The name may be a throwback but not much else is.
The 2021 Ford Bronco SUV is a modern interpretation of an old-school truck. It’s a return for the automaker to a name rooted in its history and a nod to shoppers’ present demands for anything with a tall-ride height. Doors optional, natch.
When it goes on sale in spring 2021, the Bronco will pose the biggest threat to the king of off-road SUVs for now—the Jeep Wrangler. Like the Jeep, the 2021 Bronco is available in two- or four-door configuration, with or without doors or a roof, serious off-road chops, and a standard manual transmission. The two share a starting price below $30,000, but neither stays there for long. The Bronco will be available in base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, and Wildtrak trim levels that ascend in price, off-road hardware, and creature comforts. Adventure starts with our wallets, of course.
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Style and performance
The two- and four-door 2021 Bronco’s looks borrow heavily from the older models, specifically the late-1960s versions. The broad grille and brick-in-the-wind shape are period-correct for the Bronco, just leave the beehive ‘dos at home, please. That’s because like the older Bronco, the new SUV has removable doors and roof panels. (The new Bronco’s panels likely fit back way better than the old ones, however.)
Designers scanned old Broncos and stole its looks—deep wells of institutional intellectual property to draw from has its perks. The big “Bronco” grille is bookended by round headlights just inches ahead of the wheels like the first versions. The new Bronco pushes its wheels to the corners for not only better approach and departure angles, but also for maximum interior space. The two-door version rides on a wheelbase that stretches only about 100 inches, and it’s nearly the same length as a subcompact hatchback.
The body sides are largely flat aside from a deep crease that runs underneath the windows along the Bronco. Its most interesting features are the chunky wheels—up to 35 inches tall—and removable flares for off-roading.
The rear swing gate opens wide for cargo and a pull-out shelf doubles as a front-row bench seat to our next campfire. A hard- or soft-top roof is removable and available in contrasting colors to the body.
Inside, the upright themes continue with a horizontal dash that includes an 8.0- or 12.0-inch touchscreen. The chunky shifter and traction-mode select knobs are complemented by textured rubber buttons, a mounted device rail for action cameras or smartphones, and a big square “Bronco” badge in the dash.
The Bronco wears subtly different looks depending on trim level, but most will leave the factory with a 2.3-liter turbo-4 under the hood that makes 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, borrowed from the Ranger pickup and Mustang coupe. The Bronco is equipped with a standard 7-speed manual transmission that includes a very low first “crawler” gear or, more likely, an optional 10-speed automatic transmission that’s shared with the Ranger. Wildtrak and Badlands Broncos upgrade to a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 that’s borrowed from the F-150 pickups, which makes 310 hp and 400 lb-ft. The Bronco can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped.
But we’re here for the off-road hardware, and Ford abides. A Sasquatch off-road package, which is available for every trim level, adds beefy 35-inch tires on 17-inch, beadlock-capable wheels; locking front and rear differentials; thick Bilstein position-sensitive shocks with end-stop control valves; and an advanced four-wheel-drive system.
Heavy-duty modular bumpers, skid plates, disconnecting sway bars, wash-out floors, and wash-and-ready vinyl seats are scattered throughout the lineup, rewarding adventurous buyers with plenty of options to go beyond where the pavement ends. The Bronco can ford up to nearly 3 feet of water in case the pavement ended way, way, way back there.
Ford also has promised more than 200 factory-approved accessories for the Bronco, although it’s unclear if some will affect performance.
Comfort, safety, and features
The 2021 Ford Bronco comes assembled from the factory, but we suggest you improve on that by disassembling it when you get it home. It’s the opposite of Legos, but we think it’d be just as much fun.
Available in two- or four-door configurations, the Bronco measures about 174 inches or 190 inches, respectively. The two-door version rides on a wheelbase that measures just 100 inches from hub to hub—about the same wheelbase as a Ford Fiesta. The four-door’s wheelbase is stretched about 16 inches compared to the two-door, although both are identical in height and width.
According to Ford, all four doors can peel off with a few tools and a few spare minutes and can stow in the cargo area neatly. Neat.
Ford hasn’t provided many specifics on dimensions and cargo space, but the Bronco seats up to five in some comfort, with rear passengers getting an unobstructed view of the sky with no roof pillar overhead.
A range of interior materials is available, from durable cloth to monsoon-grade vinyl, to leather upholstery. Ford says an 8.0-inch touchscreen is equipped in all Broncos, but a 12.0-inch version is available in some trims with premium audio.
Every Bronco is equipped with a suite of active safety features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, and automatic high beams. Bronco Outer Banks and higher trims get adaptive cruise control, too.
Ford hasn’t given us a walk through the trim levels, but we know broad strokes. Base models get an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, 17-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, and a handshake. Big Bend editions get a few more creature comforts, including optional safety extras and an onboard power inverter to power gear when the going gets off the grid. Black Diamond models add durable vinyl upholstery, heavy-duty bumpers, rubber floors, and skid plates. Outer Banks is the stylish version of the bunch and adds interior LED lights, 18-inch wheels, an available 12.0-inch touchscreen, and premium audio. Wildtrak adds a twin-turbo V-6 and 17-inch wheels with 35-inch tires, while Bronco Badlands goes all-out on all of the above: leather upholstery, 12.0-inch touchscreen, premium audio, off-road hardware, bigger engine, wash-out floors, front and rear lockers, and a high-five.
The 2021 Bronco arrives in spring 2021.