The new 2021 Ford Bronco has gotten a huge build up, and after a ride over a rugged course in metro Detroit’s version of the outback, it’s clear that it deserves it.
The new Bronco, judging from my trip in the four-door version, boasts the capability to manage challenges ranging from the steep hillside, rocky trails that Ford laid out in and around an old gravel mine outside of Holly, Michigan, an hour north of Detroit. I didn’t get to drive so I didn’t get to feel the braking or the steering.
However, from the passenger seat I got a good feel for the action of the suspension, the solid rear axle, the ground clearance in tight and rocky situations or while wading through a stream. The solid-rear axle does give the Bronco a stiffer ride over rocky terrain.
But the Bronco has an independent front suspension, coupled with the 11-plus inches of ground clearance, making it seem more nimble when the going gets rough. The heavy-duty rear axle layout, which is fortified with coil springs and Bilstein dampers, solid platform if you are traveling over sand or loose gravel, which was plentiful on the course chosen by Ford for the test. In addition, the body-on-frame Bronco seemed to move across the rugged terrain features with relative ease.
While in the passenger seat to grip as the Bronco bounced around the course. The seats, however, were comfortable and the interior of the cabin was trimmed in material that seemed perfectly capable of withstanding a trip into the wilderness.
The new Bronco is offered with two different powertrain choices: a turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost package making 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque and the aforementioned upgrade a 2.7-liter turbo package — the same engine Ford ran the Baja in with the race version of the new Bronco.
In addition, the Bronco two- and four-door models can tow as much as 3,500 pounds — putting it on par with its direct competitor, the Jeep Wrangler.
The new models get two transmission options starting with a surprise: a seven-speed manual – with crawl gear, which is 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.
As I said I didn’t get to sit in the driver’s seat but the controls, including the switches for controlling the different drive modes available on the new Bronco were laid out so they were in easy reach of the driver, or if necessity required it, of anyone in the passenger seat.
Up to seven driver-selectable modes are offered including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, with Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl for off-road driving, according to Ford.
Two different four-wheel drive systems are offered for all Bronco models: the base setup and an advanced four-wheel drive. The base system utilizes a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case, while the optional advanced system features a two-speed electromechanical transfer case that adds an auto mode for on-demand engagement to select between two-wheel high and four-wheel high, which is again controlled from the driver’s seat as the Ford test driver demonstrated.
The system distributes power to a Dana 44 AdvanTEK solid rear axle and Dana AdvanTEK independent front differential unit with electronic locking differentials for improved traction on rough terrain.
The Bronco also comes with Trail Control – cruise control for low-speed trail driving, while Trail Turn Assist tightens off-road turning radiuses through torque vectoring, and the innovative Trail One-Pedal Drive acceleration/braking control makes for more precise and confident slow-mode rock crawling as the drive featured.
Bronco has what Ford describes as best-in-class 94.75:1 crawl ratio, ground clearance, suspension travel and water fording capabilities, plus breakover and departure angles
I also managed to squeeze into the passenger seat of a Bronco Two-Door Type R that was specifically equipped for off-road Baja style racing and couldn’t help but be impressed by the ease with which the vehicle navigated the course at speed. In addition, drive also featured a couple of very sharp turns that showed off the small turning radius on the Bronco.
The 2021 Bronco is powered EcoBoost engines with segment-exclusive 7-speed manual transmission and available 35-inch tires and I was a bit skeptical whether the EcoBoost could deliver the power needed for a trip into the back country. But the 2.7-liter V6 EcoBoost with 310 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque did not seem to have any problems at all.
One key element of that strategy will be the development of a wide range of accessories for the three different Bronco models. At launch, about 200 will be in the catalogue for the Two- and Four-Door models, with about 100 for Bronco Sport. These will range from winches to tube doors, lighting to roof racks.
Ford plans to work these accessories into the factory price of each Bronco, rather than as after-sale add-ons, the industry norm. That might sound like a small detail but it will allow buyers to finance those add-ons, a strategy that could boost demand significantly, several Ford officials suggested.
Not that demand appears to be much of a problem. The company’s already taken more than 165,000 deposits at $100 each for the new model. The rough-and-tumble two-door base off-roader starts at $29,995, plus a $1,495 delivery fee.