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2021 Ford Bronco First Look

A direct competitor emerges to challenge Jeep’s one-horse race.

The horse is out of the barn and off to the (off-road) races!!! OK, bad cliches aside, the new Bronco, after years of rumor, speculation, and anticipation, has been sprung, and it is every bit as impressive as we hoped it would be. So let's get those burning questions out of the way. Yes, it has IFS. No, it is not a replacement for the fullsize Bronco. Yes, it is a Jeep Wrangler competitor. No, you can't have a V-8, at least not yet. Yes, it comes in a two-door and a four-door. Yes, the doors come off. Yes, there is a hard top and soft top available. Yes, you want one. Yes, it's cool. Yes, this is the first salvo in the Bronco family that will also include the all-new Bronco Sport, and eventually other iterations. Ford says the Bronco was developed with the performance spirit of the Mustang and toughness of an F-150.

With the unveiling of the Bronco, there is no doubt that Ford put the crosshairs directly on the Jeep Wrangler, as evidenced by the overall proportions and a first-ever four-door version. Ford is also creating a Bronco sub brand for the company, launching with the new two- and four-door Bronco and the small Bronco Sport. Ford engaged in a copious amount of consumer research on both products to learn about the problems and pain points of existing vehicles and come up with their own solutions. Let's see how they did

Design

To get the proportions and overall feel of the Bronco just right, the design team 3-D-scanned an early Bronco and used some on-brand styling cues, being careful not to let the retro vibe overpower the design. You can see the influence in the short overhangs, flat sides, open wheelwells, upright windshield, single-piece grille, round headlights, and peaked fenders. There will be three grilles offered at launch.

A bit of modernity can be seen in the frameless windows, wide stance, signature LEDs, and very cool "trail sights" at the leading edge of the fenders, which are intended to help the driver see the front of the vehicle, as well as be used as a tie-down. Ford also hid the hinges on the bodysides for simplicity but chose to keep them exposed on the tailgate. Cowl-mounted mirrors retain rearward visibility when the doors are removed.

The Bronco beltline is high, while the wrap-down roofline is low, making the roof look a bit visually heavy. This was necessary to ensure there was an area big enough to house the side curtain airbags and to make the glass short enough that the windows could fully retract into the doors.

The two-door bronco is 6.9 inches longer than the 166-inch-long two-door Wrangler and rides on a 3.6-inch-longer wheelbase (100.4 inches for Bronco). The four-door is an inch longer than the 188.4-inch Wrangler Unlimited, but with a shorter 2.3-inch wheelbase (116.1 inches on Bronco). While the four-door is close in interior volume, the two-door Bronco is roomier than a Wrangler two-door.

To us, the two-door looks amazing, while the four-door isn't quite as elegant. It looks visually heavier, and the mashup of details at the C-pillar isn't as inspired as the rest of the vehicle. That being said, the overall design works well, and the new utility vehicle is immediately recognizable as a Bronco, without living in the past. Even the bucking horse logo gets a freshening to match the Bronco's new duds.

Engineering

Sharing a platform with the next-generation Ford Ranger, the Bronco rides on a stout body-on-frame chassis that was designed for 35-inch tires in mind from the outset. The frame is fully boxed with high-strength steel and features independent front suspension with forged aluminum arms and cast-iron knuckles. A Panhard-bar-equipped five-link solid axle setup resides in the rear, and available coil-over Bilstein reservoir shocks are employed at each corner.

The Bronco also uses a high-strength steel safety cage, but unlike the Wrangler—where the center bar on the four-door lives over the front seats—the Bronco's perimeter cage does away with the center bar, giving backseat passengers a nearly unobstructed view of the outside world. If you look carefully, the roll cage is much lower than the windshield header, giving the roofless Broncos a cool, chopped look.

To ensure the toughness of the Bronco, engineers completed Ford's standard 10-million-mile durability test—and then went out and did some more. Wanting to make sure the Bronco was going to not only maximize capability, but also be durable in the most demanding terrain, the engineering team took the Bronco to Johnson Valley, California, to continue development on the trails best associated with the King of the Hammers race.

One of the more curious announcements we will dig into at a later date was of the "skeletonized structure," where exterior aluminum body panels can easily be swapped out with hand tools. This could be revolutionary for the aftermarket, and we can't wait to learn more.

All Broncos are rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped and have a maximum payload of 1,170 on two-doors and 1,370 pounds on four-door models, which should make the overlanding set happy. The dynamic roof load rating is 110 pounds (on non-35-inch-tire models), with an approved static load of 450 pounds.

Drivetrain

Allowing the Bronco to gallop are two engine choices and two transmission choices. The base engine is the 2.3L EcoBoost four-cylinder with a rating of 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, besting the Jeep Wrangler's turbo 2.0L four's torque (295 lb-ft) and matching its horsepower. The optional engine is the 2.7L EcoBoost V-6 with 310 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Compared Jeep's 3.6L normally aspirated gas V-6, the Bronco has 25 more horsepower and a whopping 140 lb-ft advantage in torque. It's important to note that Ford has no answer for Jeep's 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 offering that has 260 horsepower and leads the segment with 442 lb-ft of torque.

While Ford's excellent 10-speed automatic transmission can be found behind either engine, the star of the show is the Getrag 7MTI550 seven-speed manual transmission that can be paired with the 2.3L. Not only is this yet another manufacturer investing in manual transmissions, but it is what Ford calls a 6+1. It has a normal double H pattern for the six main gears but has a dogleg to a seventh super-low "crawl" gear with an incredible 6.588:1 ratio. By comparison, Jeep's Aisin D478 manual's lowest gear ratio is an otherwise impressive 5.13:1.

Two four-wheel drive systems are available. The base system uses a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case with a 2.72:1 ratio (same as Jeep's standard case), while the upgraded "advanced" system is a two-speed electromechanical unit that adds an "auto" mode for on-demand engagement. This case is fitted with a 3.06:1 low range that isn't quite as low as the Wrangler Rubicon's 4:1 transfer case, making it more useable in a broader range of environments. When coupled to the manual transmission, the Bronco has class-leading crawl ratio of 94.75:1. However, when you look at the Wrangler Rubicon with an automatic transmission and its 77.2:1 crawl ratio, the Bronco falls shy at 67.8:1.

Power runs through Dana AdvanTEK axles. Depending on model, the front uses an M190 or M210 IFS unit, and the rear is a Dana 44-based M220 axle across the board, with either a 3.73, 4.10, or 4.70 final drive ratio. Performa-TraK electronic selectable locking diffs are standard on the high-capability models, available through select option packages on others. All Broncos are four-wheel drive, with no two-wheel-drive model planned.

Interior

While the exterior harkens back to the original Bronco, the interior is forward looking. With a 6.5-inch driver information center between the gauges and an available 8- or 12-inch screen dominating the center stack, there is no doubt that this is a Bronco for today. Integrated grab handles flank the tall, flat dash, and all of the controls are placed within easy reach of the driver. We really like the optional device rail that sits on top of the dash and the power port nestled nearby to power up devices.

Plastics and fabrics are designed to be durable, such as the marine-grade vinyl seat covers that resist mildew and a washable rubberized floor with integrated drains. Even the dash-mounted hero switches and the six overhead auxiliary switches are protected from dust and water with rubberized silicone. This is one horse that has been designed to be ridden hard and put away wet (and dirty). For those who don't intend to take advantage of the hose-out nature of the interior, carpet and leather seats will also be offered.

A cloth soft top is standard on four-door Broncos and has a unique tilt-up function to access cargo area. Two-door Broncos get a standard removeable three-piece hard top, either with molded-in color or painted, and the first-row panels are stowable onboard. Four-doors can be ordered with a four-roof-panel molded-in-color or painted hard top, adding a removeable panel above the second row when compared to the Wrangler Unlimited. Roof panels on all models are simply removed by unlocking hand latches. As a bonus, all hardtops also have removable quarter windows that can removed without detaching the roof panels. For those who don't want to choose between soft tops and a hard top, four-door Broncos can be optioned with both.

Going back to the removeable doors, Ford worked hard to make the doors physically smaller (thanks to the aforementioned frameless windows), easier to remove, and stowable onboard. Although at 54 pounds for the fronts and 43 pounds for the rears, they are heavier than the Wrangler doors (about 47 and 34 pounds, respectively). The most trick part of the door system is a single weather pack-style electrical connection protected by a spring-loaded door and a single bolt for each hinge.

Ford makes the most out of what space is available for storage, designing in various cubbies and nooks, as well as using versatile MOLLE panels on the front seatbacks.

Trims

Ford has developed the Bronco's trim levels, not with a "good, better, best" strategy, but more in line with the overall use case or feel that the owner is trying to achieve. With this in mind, buyers will first choose from one of seven trims that fit their use case, followed by one of 11 available colors, the drivetrain of their choice, one of four equipment levels, and finally which off-road and functional equipment they want.

At launch the trims offered will be Base, Big Bend (think XLT), Black Diamond (more of a rugged outdoor adventure feel), Outer Banks (a mix of tech and luxury), Badlands (all-around capability —think Rubicon), Wildtrak (more of a nod to high-speed desert running), and a limited production (only 3,500 units) First Edition. A badass, 35-inch-tire-sporting Sasquatch package can be added to any of the Bronco series.

Tech and Safety

No modern vehicle would be complete without the latest tech, and the Bronco doesn't buck that trend. Starting with an available 12-inch SYNC 4 system with over-the-air-updates and integration with the FordPass Performance app that now has an off-road navigation feature. With the navigation app, owners will be able to plan, navigate, and share their adventures with friends. In fact, Ford partnered with NeoTreks, Trail Offroad, and FunTreks to preload the Bronco with over 1,000 curated trail maps and an advanced topographical base map. These maps work offline and are compatible with either the 8- or 12-inch navigational capable SYNC systems.

The SYNC 4 systems also display the available 360-degree camera views, including the class-exclusive off-road spotter views to provide additional situational awareness for the driver during technical driving. Other available technologies include wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay, Co-Pilot 360 driver assist technologies, standard AdvanceTrac with roll stability control, and trailer sway control.

Off-Road Capability

When it comes to off-road capability, Ford focused on taking as many best-in-class claims as possible from Jeep. Ford is laying claim to ground clearance (11.6 inches vs. 10.8 inches), breakover angle (29.0 degrees on the two-door and 26.4 degrees on the four-door vs. 27.8 degrees on the two-door and 22.6 degrees on the four-door), departure angle (37.2 degrees vs. 37.0 degrees), max crawl ratio (94.75:1 vs. 84.2:1), and water fording (33.5 inches vs. 30.0 inches). Of course, all of these number compare the top Bronco to the top Wrangler model, and individual vehicle specifications will depend on the trim and options selected.

Ford also says their Bronco is available with better underbody protection (high-capability models get a front bash plate, engine skidplate, transmission skidplate, transfer case skidplate, fuel tank skidplate, and rock rails) and will give you 17 percent more front wheel travel and 10 percent more rear travel than a Wrangler.

While the Bronco looks great on paper, it also has to perform in the real world, so Ford loaded up on quality hardware and technology to make sure the Bronco was capable enough for novice wheelers, while not taking control away from more experienced drivers. From a mechanical standpoint, the Bronco IFS is optimized for go-fast off-road fun and on-road competence while giving up little in technical crawling, thanks in part to the available high-travel and position-sensitive Bilstein reservoir shocks with end-stop control valves on the premium version of the High-performance Off-Road Stability (H.O.S.S.) system. The premium H.O.S.S. package includes those special Bilsteins, different suspension tuning, as well as different control arms.

Also available is a front disconnecting sway bar. Unlike the electronic unit Jeep uses, the Bronco's is electro-hydraulic and can be disconnected while articulated and reconnected under all conditions. It also automatically reconnects at speeds above 20 miles per hour and can automatically disconnect once the vehicle's speed drops below the threshold.

Available on all models (except those with a manual and the Wildtrak, which already has 35-inch tires standard) is the must-have Sasquatch package. This comprehensive equipment group adds aggressive 35-inch (315/70R17) Goodyear Territory M-T tires, the front and rear lockers, a 4.70:1 final drive ratio, high-clearance fender flares, the premium H.O.S.S. system, and 17-inch black-painted beadlock-capable forged aluminum wheels. It is worth noting that Sasquatch-equipped Broncos do see a small decrease in up travel for packaging reasons.

Moving to the electronic technologies, Ford has developed what it calls the Trail Toolbox. This suite of technologies is aimed at making the off-road experience more approachable. It consists of Trail Control (think off-road cruise control), Trail Turn Assist (drags the Bronco's inside rear brake to shorten the turning radius) and Trail One-Pedal Drive (operates like an electric vehicle so novice wheelers only need to concentrate on the accelerator in tricky terrain) on 2.7L Broncos. With these technologies, the Bronco should make anyone new to off-roading feel as confident as a seasoned pro.

Similar to Terrain Management in other Ford models, the Bronco offers G.O.A.T. mode. No, it doesn't stand for the "greatest of all time", but rather "go over any terrain" and was an early name for the Bronco when it was developed in the '60s. Depending on trim level, there are up to eight settings, which include Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Baja, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl. With a simple turn of the dial, G.O.A.T. mode will automatically configure the vehicle for the terrain the driver wants to traverse. Thankfully, the driver still can override things like sway bar, traction control, and lockers for his or her liking.

Wheelers will be happy to know that Ford engineered a number of fasteners that make removing or adding parts incredibly easy. For example, the fender flares quickly pop off with quarter-turn fasteners, and in a nod to when the company built the GPW with "F script bolts," Ford included bolts with special Bronco-branded heads scattered around the vehicle. There are a total of 42 of these special bolts on the interior and 12 to 18 on the exterior that are there to invite the customer to explore, encourage customization, and indicate there are accessories available for these locations.

In fact, a major tenet of the Bronco's development was to support customer modifications and make sure people could make these vehicles their own. Ford alone plans to have over 200 accessories available at launch. We can't wait to see what people are going to do with their Broncos and imagine there are ideas that haven't even been thought of yet.

Saddle Up

Pricing for the Bronco starts at just $29,995 and can be reserved for $100 at Ford.com, starting today. Bronco deliveries are planned to begin in spring 2021, but we will be delivering our drive impressions long before launch, so stay tuned.

For more information on the Bronco Sport, please click here.

For more information on the Bronco, head over to our sister site MT.com to get their take.