When it comes to the off-road market, the benchmark for the past several decades has been the Jeep Wrangler. Blending impressive off-road capability with an impressive degree of heritage and aftermarket capability, the Wrangler has been the undisputed king of a very lucrative niche of the broader SUV market. Many have tired to challenge it over the years (including past iterations of Bronco,) but all failed to knock the Wrangler off its perch. However, Ford is confident that it has what it takes to pull the upset of the century, and it has revived the legendary Bronco nameplate to do just that.
The exterior styling of the 2021 Ford Bronco and its smaller sibling the Bronco Sport take heavy inspiration from the first generation Bronco of the early 1960s, with both models adopting a functional profile that embraces short overhangs, and tasteful nods to the original. The look is still distinctly square, but its not too boxy, and the Bronco’s clean lines are a refreshing blast of fresh air in the segment. Thankfully the Bronco has not gone soft in its pursuit of style, with the canvas still having enough hard edges and minimal frills to help create a very distinctive identity. There is also a high degree of functionality in the design, with Ford engineers adding a number of touches to help enhance the Bronco’s trail abilities. A prominent example of this are the trim pieces on the corners of the Bronco’s hood. Known as Trail Sights, they serve a dual purpose, with the trim pieces not only acting as a tie down point for roof mounted gear, but also as indicators that tell the driver where the front corners are when driving through obstacles. Ford also managed to solve the mirror problem, with engineers mounting them on the cowl instead of the doors. This solution kills two birds with one stone by not only making the doors less awkward to remove, but also allows buyers to retain the ability to see what’s behind them.
On the subject of the doors, they also mesh nicely with the removable roof panels that both the two door and the four door Bronco have. The two door model has three such panels, with Ford claiming that all the panels can be removed easily by one person with release latches. This is a key contrast to the Wrangler which does use latches for the front two panels, but requires tools to remove the bigger rear panel. The four door model uses four panels, with a big center piece joining the other three. Ford claims that this gives the four door Bronco the best view of the sky in the segment, and we will certainly agree that not having a center beam obstruct part of the view is a nice change of pace. The type of roof depends on what flavor of Bronco you choose, with the two door having a hardtop only. In contrast, the four door is the only way that buyers can get the soft top, but if they still want the hardtop, they can equip both to it.
The interior of the Bronco largely follows the same script as the exterior, and embraces a modular layout that encourages customization. The essentials are all fixed (steering wheel, the seats, etc.”) But other than those items, Ford gave plenty of leeway to buyers. A taste of this appears on the dashboard, with Ford engineers actually pre-wiring and creating mount points for aftermarket accessories such as lighting and other items. An 8.0 inch touchscreen is standard equipment, but buyers can opt for an optional 12.0 inch unit that utilizes SYNC 4 software, and comes with a number of off-road focused goodies designed to enhance the thrill of adventure for buyers. This includes a special function that lets you map out a trail, and then share it with your friends via social media. Ford is also aware that the cabin has to be durable enough to survive whatever a buyer might throw at it. As a result, Ford will be offering a marine grade vinyl grade upholstery, a rubberized floor, as well as drain plugs to help drain out excess water especially after a passing shower.
When the Bronco makes its way to dealerships, it will arrive with a very extensive list of accessories that aim to enhance the levels of customization and versatility that the Bronco delivers to customers. This is also a very obvious attempt to steal sales away from the Jeep Wrangler, which wields its own suite of accessories, and has proven to be a lucrative cash cow for FCA’s Mopar accessories brand. It will be interesting to see if the Bronco’s accessory lineup will achieve the same levels of brand recognition and identity as the Jeep’s, but the answer to that question will have to wait until the Bronco has more time to formally entrench itself in the broader marketplace.
Performance for the 2021 Bronco will come from two different members of the EcoBoost engine family. The base engine is a reminder of the Bronco’s Ranger based DNA, with the 2.3 liter EcoBoost four cylinder powering lower trim Broncos. Like the Ranger, the engine is good for 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, with Ford claiming that the latter figure is the best in the segment. Buyers looking for more power can equip their rig with the 2.7 liter EcoBoost V6. This V6 has already played a key role in vastly expanding the F-150’s sales numbers, so look for it to perhaps make a strong selling sequel with the Bronco. Here it makes 310 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, but it can only be equipped with a 10-speed automatic. The smaller 2.3 liter can be equipped with a novel 7-speed manual gearbox that includes a built in crawler gear (the 10-speed automatic can be swapped in as an option.) The Bronco will bring a massive infusion of rugged 4×4 equipment to buyers. A highlight for us is the optional (and cleverly named) Sasquatch package. Choosing this package is the only way you can equip the Bronco with 35-inch tires and locking differentials.
Ford will also be bringing two different 4×4 systems to the Bronco, with the base system using an electronic shift on the fly setup to quickly switch between modes. Choose the more advanced version, and you get an electro-mechanical transfer case that allows users to experience “on-demand 4H engagement” with a 3:06:1 low range gear. Climb all seven rungs of the trim ladder, and you gradually gain access to more of the Bronco’s off-road potential. This is especially evident in the Black Diamond and Outer Banks models, with these two trims really kicking off the Bronco’s metamorphosis into a potent off-road vehicle. Ford formally released the pricing for the entire two door lineup after its splashy debut yesterday, and we have included those figures in the chart below. The Bronco also brings an impressive array of shielding for critical components including the transfer case, engine and the transmission. This allows the SUV to avoid costly damage from rouge obstacles while also giving drivers more confidence and security.
- Ford Bronco Base: $28,500
- Ford Bronco Big Bend: $33,385
- Ford Bronco Black Diamond: $36,050
- Ford Bronco Outer Banks: $38,995
- Ford Bronco Wildtrak: $42,095
- Ford Bronco Badlands: $48,875
- Ford Bronco First Edition: $59,305
Both the two and four door Bronco are now available for pre-order, with Ford only asking prospective buyers to put in a fully refundable $100 deposit to secure their spot on the waiting list. The Bronco certainly has the tools to back up its formidable bark, but ultimately, we will have to wait until the Bronco and the Wrangler have the chance to duke it out on the trails to see which one does indeed reign supreme.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.