Months and years of teasing, of concept vehicles, of leaked spy photos all of it has led up to this moment. And here it is, no more waiting, it’s the 2021 Ford Bronco, the return of an iconic name to the blue oval showroom. Ford has the Jeep Wrangler fixed very squarely in its sights for this one and, given what we’ve been shown, they’ve delivered one heck of a challenge to the current king of the off-road hill. It starts with the way the Bronco looks.
The designers went to town examining the original Bronco, even taking laser scans of it, all to incorporate specific design elements into the new one. Check out the peaked fenders with trail sights that double as tie-down points to let you know where the corners of the truck are– the round headlights, the flat grille, the one-piece tail lights– all of it is meant to evoke the spirit of the original playing on the nostalgia card that has worked so well for Jeep but has created something equally distinctive and uniquely Ford in this application.
Yes, the doors come off. Both the two-door and four-door models have frameless windows and cowl-mounted mirrors, which allows for you to wrap the door in a special protective fabric bag with handles and lift them off their hinges more easily. The four-door can actually store its doors in the cargo area, allowing you to remove them and continue the fun without leaving them behind. But the two-door doesn’t have sufficient room to make that happen, so you’ll have to leave those doors at home. All Bronco’s are convertibles as well, with the two-door receiving a standard three-piece hard top that features two front removable panels and one rear panel or an optional painted four-piece hard top that has a removable rear roof panel as well.
The four-door model has a four-panel hard top, with a full width bit that fits over the second row. In addition to this, all Broncos can remove their rear quarter window panels but leave the overhead panels in place to create a bikini-style hard top over the passengers and cargo. A soft top come standard on the four-door, but isn’t available on the two-door, a curious omission that Ford vaguely hinted may be remedied through an accessory offering down the road.
The design of the structure cage eliminates the sport bar connecting the B pillars, meaning the Bronco provides a bigger open-air experience overhead than the Wrangler’s design. Wheels and tires vary by trim level but range from standard 16-inch painted steelies, up to 18-inch alloys, and even offering 17 inch bead-lock capable wheels wrapped with 35-inch mud-terrain tires, a first for the segment. Bumpers are powder coated steel, with some versions featuring removable caps for better approach angles.
There are easy access tow hooks integrated winch-mount capability, and even mounting points for overhead accessories. There’s also plenty of under body protection, with steel shields protecting the sensitive bits underneath. Higher trim level models will get a front bash plate plus engine, transmission, transfer case, and fuel tank shields. Side rock rails are also available, strong enough to support that side of the Broncos weight. Of course, one of the big questions is whether or not the Bronco can really go toe to toe with the Wrangler in terms of its running gear. And the answer here is an unqualified yes. Powering the Bronco will be a choice of engines. Standard is the turbo charged 2.3-liter ecoboost four cylinder that we’ve seen in the ranger, mustang, and explorer, making a Ford estimated 270 horsepower and 370 pound-speed of torque. It’s made into either a Getrag 7-speed manual transmission with a dedicated creeper gear or a 10-speed automatic. The optional powertrain adds two cylinders to bring you the turbo charged 2.7 liter ecoboost V6, making 310 horsepower and 400 pound-speed of torque, available only with the 10 speed automatic. There are two four-wheel drive systems offered, and they can be had with either engine and either transmission. The standard four by four setup is an electronic two speed shift on the fly part time system. The optional advanced four by four system has an electromechanical transfer case that features a four-auto mode, bringing a best in class 94.075 to one crawl racial when you get that with the manual transmission.
As a reminder, you can only get the manual transmission with the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, making the best rock crawler Bronco a four cylinder equipped with the manual box and upgraded four by four system. The suspension is definitely up to the task of taking on the Wrangler. Like the Ranger in which it’s based, it has an independent front suspension but, unlike the Ranger, it has a five-link coil sprung solid rear axle, a Dana 44 AdvanTEK unit. Available upgrades include Bilstein off-road dampers, Spicer front and rear electronic-locking diffs and a semi active hydraulic stabilizer bar disconnect that can actually be electronically disconnected and reconnected during articulation, not just on stable level terrain and calm conditions. Ford is calling their suspension the HOSS system, for High performance Off-Road Stability Suspension system. It provides 17% more travel than the best a Wrangler can deliver, with 10 inches of front articulation and more than that in the rear, according to Ford.
In fact, Ford is claiming a lot of best in class features for the new Bronco, best in class waterboarding of 33 and 1/2 inches, best ground clearance of 11.6 inches, best breakover angle of 29 degrees, best departure angle of 37.2 degrees, best suspension travel, and more. Towing remains competitive however, with a max rating of 3,500 pounds for either two door or four-door models. Inside, the retro-inspired theme continues with a full width instrument panel that’s reminiscent of the original Bronco. Given its open air nature, the interior is fully weather resistant, featuring banks of auxiliary and power trains switches that are silicone encased and sealed against the elements. Optional marine grade vinyl upholstery is available, like what you’d find on a high-end speedboat, as is a rubberized floor with optional drain plugs. Standard is an 8-inch touchscreen in the center console running the latest Sync 4 multimedia system. But that’s a great deal to a 12 inch horizontally oriented unit.
There’s also an optional new industry first offroad navigation system preloaded with hundreds of the more famous offroad trails around the country. The sync system can also be used with the optional 360 degree camera that has an offroad spotter view of each front tire, allowing you to place them more accurately when rock crawling. Ford did its homework with regards to interior upfitting as well, offering an optional rack that spans the top of the dashboard onto which you can mount anything, from cell phone holders to GoPro cameras. No more windshield suction cups. Auxiliary power outlets are also mounted at the top of the dash to power these accessories. There are also grab handles in strategic locations that are also removable should you not want them there. Ford will offer the Ford co-pilot 360 safety system for the standard level of safety equipment, upgradeable to the co-pilot 360 assist 2.0. It has more of the semi-autonomous driving features, like distance-keeping cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot detection, and more. It will also have standard side-curtain airbags in the upper structure of the truck as well as the seats. But most of the electronics work went into helping the Bronco go off-road better, and it’s centered around the GOAT system, which stands for Goes Over Any Type of Terrain.
It’s the next level of Ford’s automatic terrain response system, which adjusts all manner of onboard systems, and in the Broncos case, can also adjust stabilizer, bar connection, four-wheel drive response, shift points, differential locks, the stability control, all automatically. The five standard modes are normal, eco, sport, slippery, and sand, with three additional baja, mud, and rock crawl modes available on certain trim levels. The rotary selector is mounted on the center console between the front seat occupants. There’s also the trail control, off-road cruise control system, which will be available, as will a novel new turn-assist system that selectively breaks one wheel in tight corners, helping the vehicle actually pivot around that point for even better off-road agility. Ford’s not doing the typical trim levels for the Bronco, so don’t expect to see an XL, XLT, Eddie Bauer, et cetera. Instead, they’re taking a page from the Wrangler book and naming their six national park theme trim levels depending on content. So you’ll be seeing Bronco trim levels with names like Big Bend, Outer Banks, Black Diamond, and Wild Track. A few names to look for, however– first is the Bronco Badlands. That’s the ultimate off-roader model meant to go toe to toe with the Wrangler Rubicon. It features all of the top off-road goodies, like front and rear locking differentials and either the marine grade vinyl or an optional leather interior. But the other name to watch out for is the Sasquatch package. It lumps all of the top offroad equipment like the 17-inch beadlock wheels, 35-inch tires, locking differentials, high clearance suspension, Bilstein dampers, and advanced 4 by 4 system into a standalone option that can be had on any Bronco, even the base model. Now what’s it all going to cost?
Well, Ford surprisingly revealed that the base two-door is set to start at $29,995, including destination, or just $1,000 more than a basic two-door Jeep Wrangler. And it’s going to likely have more standard equipment than the Wrangler, such as that standard hard top. But if the Sasquatch package is reasonably priced at anything less than $10,000, it could undercut a Wrangler Rubicon two-door on price and equipment. Here’s the not-so-good part. We’re still nearly a year away from getting Bronco’s in showrooms, as they’re not arriving until spring of 2021. But here’s the better part. If you want one, $100 will let you reserve one starting right now. Just sign on to Ford.com to put down your deposit to get in line.
With the rugged utility vehicle segment seeing a spike in popularity thanks to Jeep’s successful redesign of the Wrangler back in 2018, the time is certainly right for other brands to get in on the action, and that’s exactly what Ford has done, bringing the fight to the Wrangler by designing, well, what looks like a better Wrangler. A new Broncoo’s combination of flexibility, iconic style, thoughtful design touches, and no-excuses equipment are finally going to give the legendary Jeep a serious head-to-head competitor. Make no mistake, the latest Jeep Wrangler JL is excellent, but this new Bronco looks to have what it takes to be a serious challenger. We’ll know for sure if it’s the new king of the hill once we finally get a chance to drive it. To learn more about the new 2021 Ford Bronco, come visit us at cars.com.
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