After years of leaks, rumors, and boundless speculation, Ford confirmed that it’s finally bringing the Bronco SUV back to North American showrooms. The timing is certainly right: Gas prices are relatively low, motorists are buying SUVs faster than car companies can build them, and the footage of O.J. Simpson on the run is gathering dust along with the Sega Saturn in the pantheon of 1990s history.
The 2021 Ford Bronco, along with the smaller 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, was unveiled July 13. The Bronco hits dealerships in spring 2021, while the Bronco Sport is scheduled to begin deliveries before the end of 2020. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know.
Why are there three Broncos?
Ahead of the reveal, Ford confirmed that the 2021 Bronco will actually be a “family” of three SUVs, including two-door and four-door models, as well as a smaller Bronco Sport model.
All three models have retro styling inspired by the first-generation Bronco, which was unveiled in 1965. Like that original model, the Bronco two-door features a removable roof and doors. For 2021, Ford is launching a four-door model for the first time, to match the rival Jeep Wrangler. The Bronco Sport has the same design theme as the other Bronco models, but with a more conventional SUV body without the removable roof and doors.
The interiors of all three Bronco models were designed with outdoor activities in mind. They feature rubberized floors that can be hosed down and Molle hooks in the seatbacks for attaching gear. Bronco has device attachment points built into its dashboard, while the Bronco Sport can hold two 27.5-inch mountain bikes in its cargo area, according to Ford.
Both the Bronco and Bronco Sport come standard with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, but the Bronco also gets Ford’s new Sync 4 infotainment system, with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, over-the-air updates, and over 1,000 off-road trail maps loaded into its navigation system.
What’s under the sheet metal?
Developed as a true off-roader, the Bronco features rugged body-on-frame construction. It rides on an evolution of the frame that underpins the current Ford Ranger pickup truck. That’s a good starting point, as the Ranger is already a fairly capable off-roader when properly equipped.
The Bronco Sport rides on a different platform than the other two models. Instead of body-on-frame construction, where the body and chassis are separate pieces, the Bronco Sport is based on a unibody platform, where the body and chassis are one integrated unit. While not the first choice for an off-road vehicle, a unibody is the default choice for most new cars and SUVs because it provides greater structural rigidity. The closest relative to the Bronco Sport in the Ford lineup is the Escape.
Even though it entered popular culture as a getaway vehicle, the Bronco started life as a true, no-nonsense 4×4 with better-than-average off-road prowess. To that end, the new version features some serious hardware.
The 2021 Bronco rides on axles from Dana, the company that supplies axles for the Jeep Wrangler. The Bronco gets a rear solid axle and an independent front for better on-road handling. The front axle also has an electronically disconnecting sway bar that can be disengaged off-road to improve axle articulation. Four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case is standard, with electronic locking differentials optional. Ford also offers a Sasquatch Package with 35-inch tires on 17-inch beadlock rims.
The standard engine is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder unit. Borrowed from the Ranger, it makes 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. An optional 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 makes 310hp and 400 lb.-ft. Ford will offer seven-speed manual and 10-speed automatic transmissions.
The Bronco Sport also gets standard four-wheel drive, but its overall setup is less aggressive than the standard Bronco. It uses a torque-vectoring rear differential with twin clutches to simulate a conventional locking differential, with independent suspension front and rear. Available 46-millimeter-diameter monotube rear shocks and 28.5-inch tires provide a little extra off-road capability.
Engines are shared with the Escape. The Bronco Sport comes standard with a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, making 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. An optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 245 hp and 275 lb-ft. Both engines are coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission, with optional paddle shifters.
The Bronco and Bronco Sport also get some tech features to help make off-roading easier. Both models get Ford’s Terrain Management System, with drive modes for different surfaces. Ford calls them “G.O.A.T. modes,” short for “goes over any terrain,” a reference to executive Donald Frey’s nickname for the original Bronco. The 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport also get Trail Control, which essentially acts as low-speed, off-road cruise control. The Bronco also has a Trail Turn Assist feature that uses torque vectoring to tighten the vehicle’s turning radius, and a one-pedal driving feature that eliminates the need for left-foot braking while off-roading.
What will its rivals be?
The 1960s and 1970s were the best time to shop around for an open-top off-roader. American buyers had at least seven options to choose from, including models built by Jeep, Chevrolet, GMC, Dodge, Plymouth, International-Harvester, and, of course, Ford.
In 2020, the only topless 4×4 with body-on-frame construction is the timeless Jeep Wrangler. The Bronco will rekindle a decades-old rivalry by competing in the same segment as Jeep’s famous off-roader. It’s about time; we’re surprised the Wrangler has remained in a class of one for this long. The Toyota 4Runner also features body-on-frame construction and can keep up with a Wrangler on the trails, but that capability comes in a plainer SUV wrapper.
The Bronco Sport will have a much larger rogue’s gallery to contend with. With its emphasis on off-roading, the Bronco Sport seems aimed at the Jeep Compass and Renegade. However, there are many other similarly sized SUVs that buyers often cross-shop those two Jeep models against, from the Honda HR-V to the Kia Seltos. Most of these vehicles don’t offer much off-road capability, but that might not make a difference for many buyers.
How much does it cost?
The 2021 Ford Bronco starts at $29,995, while the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport starts at $26,660. Both models can be reserved online with a $100 refundable deposit. More detailed pricing information will be available closer to launch. The standard Bronco won’t arrive until spring 2021, but the Bronco Sport is scheduled to begin deliveries before the end of 2020.
Updated on July 14, 2020: Added details from the Bronco reveal.