4.9-liter, six-cylinder Bronco engine is more efficient.
Price-as-tested: $18,956, including $6,174 in options such as the 5-liter engine and, of course (gimme a drum roll here), The Eddie . . . Bauer . . . Package.