Competes with: Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Defender, Toyota 4Runner
Looks like: A modern take on a classic 1960s Bronco
Drivetrains: 270-hp (estimated), turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder or 310-hp (estimated), twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 with seven-speed manual (four-cylinder only) or 10-speed automatic transmission; standard four-wheel drive
Hit dealers: Spring 2021, reservations open now
Years of teasing, concept vehicles, leaked spy photos and not-quite reveals on Ford’s part — all of it has led up to now: the reveal of the 2021 Ford Bronco, an iconic name returning to the Blue Oval showroom. With the “rugged utility vehicle” class seeing a spike in popularity thanks to Jeep’s successful redesign of the Wrangler for model-year 2018, the time is certainly right for other brands to get in on the action. That’s exactly what Ford has done, bringing the fight to Jeep by designing an SUV to one-up the Wrangler. The new Bronco’s combination of flexibility, iconic style, thoughtful design touches and no-excuses equipment will finally give the legendary Jeep a serious head-to-head competitor. Make no mistake, the JL-generation Wrangler is excellent — but knowing what we now know about the Bronco, the next-generation Wrangler will have to be even better.
Related: 9 Ways the 2021 Ford Bronco is Not a Jeep Wrangler
It starts with the way the Bronco looks. Ford went to town examining the original Bronco, even taking laser scans of it, 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 are. Note the round headlights, flat grille and one-piece taillights. All of it is meant to evoke the spirit of the original Bronco, playing the nostalgia card that works so well for Jeep yet creates something equally distinctive and uniquely Ford in this application. Yes, the doors come off — both the two- and four-door models have frameless windows and cowl-mounted mirrors, which allow you to wrap the doors in protective fabric bags with handles and lift them off their hinges more easily. The four-door Bronco can actually store its doors in the cargo area, allowing you to continue the fun without leaving them behind. The two-door model has insufficient room to make that happen, so you’ll have to leave the doors at home.
All Broncos are convertibles as well, with the two-door model receiving a standard three-piece hardtop with two front panels and one rear panel, or an optional painted four-piece hardtop with a removable rear panel as well. The four-door model has an optional four-panel hardtop with a full-width piece that fits over the second row. In addition to this, all Broncos have removable rear-quarter window panels that leave the overhead panels in place to create a bikini-style hardtop over the occupants and cargo area. A soft-top comes standard on the four-door but isn’t available on the two-door — a curious omission that Ford vaguely hinted at remedying 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 an even bigger open-air experience than the Wrangler’s design.
Wheels range from standard 16-inch painted steelies to 18-inch alloys, with available 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels in between that pair with 35-inch mud-terrain tires, a first for the class. Bumpers are powder-coated steel, with some versions featuring removable end 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 underbody protection, with steel shields protecting the sensitive parts underneath. Higher trim levels will get a front bash plate, plus shields for the engine, transmission, transfer case and fuel tank. Side rock rails are also available, strong enough to support the Bronco’s weight if it’s leaning to that side.
Engine and Transmission
Of course, one big question is whether the Bronco can really go toe-to-toe with the Wrangler in terms of running gear. The answer, at least on paper, is an unqualified yes. Powering the Bronco will be the turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that we’ve seen in the Ranger, Mustang and Explorer, which makes a Ford-estimated 270 horsepower and 310 pounds-feet of torque (final numbers are still to be determined). It’s mated to either a Getrag seven-speed manual transmission with a dedicated creeper gear or a 10-speed automatic transmission. The optional powertrain adds two cylinders to make a turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 with a resulting 310 hp and 400 pounds-feet of torque (again, by Ford’s estimates). It’s available only with the 10-speed automatic.
Ford offers two four-wheel-drive systems, available with either engine and transmission. The standard 4×4 setup is an electronic two-speed shift-on-the-fly part-time system, featuring a 79.92:1 maximum crawl ratio for the manual transmission and 57.19:1 for the automatic. The optional 4×4 system is an electromechanical transfer case that features an automatic 4WD mode, bringing a best-in-class 94.75:1 maximum crawl ratio for the manual transmission and still-impressive 67.8:1 ratio for the automatic. As a reminder, you can only get the manual transmission with the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, making the best rock-crawling Bronco on paper a four-cylinder model equipped with the manual transmission and upgraded 4×4 system.
The Bronco’s suspension is definitely up to the task of taking on the Wrangler. Like the Ranger on which it is based, the Bronco 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 long-travel, position-sensitive Bilstein off-road shock absorbers with end-stop control valves, Spicer front and rear electronic locking differentials, and a semi-active hydraulic stabilizer bar that the Bronco can electronically disconnect and reconnect during articulation, not just on stable, level terrain in calm conditions. Ford is calling its 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 a claimed 10 inches of front articulation and even more in the rear.
In fact, Ford is claiming a lot of best-in-class features for the new Bronco (depending on how you equip it, of course): best-in-class water fording of 33.5 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 the two- or four-door models.
Inside, the retro theme continues with a full-width instrument panel that has a gauge cutout reminiscent of the original Bronco’s. Given its open-air nature, the interior is fully weather resistant, featuring banks of optional auxiliary and powertrain switches that are silicone-encased and sealed against the elements. Optional marine-grade vinyl upholstery is available (think 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 it’s upgradable to a 12-inch horizontally oriented unit. Like other Sync 4 systems, it can be controlled by the FordPass Performance app on a smartphone, and it also features an available industry-first off-road navigation system that’s preloaded with hundreds of America’s more famous off-road trails. You can also use the Sync system with the Bronco’s optional 360-degree camera system, which has off-road spotter views of each front tire, allowing you to place them more accurately when rock crawling.
With regard to interior upfitting, Ford offers an optional rack that spans the top of the dashboard that can mount anything from cellphone holders to GoPro cameras. No more windshield suction cups! Auxiliary power outlets are also mounted atop the dash to power these accessories. Various grab handles in strategic locations are also removable, should you not want them there.
Electronics and Safety
Ford will offer its Co-Pilot360 system for the standard level of safety equipment, upgradable to Co-Pilot360 Assist 2.0 with more of semi-autonomous driving features like lane keep assist, blind spot detection and more. The Bronco will have standard side-curtain airbags in the upper structure of the truck — a feature the Wrangler still lacks — as well as the seats. But most of the electronics work went into helping the Bronco go off-road better, and it centers around the GOAT system, which stands for Goes Over Any Type of Terrain. It’s the next level of Ford’s automatic Terrain Management System that adjusts all manner of onboard systems. In the Bronco’s case, it can also adjust stabilizer-bar connections, four-wheel-drive response, shift points, differential locks and stability control, all automatically. The five standard modes are Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, with three additional modes — Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl — available on certain trim levels. A rotary selector on the center console governs the action. Ford will offer a Trail Control “off-road cruise control” system, as well as a novel new Trail Turn Assist system that selectively brakes one wheel in tight corners, helping the vehicle pivot around something for even better off-road agility.
Trim Levels and Release Date
Ford’s not doing the typical trim levels for the Bronco, so don’t expect to see an XL, XLT and so forth. Instead, it takes a page from the Wrangler book and names trim levels after locations, in this case six national parks, depending on content. It starts with the base Bronco. Up next is the Big Bend, which adds items like 17-inch alloy wheels, 32-inch tires and a few optional equipment groups. Then comes the Black Diamond, which adds more off-road content like a modular bumper, heavy-duty underbody protection plates, a locking rear differential and the marine-grade vinyl interior with washout rubberized flooring.
Up next is the Outer Banks trim, which is the luxury model comparable to the Wrangler Sahara. It comes with 18-inch high-gloss alloy wheels, full LED head- and taillights, a 12-inch Sync 4 touchscreen and a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system.
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But if you want a desert runner, you’ll want the Wildtrak, which features the 2.7-liter V-6, 17-inch beadlock wheels, 35-inch tires and the Bilstein performance shocks. Want the ultimate off-road version? That’s the Bronco Badlands, which comes with front and rear locking differentials, and either the marine-grade vinyl or an optional leather interior. Ford is also planning on offering a limited run of 3,500 First Edition units, which will combine the Badlands mechanical bits with the Outer Banks leather interior and electronics, trimmed out with special black-painted accents. Available on any Bronco model will be a stand-alone Sasquatch Package — that’s right, think Bigfoot — with the top off-road equipment (17-inch beadlocks, 35-inch tires, front and rear lockers, high-clearance suspension and fenders, Bilstein dampers and the advanced automatic 4×4 system) available on any Bronco trim, even the base.
The Base Bronco two-door is set to start at $29,995 including destination, or just $1,000 more than a basic two-door Wrangler, and will likely have more standard equipment, such as the standard hardtop. But if the Sasquatch Package is reasonably priced at anything less than $10,000, it could undercut a two-door Wrangler Rubicon in price and equipment. Here’s the not-so-good part: We’re still nearly a year away from getting Broncos in showrooms, as they don’t arrive until spring 2021. But here’s the better part: If you want in, $100 will let you reserve one starting now. Just visit Ford.com and put down your deposit to get in line.
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