I like to think of it as a fun water drip test. Ford teased us for years with promises of the return of the Bronco, and when the automaker was finally poised to show it, a global pandemic mucked up the plans. Adjustments were made, and finally, on July 13, the 2021 Ford Bronco made its virtual global debut, along with the more urban 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. And in the three weeks that followed, more than 165,000 plunked down a $100 deposit to get a two- or four-door Bronco when it goes on sale next year.
Back to the water test. Yes, we are wriggling with anticipation to drive the new Bronco family. And Ford knows it. So, the automaker organized a Bronco Day on August 11, the SUV’s 55th birthday, at a new off-road park outside Detroit. Small groups of media were invited to hop into the handful of prototypes on hand for the occasion.
Two caveats: First, no pictures of the interior. The 2021 Broncos are pre-production vehicles and will get a bit more spit and polish before they go on sale. Second, and more disappointing, no driving these prototypes. We were relegated to the passenger seat while dynamics engineers and others who have worked on—and lived with—these vehicles for years sat behind the wheel.
It means we can’t yet give readers true driving impressions. But we can give a sense of the new Bronco’s capability in the hands of experienced drivers who know how to coax the best out of the vehicle. Kind of like doing a hot lap with a car’s test driver, the guy that set the course record and can push the car to limits the rest of us would never reach.
The new state off-road park in Holly, Michigan, is no Moab or Rubicon. But there are a variety of trails, some steep hills, fine silty sand, rock beds, and water hazards. In other words, a decent test of the capabilities for a first taste of the vehicle.
That first taste would come in a two-door Bronco Outer Banks, which basically means it’s a fancier interior compared to lesser Broncos. This trim level comes with body-color door handles, fender flares and mirror caps, LED headlights and taillights, and even tube steps to help get in. But the Bronco is quite easy to hop into in almost any form. Creature comforts with this trim level include heated cloth bucket seats upfront, or you can opt for a leather interior.
More importantly, this Bronco Outer Banks was equipped with the Sasquatch package, which means 17-inch beadlock-compatible wheels wrapped in 35-inch mud tires, an electromechanical transfer case, locking front and rear axles, larger fender flares, additional suspension clearance, and heavy-duty Bilstein shocks.
It also means the 310-hp 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 is paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission, as the manual is not available if you go Sasquatch—at least for now. We were told the outcry—Automobile was quick to complain—might prompt a revisiting of this decision.
Having spent plenty of time off-road, I was braced for impacts as the Ford driver pointed the Bronco toward a rough patch over rocks and stones that plunged into a water hole. I was holding onto the grab bar to keep my spine relatively intact but was surprised by the relatively minimal impact. What gives? The off-road-ready Bilstein shocks Ford fit to the 2021 Bronco softened the rough road approach to the water hazard. The shocks hold more oil and take longer to heat up and also expel more heat than traditional shocks, the engineers explain. The monotube dampers and their exterior reservoirs tolerate more extreme travel, improving damping performance in the rough stuff.
Or maybe the problem was that I was busy grinning. The Bronco’s two doors had been removed and we hit the water hole with enough force to create a spray. A few drops landed in the cabin; welcome on a hot Michigan summer day.
Traction was not an issue on any of the sampled trails. Steep hills were not an impediment going up or down, and deeply rutted sand was just plain fun as the four-wheel-drive system’s rear-differential lock automatically engaged to power the Bronco through obstacles that initially appeared formidable.
Cribbed from the Toyota Land Cruiser, a handy feature on the 2021 Bronco is Trail Turn Assist. It uses torque vectoring on the rear axle to decrease the SUV’s turning radius. Applying braking to an inside rear wheel on a vehicle, which already has short overhangs, allows it to pivot in a tight spot on the trail. There were a couple of sharp-angled turns where the feature showed its value. Not engaging it would have meant backing up at least once to make the turn. It was quite the contrast from a brief ride in a first-generation Bronco on hand for the day, a cool reminder of the days when your arms got a workout steering and the brake pedal required a lot of force.
Unfortunately, our time in the two-door 2021 Ford Bronco was too brief. But the trails showed off enough off-road capability to convince us the eventual showdown with a Jeep Wrangler will be worth the wait. And stay tuned to this space for on- and off-road drive impressions when Ford gets closer to the sale date next spring.
|2021 Ford Bronco|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 2- or 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.3L/270-hp/310-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4; 2.7L/310-hp/400-lb-ft twin-turbo V-6|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed manual, 10-speed auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,950-4,450 lb (est)|
|L x W x H||173.7-190.5 x 75.9-79.3 x 71.9-75.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.9-8.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||Not yet tested|
|ON SALE||Spring 2021|