Ford’s iconic off-road vehicle, the Bronco, is back and this time it’s not alone. Ford is introducing a new family of rugged off-road vehicles for 2021, all wearing the kicking horse logo and featuring standard 4x4 drivetrains across the lineup. In addition to two-door and four-door models, the Bronco clan has spawned a junior sibling, the Bronco Sport.
Ford isn’t shy about suggesting the Bronco family has its sights set on challenging a specific target – the Jeep Wrangler. While Ford’s corporate hype describes this new line of mid-size sport utility vehicles as having the toughness of its F-Series trucks and the performance spirit of a Mustang, what it’s really saying is the Bronco has been designed and built to kick Jeep’s butt in the off-road segment.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, our introduction to the new Bronco lineup has been limited to digital images and streamed briefings – hopefully we’ll be able to get hands-on experience with the Bronco once this pandemic is over – but given what we know now, it appears this vehicle is more than capable of taking on any off-road challenges or challenger.
Throwback design meets modern tech
Its overall design remains true to that of the original Bronco, introduced in 1966, where features were more functional than frivolous, more simplistic, more rugged. This sixth-generation Bronco retains that DNA but is loaded with cutting-edge off-road technologies and segment-leading features.
For example, there are stowable roof and door panels with quick-release attachments, while technology features include segment-exclusive digital trail mapping, which allows owners to plan, record and share their experiences on an all-in-one app. It also offers more than 200 factory-backed accessories so owners can personalize their vehicle to suit their needs.
The exterior design reflects the original Bronco, with round headlights, upright windshield and boxy lines – simple, functional and yet still appealing. Peaked front fenders help the driver be aware of the vehicle’s positioning, especially in tight, off-road situations. Even the removable doors have a modern design – light alloy panels that make detaching easy, plus the doors fit into stowaway bags that can be secured onboard.
Soft and hard tops, in colours that contrast with the body finish, can be fitted to the Bronco and there’s no crossbar at the B-pillar to obstruct access or the view for the cabin’s four (two-door model) or five (four-door) occupants.
Inside, attention to details is obvious, as apparent with the removable grab handles attached to the console and instrument panel. The flooring is rubberized, with drains, for quick and easy clean-up after a day in the mud. Marine-grade vinyl covers the seats. One particularly nifty feature is a bolt-in device rack that extends the width of the instrument panel so you can securely attach devices such as a smartphone or GPS monitor.
The Bronco is also fitted with Ford’s next-generation SYNCH4 system. In addition to being compatible with Apple and Android connectivity systems, it offers new off-road applications, 360-degree camera views with off-road specific features and over-the-air system updates, all displayed on the standard 8-inch or available 12-inch touchscreen. Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 menu of driver-assist technologies is also available.
Off-road specific technologies include Trail Control – a form of low-speed cruise control for off-road driving – and Trail Turn Assist, which tightens the turning radius by applying the inside brakes. The Bronco’s innovative Trail One-Pedal Drive system automatically controls acceleration and braking, giving the driver more precise control (and confidence) when crawling over rocks.
Competent to the core
The Bronco’s off-road ruggedness starts with its fully-boxed steel frame, coupled with steel underside protection plates. The HOSS independent suspension system features twin alloy A-arms and coil-over springs up front, while a five-link setup with active bushings and coil-over springs connect with the solid rear axle. A Bilstein position-sensitive shock absorber package is available. The suspension, which also features an electronic-disconnect front anti-roll bar, can deliver from 200 millimetres to 261 mm of travel, depending on the model.
The Bronco gets its power from a turbocharged 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that’s projected to generate 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. If you’re looking for more grunt, there’s an optional 2.7L EcoBoost V-6 with twin turbochargers that’s expected to produce 310 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque.
The base engine is paired with a seven-speed Getrag manual transmission (six speeds plus a crawler gear. The 2.7L V-6 gets a 10-speed automatic, which is an optional choice for the base 2.3L four-cylinder.
High tech goes off-road
The Bronco’s go-anywhere, anytime prowess is enhanced its exclusive Terrain Management System that is designed to help drivers better navigate any type of terrain. The system offers up to seven driver-selectable modes, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl for off-road driving.
Two 4x4 systems are offered on all models. The standard 4x4 transfer case has part-time selectable engagement with a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly feature. An optional advanced 4x4 system, with automatic on-demand four-wheel high engagement and two-speed electromechanical transfer case, is available.
The front and rear differentials are supplied by Dana. Spicer Performa-Trak electronic locking differentials are available front and rear.
Broad choice of wheels, tires and models
A range of wheels and tires are offered, including the segment’s first 35-inch off-road tire package offered direct from the factory – and they’re available on every trim level on both the two-door and four-door models. The base Bronco’s standard rim/tire package 16-inch polished and silver-painted steel rims with 30-inch p255/70R16 all-season tires and then the offerings climb skyward. The Outer Banks trim gets 18-inch black aluminum rims with 32-inch LT255/70R18 rubber and there are nine 17-inch rim choices with tires up to 35-inch LT315/70R17 mud terrain tires to handle the toughest off-road challenges. Bronco also offers an available beadlock-capable wheel package – also a segment first – to enhance off-road capability.
Six Bronco models, with 11 colour choices, are being offered for 2021: a base, no-frills model for owners who want to make their own custom touches; Big Bend, Black Diamond and the Outer Banks, each offering a variety of options and colours; and the Wildtrak and Badlands for more extreme off-road adventuring.
As with the five generations before it, the all-new The 2021 Bronco two-door and four-door models will be built at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich. – the same plant where the previous generations were assembled. Canadian pricing starts at $40,499, with more details, including vehicle specs, accessories and options, to be announced closer to the launch date next spring. However, if you’re keen to be at the head of the line for a new Bronco, Ford is accepting reservations, including a $100 deposit, now at www.ford.ca/bronco.
Then there’s the Bronco Sport!
The Bronco, with its focus on off-road capability, is designed to appeal to adventurers who relish the excitement and challenge of exploring the outdoors with their vehicle – the machine itself is a key part of the adventure. For Bronco Sport owners, their vehicle is more a means of conveyance to an outdoor adventure – drive off the beaten path, then explore further by hiking, paddling, cycling or whatever. That’s not say, however, the Sport can’t muster some off-road chops of its own. As one Ford presenter quipped, “this isn’t just an Escape with big wheels.”
Like the senior members of the family, “Bronco Jr.” has standard 4x4 across its lineup and is engineered to handle whatever a weekend adventurer has in mind. Listed as a subcompact SUV, this four-door, five-passenger vehicle has been designed to handle such space-consuming items as two mountain bikes, which can be securely stowed upright in the cargo area, thanks to the extra headroom created by the stepped, safari-style roof. In addition, more than 100 factory-backed accessories enable weekend warriors to outfit their Sport for carrying such adventure gear as kayaks, skis, surfboards or camping equipment.
Access to the low-load cargo area is enhanced by a high-lift tailgate, where an available slide-out tabletop, class-exclusive 400-watt power inverter and overhead LED floodlights add to the Sport’s adventure capabilities. A flip-up liftgate glass window adds to the functionality.
Engine and model choices
Two engine packages are offered for the Bronco Sport – the base 1.5-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder with a projected output of 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque, and the optional 2.0L EcoBoost four-cylinder (standard in the Badlands trim) that is expected to be rated at a best-in-class 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0 engine comes with additional transmission and rear-drive coolers. The Badlands model adds SelectShift with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Buyers can choose from four trim levels in the ’21 Bronco Sport lineup: a base model with the 1.5L four-cylinder, a terrain management system with five modes and SYNC3 as standard equipment; Big Bend, with the 1.5L four-cylinder, easy-clean cloth seating, rubberized flooring and MOLLE straps and zipped pockets in the front seatbacks for additional storage; Outer Banks, with the 1.5L four-cylinder, wheel upgrade to 18-inch alloy rims, leather seat trimmings, heated steering wheel and power heated front seats; and the Badlands, with a focus on off-road capabilities that’s enhanced by 28.5-inch-diameter all-terrain tires mounted on 17-inch alloy rims (29-inch all-terrain offroad tires with more aggressive, deeper treads are available) and an advanced 4x4 system with a class-exclusive twin-clutch rear-drive unit with a differential lock feature that can divert virtually all rear axle torque to either wheel.
The Bronco Sport, like its big brothers, features Ford’s Terrain Management System with up to seven available modes, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand on the standard system, while the Badlands adds Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl modes.
Canadian pricing for the Bronco Sport starts at $32,199 and, like the Bronco, more details, including vehicle specs, accessories and options, will be available closer to the launch date late this year. You can also make a reservation (accompanied by a $100 deposit) for the Bronco Sport at www.ford.ca/bronco.