It’s finally here, the long wait for a proper Jeep Wrangler competitor is over with the 2021 Ford Bronco.
Talk about a reveal that brought out what was promised. On July 13, 2020, Ford finally showed the world what the 2021 Ford Bronco was going to look like in the wild. Personally, I have to say that this has been a great blending of the classic looks of the 1960s Bronco and modernization that should make this a very capable SUV.
What is Coming on the 2021 BroncoLet’s talk about what this Bronco is: it’s sort of a SUV version of the four-wheel drive Ford Ranger with a five-link rear axle and coilovers all around. Yes, this means it gets an independent front suspension, a 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder (that’s still pumping out 270-horsepower, by the way) standard or optional 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 (that’s putting out 310-horsepower and something the Ranger doesn’t get), and a “seven-speed” manual (again, the Ranger doesn’t get this) or 10-speed automatic. It’s not a Jeep with a Ford badge and that’s a good thing because it is a very modern, off-road capable SUV that will come with four-wheel drive standard on all trims, including the base. There will not be a two-wheel drive version of the Bronco.
DrivetrainAnother thing to point out is my quotation marks around “seven-speed” for the manual supplied by Getrag. It is technically a seven speed, but its lowest gear is a crawler gear with 6.588:1 ratio. That is a first for any manual transmission vehicle that I’m aware of in a modern, fuel-injected and American-sold truck or SUV. The only issue I have is that it’s only offered on the 2.3-liter inline-four EcoBoost and not the 2.7-liter V6 EcoBoost. I’d think it would be great to have this transmission in the V6, but it will have to make do with the 10-speed automatic. That 10-speed is unique to the Bronco as it is geared lower than the SelectShift found in the Ranger up until seventh gear (a 1:1 ratio) where both trucks will be the same. Its first gear, for example, will be a 4.714:1 to the Ranger’s 4.696:1 ratio.
Transfer CasesThere will be two transfer cases offered that will attach to the output shaft of those transmissions. The standard transfer case is a two-speed, electric shift-on-the-fly case with a 2.72:1 low ratio and gives the manual crawler crawl ratio of 79.91:1 (the automatic will have a 57.19:1 crawl ratio).
The optional “advanced” transfer case has a two-speed electromechanical engagement for automatic and on-demand high-ratio four-wheel drive capability. It will also get the lowest crawl ratios. The automatic will have a crawl ratio of 67.8:1 while the manual and its crawler gear will get a staggering 94.75:1 crawl ratio. That’s not even accounting for the final gear options in the differentials.
Front and Rear DifferentialsJeep Wrangler owners boast about using the legendary Dana axles, well the Bronco will be no different, even on the front axle. The rear is a solid axle Dana 44 AdvanTEK that can come with a Spicer Performa-TraK electric locking differential. The front axle is a Dana AdvanTEK – a similar axle to what is used on the 2020 Ford Ranger – and will have the Performa-TraK e-differential as an option.
The reason I say similar is because the gear ratios available for the Bronco range from the standard 3.73:1 to as high as 4.70:1 in the manual transmission Badlands and all Sasquatch models. The Ranger, as an example, only has a 3.73:1 final drive.
The EnginesAgain, both the 2.3-liter inline-four EcoBoost is like what already comes in the 2020 Ford Ranger, even in the power production at 270-horsepower and 310-lb.-ft of torque. We know that it is a good engine that makes great power, even on 87-octane fuel. What the Bronco will get over the Ranger is the 2.7-liter V6, which is a medium-level engine in the Ford F150. That engine will produce 310-horsepower and 400-lb.-ft of torque.
However, in looking between them, I wonder if the manual-equipped 2.3-liter with the advanced transfer case wouldn’t be the better option just thanks to that go-anywhere-over-anything 94.75:1 crawl ratio and the 4.70:1 final drive ratio of the Badlands or Sasquatch package. Most buyers will probably go “BIGGER IS BETTER” but the true rock crawling enthusiasts will see the total crawl ratio and opt for the smaller engine instead.
ChassisHere is where things really start to get interesting with the 2021 Ford Bronco and really depart from the 2020 Ford Ranger. First, we’re looking at a totally different rear suspension design. The Bronco utilizes a five-link, coilover suspension versus the Ranger’s leaf spring design. This allows the Bronco to be far more articulate over rocks than the Ranger. Both front and rear will utilize a coilover design with Bilstein Position Sensitive Dampers and part of the High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension (HOSS) System. The base Bronco will have a 7.87-inches of travel in the front and 8.46-inches of travel in the rear while the “Badlands” versions will get 9.45-inches of travel in the front and 10.28-inches of travel in the rear. Not quite Raptor levels but still respectable for a factory truck. The difference in the Badlands version does come in its suspension that is listed as a “unique, heavy-duty suspension with stabilizer bar disconnect.” That’s all Ford has explained so far.
TiresThe base design comes with a set of 30-inch diameter (255/70R16) Bridgestone Dueler H/T 685 tires while the Sasquatch, Wildtrak, and First Edition Broncos will get a set of 35-inch diameter (315/70R17) Goodyear Territory mud-terrain tires. This means that the base, two-door Bronco will have an 8.4-inch ground clearance (about 0.1-inch lower on the four-door) and a maximum of 11.6-inches (again, about 0.1-inch lower on the four-door) on the 35-inch tire versions. This will also give the Bronco Sasquatch a 33.5-inch water fording ability with its standard 35-inch tall tires.
Approach, Breakover, and DepartureThe taller tires will also change the three angles of approach, breakover, and departure while chassis length will only affect the breakover angle. The base approach angle will be 35.5-degrees while departure will be 29.8-degrees. On 35’s, that changes to 43.2-degrees on approach and 37.2-degrees on departure.
Breakover on the two-door base is 21.1-degrees and 20-degrees on the four-door base. On 35’s, you’ll gain eight-degrees (29-degrees) on the two-door and 6.3-degrees (26.3-degrees) on the four-door. Again, the difference comes in the change in wheelbase between the two- and four-door models. The two-door will have a 100.4-inch wheelbase while the four-door gains another 15.7-inches (116.1-inches).
The Different Series of BroncosIn typical Ford style, there are seven different versions of the 2021 Ford Bronco going on sale, including the “First Edition.” Each series has its own standard and optional parts but there are also different optional packages within them that are shared.
At the bottom of the Bronco totem is the base model. It’s billed as the “no-frills SUV” and perfect for the owner looking to do their own thing. It gets the two-speed transfer case, 2.3-liter EcoBoost, “seven-speed crawler” manual, Terrain Management System, 16-inch silver-painted steel wheels with 30-inch tires, Ford SYNC, carpeted floors, and cloth seats. It also gets the Terrain Management System with five Go Over AnyThing (GOAT) modes.
Then there is the Big Bend and named after the Big Bend National Park and a theme you’ll pick up on quickly between these series. It gets all of the base parts but adds 17-inch aluminum wheels and 32-inch tires, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, LED fog lights, privacy glass, and a Carbonized Gray grille. This series adds an additional GOAT mode.
The Black Diamond series takes from the Big Bend and adds a heavy-duty modular front bumper, a powder-coated steel rear bumper, rock rails to protect the side sills, heavy-duty bash plates, auxiliary switches in the overhead console, “marine-grade” vinyl-trimmed seats, and a rubberized flooring. This also gets seven GOAT modes.
Outer Banks gets everything Big Bend gets but adds 18-inch aluminum wheels with 32-inch tires, LED headlights and taillamps, body-color exterior door handles, body-color mirror caps, body-color fender flares, powder-coated tube steps (replacing the rock rails), and cloth bucket seats that are also heated. It also gets the “Mid” package standard which adds many technology related features like power outlets, dual-zone climate control, Ford Co-Pilot 360, and automatic high-beam headlights, among other gizmos.
Wildtrak is where you get the more interesting off-road features and technology as standard. This means you get most of the stuff from the Outer Banks series along with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6, the 10-speed auto, and advanced transfer case as standard. You’ll also get seven GOAT modes that includes Baja mode, Modular Shadow Black-painted version of the hard top, a “Wildtrak” hood graphic, and carpeted flooring.
Bandlands goes back to the Big Bend series Bronco, but then adds Rock Crawl and Baja to the GOAT modes and 33-inch (285/70R17) tires and its own unique suspension.
Finally, there is the First Edition of which there will only be 3500 made. It is a Badlands series Bronco but gets the Lux and Sasquatch packages, a “First Edition” hood and body graphics package, a modular Shadow Black-painted hard top, a safari bar, and a unique interior with leather-trimmed seats that are heated in the front while the driver also gets 10-way power adjustable positions.
The Sasquatch PackageAgain, each series can get one of four packages that includes things mostly related to technology and convenience parts. However, the only package that is available to all series is the Sasquatch and how Ford can say “every version of the 2021 Ford Bronco can come with 35-inch tall tires, including the base.” The Sasquatch package adds 17-inch aluminum wheels that can be adapted to beadlocks just like the Ford F-150 Raptor. It also gets the 35-inch diameter (315/70R17) Goodyear Territory mud-terrain tires, the electronic-locking front and rear axles, 4.70:1 final drive ratios, high-clearance suspension, and high-clearance fender flares.
My Verdict on the 2021 Ford BroncoIt’s hard to not argue that Ford is giving us a winner and that they listened very closely to the enthusiast and even the performance buyers. If everything stays the same at launch, we have a true Jeep Wrangler fighter on our hands. Sure, it doesn’t have a solid front axle, but off-road and rock crawling technology has grown away from making that a requirement for a high-performance off-road machine.
The aftermarket is certainly going to have a field day with the 2021 Ford Bronco, too. Rigid has already given hints as to what they will offer, and you can believe that both Fox and Bilstein have something waiting for you at launch to make this into a proper desert runner or Hammers King. I’m also certain we’ll see a 4600 Stock Class Bronco at the 2021 King of the Hammers, too. With Ford’s involvement with Ultra4, they can’t afford not to.However, without actually driving one, I can’t say with certainty it will be a great vehicle to own. Looking at the sheets and pictures on the Bronco that Ford has given us in the media shows that it is possible. At the end of the day, it’s about what is actually built and comes off the factory floor.
That being said and taking into account that you can get the Sasquatch package on the Base 2.3-liter along with the crawler manual and advanced transfer case: that will be the true, rock crawling enthusiast series and package. At least, that would be my pick for the perfect version of the 2021 Ford Bronco until they find a way to get that crawler manual on the 2.7-liter V6.
For now, Ford has finally answered the gauntlet of Jeep’s Wrangler JL and shown it can also listen and make its enthusiasts happy. That alone should be enough for Jeep to worry, as we have seen them quiver on their concept release on the same day as the Bronco reveal. While the proof of the pudding is in the eating, Ford is on top of the world until the first production Bronco sees the light of day.
Then we’ll see how well they listened and perform.