2021 Ford Bronco First Look
Photography by Ford
The Bronco has finally returned to Ford’s stable and the details, technology and specs we know so far indicate this machine is going to be a total beast off-road. Unlike Broncos of the past, this reborn icon is now part of a family. Yes, there’s going to be more than one Bronco.
When it arrives on dealer lots in spring 2021 (you can pre-order one now through Ford’s website with a $100 deposit) there will be a “family” of Broncos that includes a traditional two-door Bronco, a four-door Bronco and even a smaller four-door Bronco Sport crossover based on a modified version of the Ford Escape. The Bronco Sport is actually a neat rig for those that need a more street friendly wagon. And it will compete directly with Jeep’s Compass and Cherokee. However, without a low range, its capability will be limited. So, we’ll focus here on the bigger, more trail-capable Bronco—the one that we’ve been dreaming about for years.
Here’s some important stuff right up front:
- Base price is $29,995 with over 200 factory-backed accessories for personalization
- Sasquatch off-road package brings 35-inch tires and a hardcore grouping of 4X4 parts to any trim level—even base
- On top-trim Badlands, the IFS front and five-link solid axle rear suspension has around 10 inches of wheel travel at each corner
- Up to seven G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Terrain) drivetrain management modes including Rock Crawl and Baja
- Near 95:1 crawl ratio on certain manual transmission Broncos
- Front and rear electronic lockers are available
- Some Broncos can ford 33.5 inches of water, have heavy-duty steel bumpers and wear rock sliders that are strong enough to support the weight of the vehicle
- Hydraulically disconnecting front swaybar allows a ramp travel index (RTI) of 700 on some two-door models
- Available 2.7-liter V6 makes 310 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque
And here’s what we know so far in detail:
When Ford showed a teaser image of the new Bronco’s profile under a sheet back in 2018, fans were relieved—and excited. It clearly looked like a beefed-up, modern take on the classic early Bronco silhouette with an upright windshield and unmistakably huge fender arches. Now that we can see the Bronco uncovered for the first time (not counting spy photos) we have to say it looks great. The overhangs are short, the hips are slim and everything is flanked by those massive fenders on the most capable models. We really wouldn’t change a thing.
To get the rig right, the design team 3D scanned the 1976 Bronco owned by Ford’s Chief Designer Moray Callum. Bronco designer Paul Wraith says the laser scanning was so exact it could pick up the orange peel in the paint of Callum’s Bronco. These scans were used to get the Bronco packaging and details correct. We particularly like that the team kept the peaked front fenders. On the new Bronco they not only work as “trail sights” to show the driver where the bodywork ends but also serve as tie downs for securing items like a kayak to the roof. Smart.
Once a styling buck of the Bronco was created, the team didn’t just evaluate the design with all four tires flat on the ground. They pitched it into a position where the front and rear suspensions were at max articulation and the body was leaned over at an angle. The reason? To find out how the interior design would work in the real world—flexed out on a trail. And that helped the team make sure the removable grab handles around the cabin were properly placed and choose materials that kept gear and interior items secured and not sliding around. The Bronco’s tailgate opens out more than 90 degrees and allows access to a slide-out shelf at the rear of the rig.
The designers even created an optional bolt-in rack system that spans the top of the dash to anchor your phone, Go Pro camera or other items. And it includes a built-in power source. Some models have a rubberized floor with drain plugs as well as weatherproof marine-grade vinyl seating. And the “hero” switches that control trail tools like locking diffs and the front swaybar are located up high in the dash’s center stack, where it’s easy to reach them.
As one might imagine the roof of both the two and four door Broncos are removable with a standard softop and optional hardtop. And the doors are removable too. Ford located the overhead crossbrace on four-door Broncos behind the rear passenger’s heads in line with the C-pillar. The result? When the top is down, rear seat passengers have completely open airspace above them. Cool.
Ford says the roof, doors and wheel flares have all been designed for easy removal. On four-door Broncos, those front doors weigh roughly 55 pounds and the rear ones weigh 43-lbs. They can be stored inside the truck in bags behind the rear seat too. So, no need to leave them behind on the trail or in the garage. Ford says the fenders, hood, doors and rear tailgate are all aluminum and that the bodywork has been designed for ease of replacement if dented or damaged on the trail. Wow. That’s the first time we’ve ever heard an automaker make provisions like that.
The Bronco will come standard with a 2.3-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder with an estimated 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The four-cylinder comes standard with a new 7-speed manual. But it’s not your average manual. It’s a six-speed with an additional seventh “crawler” gear for off-road use—just like some of our favorite 4X4s had back in the day. We can’t wait to give that one a try. Ford says they expect less than 10 percent of Bronco buyers to take the manual, so Ford’s familiar 10-speed automatic is optional.
A 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 from the F-150 lineup is an extra cost upgrade and should be the motor of choice for the go-fast crowd. It’s projected to belt out 310 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque here. Unfortunately, that glorious manual transmission isn’t available with the big motor. Instead, it comes paired to a standard 10-speed automatic.
The standard transfer case is an electronic shift on the fly unit with a 2.72:1 low range. An optional electro-mechanical torque-on-demand (EMTC) transfer case with 3.06:1 low range comes on more capable Bronco versions and adds a 4WD Auto mode in addition to the usual positions for 2WD, 4WD High Range and 4WD Low Range. Ford says that automatic Broncos equipped with the EMTC transfer case have a crawl ratio of 67.8:1 and manual Bronco will inch along with a ratio of 94.75:1.
The Bronco, like other Ford 4X4s will have a terrain management system that can manipulate the traction control, stability control, throttle, brakes and in some models activate the transfer case and electronic locking differentials too. Ford calls these its G.O.A.T modes—Goes Over Any Terrain. A phrase that harkens back to the nickname for the original Bronco. The standard Bronco will have five GOAT modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand. And some models also receive Mud/Ruts Rock Crawl and Baja (Baja deletes Sport mode).
The Beef Beneath
The Bronco doesn’t ride on the bones of the current Ranger. Instead Ford is debuting the improved midcycle update of that T6 chassis here. Still, the Bronco is in many ways its own machine. The fully-boxed ladder frame comes in two wheelbases, 100.4-inches (two-door) and 116.1-inches (four door) models.
Though a solid front axle was rumored, the Bronco will instead have an independent suspension. Bronco chief engineer Eric Loeffler admits the team discussed the idea of a solid front axle early in the program, but says, it was “a very short discussion.”
Loeffler’s team felt that the benefits of IFS outweighed any disadvantages, especially when it came to higher-speed off road desert driving performance. And that type of four-wheeling was a priority for the team.
The standard Bronco will use a double A-arm, coil-spring suspension up front with a Dana Advantek M190 differential that has a 7.5-inch ring gear. But models with the Spicer Performa-Trak electronic locking front differential have the larger M210 with an 8.3-inch ring gear.
In the rear, the Bronco has its own unique five-link suspension not shared with the Ranger. And here all Broncos use a Dana Advantek M220 differential with an 8.66-inch ring gear. Models equipped with the Spicer Performa-Trak electronic locking rear differential have the same diff size.
To engineer off-road capability that rival or even surpasses the competition requires wheel travel. And the Bronco has it. To help get that travel, the control arm geometry has been altered compared to the Ranger and the track widened by around 4-inches. On trucks that have 35-inch tires, the wheel offset further widens that track. The base Bronco has 7.8 inches of wheel travel up front and 8.46-inches in the rear. And those aren’t bad numbers.
But the most-capable models ride on a suspension that’s about .75-inch taller and have 9.44-inches of wheel travel up front and 10.27-inches in the rear. That, Ford says, is 17 percent more than the Bronco’s closest competitor. But big tire fans take note, that spec is only achievable with 33-inch tires. Trucks with 35-inch tires have that travel reduced by a few millimeters to avoid clearance issues.
That longer travel suspension uses Bilstein’s position sensitive dampers which, according to Bronco chassis engineer Jamie Groves, performs similarly to an internal bypass damper. He says that as you get near maximum jounce or rebound you get a big increase in damping force and yet the dampers also provide a comfortable ride on the street.
“The truck has a bit of Raptor DNA in it,” says Groves. “It can cruise across the desert and you won’t get punished in the whoops.”
On models focused on slow-speed four-wheeling, the Bronco comes with a hydraulically actuated front swaybar disconnect that works when the Bronco is in 4WD. The difference between this unit and the one of the Wrangler is that the Bronco’s bar can be disconnected and reconnected under load. And Groves says once you push the button it will effortlessly connect and disconnect as you cycle through the 20-mph speed threshold.
Ford measured the Bronco’s articulation on a 20-degree ramp and found that with the front swaybar attached, the two-door Bronco measures an RTI of 560 and the four-door hits 500. And they found that with the front swaybar disconnected that RTI score jumps to 700 for a two door and 620 for a four door. Those are great numbers for a stock IFS-equipped 4X4.
The Equipment Series
The big Bronco will come in seven trims levels or what Ford is calling “equipment series”: Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Black Diamond, Wildtrack and Badlands. Plus, a limited-run First Edition. The idea here is that each one will offer a unique blend of comfort, utility and capability.
The exact specs for each trim aren’t available quite yet but we do know a few things. Base models come standard with 30-inch, 255/70R16 all-season tires and the five standard G.O.A.T. modes. The Big Bend wears 32-inch tall 255/75R17 tires and receives an additional Mud/Ruts mode.
Black Diamond is the first package that’s aimed at real trail performance. It has full skid plating, rubberized waterproof seating offers the option of an electronic locking rear differential and wears 32-inch 265/70R17 all-terrain tires.
Outer Banks is the most luxurious trim in the Bronco line. It has standard heated cloth seats and an optional 12-inch touchscreen with B&O sound system. It runs 32-inch tall 255/70R18 all-terrain tires.
The Wildtrak is the desert-running package and naturally wears the long-travel Bilstein suspension along with having a Baja mode. It also has the 2.7-liter V6 standard too. Those big 35-inch tall 315/70R17 tires are also part of the package.
Badlands is one of the top off-road package. It has the longer-travel Bilstein suspension, front and rear locking differentials and wears 33-inch 285/70R17 all-terrain tires on optional beadlock-capable wheels. Plus, it receives the swaybar disconnect system as well as a Rock Crawl and Baja mode.
The First Edition bundles the luxury and tech of the Outer Banks with the off-road gear of the Badlands and Wildtrak exterior features. It’s basically—all the good stuff.
Any of these trims can be optioned with Ford’s ultimate off-road package playfully named Sasquatch. Why Sasquatch? Well because like the mythical creature, this one has some big feet. The Sasquatch wears the same big 315/70R17 mud-terrain tires as the Wildtrak. Sasquatch also has front and rear lockers, the lower 3.13:1 equipped torque on-demand transfer case, the long-travel Bilstein suspension and more. With that package, the Bronco has maximum approach angle of 43.2 degrees, a departure angle of 37.2 degrees and a breakover angle of 29 degrees. And let’s not forget those tires provide almost a foot of ground clearance. The Sasquatch package is really cool because it can be optioned onto any Bronco trim. That means buyers can go for the base Bronco to save cash and then opt for Sasquatch for the ultimate in trail capability.
Check the right options and the Bronco will arrive with a 360-degree camera system. That includes a new feature called “Spotter View” that can show the driver exactly what’s in front of every tire. The Bronco’s Sync 4 infotainment system includes an off-road navigation system that’s really cool. Say you’re going on a four-wheeling adventure to Arizona and don’t know the trails there. You can download pre-loaded trails, check out trails others have uploaded and even share your trials you discover. This could be a game-changer for those that want an easy way to find cool trails in places they’ve never been before.
The Bronco innovation doesn’t stop there. Trail Turn Assist is a system Ford developed to help the Bronco make tighter turns on the trail. First, make sure the rear locker is unlocked and your speed is below 12 mph. Then the system looks for a high steering angle.
“When you get into that last ¼ turn before lock, it knows you’re trying to negotiate a tight turn and starts to apply brake pressure primarily to the inside rear wheel and a little to the inside front,” says engineer Groves. “Stay on the throttle and the system pushes all the torque to the outside tires and the Bronco begins to pivot. It can reduce the turn circle by 40 percent in soft terrain and basically turn in the length of the truck.”
Another piece of cool trail tech is One-Pedal Drive.
“When you’re rock crawling and constantly feathering the brake and throttle to get it to creep across the rocks it takes some skill, says engineer Groves. “The one pedal drive mode allows a novice driver who doesn’t know how to do that to lift from the throttle and have the brakes come in.”
It’s been a quarter century since the Bronco nameplate was last worn by a Ford truck. And after pouring over the details Ford has released so far, we have little doubt this new one is going to be immensely capable (and fun) off road. But if we know Ford, there’s probably plenty of other cool stuff planned for the Bronco in the coming years. Jeep recently teased us with the Wrangler Rubicon 392 concept with a giant hood scoop and a 450 hp V8 under the hood. If Jeep makes a JL with a big V8, which it sounds like it might—would Ford eventually counter that with a Shelby Bronco? Let’s hope so. These are exciting times to be a 4X4 fan.