If you're bringing back a legendary nameplate after a quarter-century slumber, you'd better give it everything you've got. Two days spent driving the 2021 Ford Bronco both on- and off-road suggests that the company has come up with a raft of clever innovations that bring new capability, tech and refinement to the class.

How good is the new Bronco? While it's not perfect, Ford has indeed built a better 4x4.

Frankly, it's amazing that a new model with all the earmarks of a runaway success took such a tortured road back into production. From the moment the final Ford Bronco left the factory in 1996, there have been flickers of hope for a revival, but it's taken 25 years to get a new model into showrooms.

Along the way, there have been countless secret meetings, design studies, business proposals, false starts and pandemic-induced delays. Regardless, Ford has more than 125,000 firm orders booked for its new SUV, and the model has earned more consumer buzz than any of the brand's new vehicles in decades. In short, it all might have been worth it.

It would've been easy for the Blue Oval to copy the 4x4 formula long adhered to by the other hardcore SUVs that have come and gone — including Ford's original 1966 Bronco. That stone-tablet blueprint calls for simple body-on-frame construction, solid axles front and rear, a removable roof and doors and recirculating-ball steering.

Indeed, the 2021 Bronco has a separate body and ladder-style truck chassis, as well as a detachable roof and doors. However, Ford decided to go with an independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. Both of these technologies are known for better control, precision and refinement, albeit at a higher cost and with questions about durability.

In light of these design decisions, it would be fair to wonder if Ford elected to gear the Bronco more toward on-road polish than off-road capability. As I learned over two days at Ford's new Off-Roadeo driving camp in Texas, to doubt Ford's engineers would be a bad bet. This Bronco is truly formidable in the rough stuff, and it's also significantly better to live with on a daily basis.

An unusual intro

Ford took the unusually bold step of having journalists' initial exposure to the new Bronco take place on a challenging, winding ribbon of lakefront tarmac with significant elevation changes — a sports car road.

To be clear, the four-door First Edition model I piloted over this demanding stretch didn't feel like the Bronco has taken coaching lessons from Ford's Mustang, nor does it feel like a car-based crossover. It doesn't even feel anything like the already-released Bronco Sport, a unibody SUV that shares this vehicle's first name and some visual cues but little else.

Particularly on its 35-inch Sasquatch-package tires, this Bronco felt absolutely towering and trucky, issuing an appropriate amount of body roll when taking corners at speed. But for a hardcore off-roader, this SUV handled adroitly and predictably.

The ride is simultaneously surprisingly composed and unexpectedly quiet. Yes, I was in a high-end First Edition model with a sound-deadener-lined four-piece hardtop, but I still expected significantly more tire roar from the meaty 315/70R17 Goodyear Territory rubber. At freeway speeds, there was plenty of wind noise, but it was still possible to carry on a conversation without raised voices.

Over the course of the Bronco's two-day media launch, I tested upward of a half-dozen different Broncos in all specifications and price points, including models fitted with the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (300 horsepower, 325 pound feet of torque on premium fuel) and the up-level 2.7-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder.

My on-road drive impressions are limited to the latter, where I found the V6 to be a good match for the hulking bulk of the four-door model. This is the same EcoBoost power plant found in Ford's often-heavier F-150 pickup, tuned here to deliver 330 horsepower on premium fuel (315 on 87 octane) and a generous 415 pound-feet of torque (410 on regular gas).

The engine is also paired to the same 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, and the combination is just as effective here as it is in the larger pickup, displaying ready power all over the rev range. If you step on it, you'll be met with a decently growly tone, but the soundtrack isn't something many will mistake for a V8 (which isn't offered).

As for that 10-speed transmission, Ford has been working with this unit for years and has exacted continuous improvements after many of us found earlier versions in other vehicles to be indecisive. I still observed some hunting around between gears on inclines under light throttle, but the gearbox was otherwise obsequious. It's also worth noting that because Bronco relies on Ford's latest electrical architecture and Sync 4 infotainment, this 4x4 can wirelessly download updated transmission software to deliver an even smoother shifting experience.

All Broncos come standard with four-wheel drive. Prices range from the $29,995 base model to the sold-out $58,410 First Edition (limited to 7,000 units).