When Ford announced their intention to largely ditch passenger cars in April 2018, critics instantly wondered what products would fill the gaps left behind by the loss of vehicles like the Fiesta and Focus. As hindsight has shown, Ford didn’t really have any direct replacements lined up, aside from the aging EcoSport. And although the Ranger successfully launched around that time, the two years that followed saw the Blue Oval introduce replacements for existing models but little else, aside from the Mustang Mach-E, which is still months away from reaching showrooms.
With the official introduction of the new 2021 Ford Bronco and 2021 Bronco Sport, Ford has entered a new era. A period that will see the company dive head first into segments it hasn’t competed in for quite some time. Considering all the new information that’s available, they just might be able to pull it off, provided there aren’t any hiccups along the way.
The revived Bronco was perhaps Ford’s worst-kept secret of all time. There’s been steady leaks seemingly forever. But it’s finally here. Clearly, Ford looked to the original model for inspiration. But the new Bronco is also proportioned similarly to a 2004 concept that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson requested be featured in the 2018 film Rampage. And that little tidbit is why you’re sitting here reading this post right now. Bronco enthusiasm never really faded away. It just steadily grew until reaching a fever pitch. Bronco restoration outfits are no joke and demand for first generation models in remotely decent condition fetches big bucks these days.
Why has Ford taken so long to reintroduce the Bronco? They didn’t have a suitable platform, until the Ranger was reintroduced in the US. The 2021 Bronco isn’t just about the launch of one utility vehicle. It’s essentially a test bed for future Blue Oval product introductions and branding for their new emphasis on lifestyle vehicles. That included a product blitz across multiple broadcast networks and the launch of an official enthusiast website. “Built Wild” is the mantra for the Bronco sub-brand, which will introduce even more vehicles in the future. But at its core, the offerings will share a similar exterior aesthetic, four-wheel traction, and off-road capability. Models that fall underneath the Bronco umbrella are also apparently subjected to additional quality and durability testing.
Additionally, you can already visit a dedicated Bronco page on Amazon because merchandising (which according to Spaceball’s Yogurt, is where the real money is made). Ford is also promising at least 200 accessories at launch for the regular Bronco and at least 100 for the Bronco Sport.
Pomp and circumstance aside, in order to effectively launch a modern off-roader, Ford needed to offer a truly substantial vehicle. It appears they delivered on that front. The 2021 Bronco will feature an open air cabin without any type of roof support structure between the B-pillar. Doors are frameless and can be stored out back in provided storage bags, at least on four door models. On two door models, two of the three removable roof sections will be able to be stored in the rear cargo area. Owners that want flexibility between having a hard or soft top won’t have to choose as they can keep both, provided it’s a four door model. Body mounted side mirrors are another distinct advantage over the competition. It will also have standard side curtain airbags, which the Jeep Wrangler currently lacks.
Mechanically speaking, the Bronco will also more than hold its own against the Wrangler. Two engines will be available at launch. Standard is Ford’s 2.3 liter four cylinder EcoBoost, which is rated at 270 horsepower and 310 Ib-ft of torque. The optional 2.7 liter EcoBoost promises 310 horsepower and 400 Ib-ft of torque. That latter engine is much bigger news. Jeep’s 2.0 liter turbo and Pentastar V6 can’t match it. And while the optional EcoDiesel boasts 440 Ib-ft of torque, it comes up short by fifty horsepower and costs $6,000 extra. Ford will also back it up with their 10-speed automatic, which has two more forward gears than the ZF unit in the Wrangler. One big caveat to all this is that Ford has not disclosed weight figures for the Bronco. The Bronco sits on an updated version of the T6 platform that is currently used on the Ranger, although Ford claimed the Bronco’s chassis is “all-new.”
Standard on the Bronco is a new 7-speed manual transmission from Getrag. It’s kind of a big deal because it will offer a crawler gear for low speed maneuvers. And to back that up, Ford has outfitted the Bronco with an optional four-wheel drive system that automates a lot of the stuff you’d typically adjust while off-roading. Even Jeep’s most sophisticated four-wheel drive mode, the Rock-Trac system, cannot adjust things like differential locking, 4WD engagement, or stabilizer bar disconnecting. Ford’s system doesn’t need driver input for that type of stuff.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Bronco will be infallible off the pavement. In fact, the Wrangler still wins in several key areas when it comes to all the important numbers for off-roading like approach and departure angles. But the Ford is simply a bigger vehicle in most respects. Plus, the Bronco has an independent front suspension and a longer wheelbase. That should help it eke out a win against the Wrangler for on-pavement refinement, even if the JL represented a big improvement over its predecessor.
Pricing is competitive too. With a $29,995 starting price, it’s slightly above the Jeep’s $29,970 base MSRP. Both aforementioned models are for the two door variants. Four door Broncos start at just under $35,000. Pricing tops out at a tad over $60,000 for the First Edition, which is a limited production model. The Bronco is also configured to allow buyers to get all the off-road goodies in one package. Unlike its namesake, the Sasquatch Package should be easy to find, as it’s available on every trim level. That means even the entry level Broncos will be able to be equipped with the aforementioned electromechanical 4×4 system. Additionally, the package comes with 17-inch beadlock wheels with 35-inch mud-terrain tires, front and rear locking differentials, high-clearance suspension and fenders, Bilstein shock absorbers, and more. Base model Wranglers cannot be equipped with the most advanced features in the lineup, like the stuff offered on the Rubicon.
Inside, the Bronco also seems to boast a cabin that’s a bit more upscale than the competition, although we won’t know for sure until we get our hands on one. But it will offer Ford’s latest Sync 4 infotainment system, which will include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Over the air updates are also standard. Base models will get an eight inch touchscreen. The twelve inch model, shown above, is optional. Mold resistant seats are also available.
The 2021 Bronco can be reserved for $100 now and will reach dealers in Spring 2021.
Ford is also launching a successor to the Bronco II. The 2021 Bronco Sport differs from its larger sibling in one significant area: it’s based on a car platform. Specifically, it sits on the same architecture that underpins the new Escape, Corsair, and Focus. As such, it will offer two of the former’s engines: the 1.5 EcoBoost three cylinder, good for 181 horsepower and 190 Ib-ft. of torque, and the 2.0 liter EcoBoost four, which is rated at 245 horsepower and 275 Ib-ft of torque.
All-wheel drive is standard and the sole transmission is Ford’s eight-speed automatic. All these components are shared with the Escape, but the Sport will also offer an optional AWD system with a twin clutch and a torque vectoring rear differential.
As with the Bronco, the Bronco Sport boasts some nifty features. Standard on every model is a bottle opener that’s integrated into the tailgate opening. The rear glass will also be able to be opened separately from the rear tailgate, which is a feature that has largely disappeared from most modern utility vehicles. It can also accommodate two bikes standing up side-by-side, provided the seats are folded down.
And it will also be designed with some light off-roading in mind. Trim levels, like the in the regular Bronco, are named after national parks. The Badlands trim, which is roughly similar to something like a Rubicon, will offer buyers all-terrain tires, the optional AWD system, a one inch lift and unique suspension tuning, plus more robust shocks and struts. That brings ground clearance to 8.8 inches. Non-Badlands models will have 7.8 inches of ground clearance. Pricing starts at just over $28,000, which is slightly higher than the Cherokee.
While the Bronco does battle with the likes of the Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover Defender, the Bronco Sport will slug it out with the Jeep Cherokee. But it will also compete with the Subaru Crosstrek and even the Toyota Rav4, which took on a Tacoma aesthetic for the current generation. Shoppers who may have not liked the 2020 Escape’s pivot to a smoother, more car oriented product will probably find a lot to like with the Sport too.
With the launch of the 2021 Bronco lineup and redesigned 2021 Ford F-150, Ford has launched an all-out offensive against FCA by addressing the shortcomings in its full-size pickup and by bringing to market utilities that offer laser focused, distinctive trim levels and clever features. But Ford has to worry about other companies too. And they’re facing stiff competition in every segment they haven’t withdrawn from.
Last year’s Explorer debacle didn’t help things either. Perhaps CEO Jim Hackett trusted Ford leadership too much. Although to be fair, he did inherit a stale product cadence from Mark Fields. But Hackett deserves credit for having a decent grasp on what Ford needs to do right now to stand out from the crowd. He justifiably pushed for the Mach E to be legitimately compelling, not just some compliance vehicle. And aside from the Explorer, other product launches have gone smoothly. The EcoSport and Ranger have good reliability ratings and the Escape’s launch was a drama-free affair.
However, it’s premature to say that Ford is out of the woods. Less than ten years ago, Ford was touting its sophisticated, Euro-inspired lineup and the ST performance sub-brand of cars. Both of those things have essentially evaporated due to Ford’s quality control issues and sub optimal plant utilization. Ford needed to emphasize its push toward trucks because of its past failings. It cannot keep making mistakes in a world where Toyota is making killer hybrids, Tesla is releasing compelling EVs, and Hyundai and Kia are winning over critics (and customers) with their value-laden three-row crossovers. But as of right now, it looks like Ford is increasingly getting at least some of its mojo back.