See one pulling up in your rearview mirror and its’ likely you’ll know at first glance you’re being chased by the new Ford Bronco. There are the twin, round headlamps and broad, horizontal grille, the near vertical windshield and the crisp corners.
Despite that sense of déjà vu, don’t call the newly reborn SUV a retro-mobile. “It had to look like a (classic) Bronco and work like a Bronco,” said chief designer Paul Wraith, but it’s a decidedly more modern vehicle loaded with plenty of creature comfort features and as capable and mannered on-road as off, he insists.
It’s been nearly a quarter century since Ford pulled the plug on Bronco. Now, it’s coming back as part of a “family,” including both classic two- and four-door versions, as well as the smaller Bronco Sport that will be first to market later this year.
The bigger versions will roll out an assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, a 20-minute drive west of the automaker’s suburban Detroit headquarters. It will share lines with the midsize Ford Ranger, logical considering they share the same basic underpinnings. But the Bronco undergoes some extensive modifications, among other things to give it significantly greater ground clearance. It features an independent front suspension and, in contrast to Ranger’s solid rear axle, the SUV gets a five-link layout in back.
From a design perspective, functionality was the key, even with the peaked front fenders which, noted Wraith, help you know exactly where Bronco’s corners are, no small feature when you’re negotiating a tight trail.
… “There is nothing on this truck that’s superfluous. Everything exists for a reason” …
The decision to opt for a two-door version of the new Bronco might seem, itself, superfluous considering current market trends. But the development team felt that was one nod to the original SUV they couldn’t ignore.
The doors on both models, incidentally, are removable, as are both soft and hard tops. On the four-door they weight about 55 pounds each up front, slightly less in the rear. One of the trick features is the ability to store the doors in a special rear compartment. They even get special pouches to reduce the risk of damage.
Inside, the new broken is an example of how everything old is new again. The instrument panel picks up on the classic Bronco’s broad horizontal layout, though it also gets a laptop-sized 12-inch touchscreen, part of a very modern infotainment system powered by Ford’s latest Sync4 infotainment system.
The system offers some unique features, including a navigation system that offers topographic information for more than 1,000 different “curated” trails. Using the Bronco version of Ford’s app, meanwhile, owners can share their notes and adventures with other owners.
“The trail mapping system available on Bronco is truly a game-changer in the off-road community,” said Mark Grueber, Bronco consumer marketing manager. “It works online or off on either of the navigation-capable 8- or 12-inch SYNC systems, allowing users to select one of hundreds of available curated trail maps to map out and then track, capture and share their adventures with others.”
There’s also an available low-mount camera system that can be used to see exactly where each wheel is being placed, something particularly useful on narrow trails or when rock crawling.
The Bronco will be offered with two different powertrain choices, starting with a turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost package making 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The upgrade will be a 2.7-liter turbo package bumping the numbers up to 310 hp and 400 lb-ft. That’s the same engine Ford ran the Baja in with the race version of the new Bronco.
In a rare move, a seven-speed manual – with crawl gear — will be available. It’s another paean to tradition that likely won’t see many takers, Ford officials admit. The likely gearbox of choice will be a 10-speed automatic customized for on- and serious off-road applications. Meanwhile, like all new and future Broncos, both the two- and four-door models will come with standard all-wheel drive.
There actually will be two different 4X4 systems, according to Ford. The base uses a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case, while the upgrade gets a two-speed electromechanical transfer case for on-demand shifting from 2H to 4H. It features a Dana solid rear axle and Dana independent front differential, with optional locking electronic differentials for serious trail runners.
… “Segment-leading levels of off-road capability are possible thanks to Bronco’s available best-in-class 11.6-inch ground clearance, maximum 29-degree breakover angle and 37.2-degree departure angle, plus best-in-class water fording capability of up to 33.5 inches” …
Add to that exposed tow hooks, both front and book, as well as available heavy-duty modular steel bumpers with integrated winches.
One of the more intriguing features on both Bronco and Bronco Sport is what the automaker has dubbed “GOAT mode,” a more sophisticated version of the Terrain Management Control found on more pedestrian Fords, like Escape and Explorer. There are seven individual mode settings which instantly adjust a variety of vehicle settings, including throttle, transmission and electronic nanny systems, to maximize grip, whether riding on snow or ice, sand, mud or rock crawling.
The entire exterior is largely modular, and even the front passenger grab handle can be swapped in and out.
For those serious off roaders, 35-inch tires are on the option list for every trim levels for both the two- and four-door models.
Not everything a rock crawler or sand runner needs is high-tech. The Bronco offers, among other things, optional marine-grade seating and rubberized flooring, even drain plugs allowing the cabin to be hosed down after a day on the trail.
To underscore the capabilities of the new Bronco line, those who buy either the two- or four-door models – along with the Badlands version of the Bronco Sport — will get free access to one of the Bronco Off-Roadeo “experiences” Ford plans to launch in 2021. Unlike the Jeep Jamboree, these will operate out of four fixed locations around the country. Everything but transportations costs will be included.
The base price for the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport will begin at $26,660, plus $1,450 in delivery fees. The 2-Door starts at $28,500, the 4-Door at $33,200. Those bigger models carry a higher $1,495 in delivery fees. If the Jeep Wrangler is any indication, the bigger versions of the Bronco, when well-equipped, will likely push well above $40,000.
Ford isn’t ready to offer precise dates, but says Bronco Sport will reach showrooms “later this year,” the bigger 2- and 4-door models to follow early in 2021. The automaker is now taking initial, $100 deposits for all three Bronco models.