It’s been a quarter of a century since we last saw the new Ford Bronco. The fifth generation of the famous truck was discontinued in 1996, just a few years after OJ Simpson made it famous.
For the past 25 years, Ford has watched Jeep sell the Wrangler by truckload because the Wrangler really had no competition. It was the only vehicle on the road, or off the road, that could open its doors and crawl over rocks on its way to the mall. Of course, you can’t do that in a bloated old Bronco, but customers want Wranglers and are paying dearly for them. Over the years, the Wrangler has had one of the best preserved values of any used vehicle – people want image, if not great capability.
Why wait so long to offer alternatives?
“Ten years ago, our lineup was different and our showrooms weren’t the same as they are today,” said Jeff Burdick of Ford Canada, who is Vehicle Line Marketing Manager for the Bronco. “Now, we truly believe this is the right time to bring the Bronco back.”
Being late to the party means you can see exactly what’s available and offer alternatives. Ford knew what worked – removable doors, 35-inch tires, comfort, washable interior, long suspension and solid rear axle – and added some innovative features of its own.
The doors are cleverly designed to be removed quickly, leaving the rearview mirror on the lid, and the four-door lets you carry it in a special bag at the back (instead of door two, which has no space). “You still have the mirror and you don’t have to chain the door to the tree,” says Burdick.
Even the most basic Bronco includes Trail Control, which is cruise control for off-roading, and intelligent Trail Turn Assist, which applies the rear brake only on the side you want to turn fast, to effectively turn the truck in that direction. . It’s a little gimmicky, but works really well.
Important stats for any off-roader include high ground clearance, deep water fording, and generous approach, breakover and departure angles. Ford knew it had to at least match the Wrangler in all of this and had done so.
The number of options for customization (or as Ford calls it, “personalization”) is staggering. Six different trims offering varying levels of comfort and on-road or off-road capability, each available with two doors or four doors. Two engines, 2.3 liter Ecoboost or 2.7 liter Ecoboost. Choice of 10-speed automatic transmission or 7-speed manual with a smaller engine. Cloth top or hard top, and most trims are available in a choice of two or three package options. Once everything is decided, there are over 200 factory-supported accessories that dealers will be happy to sell you. Phew!
What this means, from time to time, is that buyers will pay extra for a new truck built to their exact specifications over a used vehicle, which may affect resale value, but that’s not the case with the Wrangler and that’s not an issue for rights. now. Ford already has 190,000 Americans and Canadians who have paid a refundable deposit of $100 each to order the Bronco, and if you order it now, it probably won’t arrive this year.
Ford refuses to discuss his inevitable plan to electrify the Bronco. There will definitely be a hybrid (as is the case for the Wrangler) once the excitement over this truck launch wears off, and then a full-electric Bronco to sit alongside the full-electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck. For now, the gas-powered Bronco will have to prove more than capable of crawling over rocks with a Wrangler on its way to the mall.
Ford Bronco 2021
- Base price/As tested: $40,499 / $72,639, plus $1,900 Freight and PDI
- Machine: Ecoboost 2.3 liter inline-four, or Ecoboost 2.7 liter V6
- Transmission/Drive: 10 speed automatic or 7 speed manual / 4WD
- Fuel economy (liters/100 km):
- 2 door 2.3 liter: 11.7 City, 10.7 Hwy.
- 4-door 2.7 liter: 14.0 City, 13.9 Hwy.
- Alternative: Jeep Wrangler, Defender of Land Rover
The chubby Bronco look mixes just the right amount of old and new. There’s no mistaking it for a Jeep Wrangler or even a Land Rover Defender, but its short overhangs and wide position make it clear that this is an off-roader. Fender flares come off easily for their own protection on trails; Once this becomes popular, look for a thriving market for used fender flares, especially near rugged inner towns.
I’ve only driven the high-end Badlands edition, which includes a removable hardtop roof and a 12-inch high-definition center touchscreen. The leather trimmed seat is an option but the test chair is vinyl and quite comfortable. You’ll have to climb a bit to get in, especially with the optional 35-inch tires that add an inch in height, but once you’re in place you’ll be happy to stay. The rear seats have reasonable legroom and there’s plenty of headroom throughout.
The cab isn’t quite as quiet as a regular fixed hardtop, and gets louder with speed on the highway. It’s not as noisy as the Wrangler but not as isolated as the Defender. There have been some comments by early owners on American forums about damage and discoloration of the printed roof panels, and Ford is working on fixing that and increasing production in the future. The four-door model comes standard with a fabric soft-top (a hard-top is a $795 option), although I didn’t drive this version and can’t vouch for the noise level.
You can’t remove cabin grime with a pressure washer, but the other two off-road trims include a floor drain plug, for light washing with a garden hose.
So how do you drive it? The Bronco is tall, with long suspension and big sidewalls on its tires, so you’d expect it to be as bouncy as the Wrangler or maybe as slick as the Mercedes G-Wagen. But not. On the road, the independent front suspension helps eliminate any tilt from the drive, while off-road, HOSS (high-performance, off-road, suspension stability) components prove themselves highly capable.
The high-end Badlands testers include a semi-active hydraulic stabilizer bar that can be disconnected and reconnected during articulation: drive into a deep hole on one side, press a button, and you can feel the wheel descend to dig for buy-in and stability. The Rubicon Wrangler must really move for this feature to work.
There are eight different drive modes to choose from, although no Bronco has more than seven. On the highway, these include Normal, Eco, Sport, Sand, and Slippery (for rain and snow), and off-road, there are Baja options (for high-speed sand), Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl. In my journeys through deep water and up steep sandy slopes, I’ve never been stuck or even had to backtrack to buy more.
Both turbocharged engines deliver plenty of power and torque for an easy ride: 275 hp and 315 lb-ft for the four-cylinder, and 315 hp and 410 lb-ft for the V6. That’s with the usual unleaded. Put Premium fuel in the tank and you’ll get those numbers down to 300 hp and 325 lb-ft, and 330 hp and 415 lb-ft, respectively. Such power sucks gasoline, and fuel consumption reflects this.
The Bronco comes with all the usual driver assistance features and can of course be fully connected to your smartphone – today, this is just a given. Really smart technology is in the 4×4 system, which offers a basic two-speed electronic case transfer, or a more advanced two-speed electromechanical case transfer that switches automatically between two-wheel and four-wheel drive. wheel drive, as needed. The two axles have electronic locking differences.
There’s a low-mounted camera at the front so you can see the trail ahead even when you reach the top of a hill and are blocked by a short hood. Ford developers might see this feature in the Land Rover Defender and recognize it as a good idea. All trim levels offer one-pedal ride on the road, where the Bronco brakes when you release the throttle. It’s popular in EVs and maybe it’s a workout for the all-electric edition.
There is reasonable room at the rear of the four doors, although the two shorter doors are narrow at the very rear. At least there’s room to store the hard-top front roof panels on the back of the two doors.
The Ford Bronco appears to be as capable as the equivalent Jeep Wrangler – as it should be, after Ford engineers have long studied the capabilities of the Jeep. They also understand what it means to be “Jeep stuff.” Prices are similar, so it will come down to brand appeal. To be sure, the 190,000 people who have placed their Bronco deposits will not be disappointed.
The author is a guest of the automaker. Content is not subject to approval.
Shopping for a new car? See what’s new Globe Drive Manufacturing and Pricing A tool to view the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.