As I listened to the Bronco brain trust outline highlights of Ford’s upcoming off-roader, I could practically hear Jeep Wrangler strategists slapping their heads: ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’
Because they didn’t have to. The Wrangler, direct descendant of nearly 80 years of vehicles with great off-road ability, doesn’t have anything to prove.
The 2021 Ford Bronco, due to go on sale next spring, does. It’s heir to a modest tradition of quirky and customizable pickups and SUVs Ford built from 1966 to ’96. Most drivers have never seen one on the road. The Wrangler, with image-building predecessors all the way back to the World War II Willys Jeep, is ubiquitous on American roads, trails and in film, TV and streaming around the world.
Wranglers have a loyal, built-in audience. The Bronco needs to create passion for a family of SUVs, inspiring buyers to choose a nameplate they may never have heard of.
It needs to be so head-slappingly innovative and good that owners will dedicate themselves to proving they’re smarter and better than Jeep drivers they never gave much thought to before they became Bronco-nistas.
More: Ford just revealed 2020 Bronco: Why this new model is different
That’s why Ford’s best and brightest pulled out all the stops, from a rail to mount GoPros and iPhones to onboard space to store the Bronco’s removable doors.
On paper, the results looks good. Here’s some of what the Bronco team did.
Power, new ideas in running gear
Features for fun on and off road
Off-roading dimensions vs Jeep Wrangler
The base two-door Bronco is 173.7 inches long on a 100.4-inch wheelbase. The two-door Wrangler measures 166.4 inches long on a 96.8-inch wheelbase.
Excluding optional roof racks, the tallest Bronco is 73.8 inches, 0.2-inches more than Wrangler.
Bronco widths run from 75.9 to 79.3 inches. The Wrangler is 73.8 inches wide.
Four-door Broncos are 189.4 to 190.5 inches long on a 116.1-inch wheelbase. The four-door Wrangler’s length, including its rear-mounted spare tire, is 188.4 inches on a 118.4-inch wheelbase.
Width and length are key dimensions for off-roaders. The most challenging trails often include obstacles and hairpin turns that prohibit larger vehicles. That’s one of the reasons full-size pickups are seldom used for rugged off-roading, despite their other capabilities.
Why buy a Bronco Sport?
The smaller Bronco Sport will go on sale late this year, months before the Bronco. Using the same platform as the Ford Escape and Lincoln Corsair, it has a unibody construction and less off-road capability than the truck-based Bronco. All-wheel drive is standard, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see a front-drive model at some point.
The Bronco Sport shares key Bronco design elements, including round headlights and an upright windshield. It’s success is likely to depend heavily on the larger Bronco’s ability to create an aura of off-road capability.
Early Ford materials highlight the Sport’s maneuverability in town and ability in deep sand and for "high-speed" off-roading as opposed to the Bronco’ emphasis on rock crawling, fording water and the like. The base engine is a 181-hp 1.5L turbocharged three-cylinder. A 2.0L turbo four-cylinder producing 245-hp will be optional.
Key Bronco Sport features
2021 Ford Bronco at a glance
Four-door, five-passenger compact SUV
Standard all-wheel drive
181-hp three-cylinder of 245-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine
Eight-speed automatic transmission
Length: 172.7 inches
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Height: 70.2-71.4 inches
Width, including mirrors: 82.2 inches
Max. towing: 2,200 pounds
On sale: Late 2020
Assembled in Wayne, Michigan
2021 Ford Bronco Sport at a glance
Two- or four-door, five-passenger compact SUV
Standard all-wheel drive
270-hp four-cylinder or 310-hp V6 turbocharged engine
10-speed automatic transmission or seven-speed manual with first gear crawl ratio
Length: 189.4-190.5 inches
Wheelbase: 116.1 inches
Height, excluding roof racks: 71.9- 75.3 inches
Width, mirrors folded: 75.9-79.3 inches
Max. towing: 3,500 pounds
On sale: Spring 2021
Assembled in Hermosillo, Mexico