Words: Mike Ryan
Photos: Ford Media
For thirty years, the Ford Bronco was part of the North American automotive landscape. Debuting as a 1966 model, the original Bronco was aimed at the growing recreational four-wheel drive market exemplified by Jeep’s CJ Series.
Tapping into the “equine” success Ford was enjoying at the time with the Mustang, the Bronco was billed as a new kind of horse; one built for the wild, with standard four-wheel drive, two-speed transfer case, good ground clearance, compact dimensions, tough construction and spartan appointments.
Across five generations over the next three decades, the Bronco grew and evolved (and was briefly marketed in Australia in the 1980s) before being discontinued in 1996 as Ford, like automakers the world over, shunned the authentic 4x4 off-roader and embraced the urban-oriented SUV “soft-roader”.
Now, the Bronco is back. And it’s locked on to the same target as the original – Jeep.
In tribute to the original Bronco, which was offered in roadster, sport utility and wagon forms, the all-new version is available in three forms, too: Bronco two-door; Bronco four-door; and Bronco Sport. The latter two are Bronco firsts, as all five generations of the original Ford off-roader were only ever offered in two-door form.
While clearly inspired by the original model, the new two- and four-door Broncos are clean sheet designs and built using body-on-frame construction, whereas the Bronco Sport is based off Ford’s Escape SUV, so it has monocoque construction and a noticeably different look, dictated by the constraints of that platform.
The Bronco Sport will run its own engine/transmission combinations, too, with a 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol three-cylinder or 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol four-cylinder, matched to an eight-speed automatic in both instances.
On the two- and four-door Bronco, engine choices are a 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol four-cylinder (that’s in the current Mustang) and a 2.7-litre twin-turbo petrol V6. A 7-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission is available with the 2.3 engine, but choose the 2.7 twin-turbo and it’s auto only. The 7-speed manual is the big talking point in the specs released so far, as it features a dedicated crawl gear – 94.75:1 - for rock hopping and other serious off-road work. On the 10-speed auto, maximum crawl ratio is 67.8:1.
In general, the two- and four-door Broncos are the hardcore off-roaders of the trio, and while the Bronco Sport is a little softer, it still offers four-wheel drive as standard and can be optioned up to tackle seriously challenging terrain.
The all-new Bronco debuts under the tagline of ‘Built Wild’, which should give you an idea of its off-road focus. Ford’s mission was to deliver a vehicle that offers “maximum 4x4 go-anywhere, anytime capability and confidence”.
Clearly aimed at Jeep’s Wrangler, that capability starts with a part-time four-wheel drive system as standard that includes a two-speed transfer case that’s manually selectable, with shift-on-the-fly engagement and a 2.72:1 low ratio. An optional “Advanced 4x4” system enhances this, with automatic on-demand engagement of an electromechanical two-speed transfer case and 3.06:1 low-range ratio.
The Bronco also squares up to the Wrangler with its removable doors and roof panels for real open-air off-roading. Unlike the Wrangler, there’s no fold-down windscreen, but the doors and roof are said to be easier to remove and come with storage bags that allow them to be carried in the vehicle when not in use.
Packed with off-road focussed tech, the Bronco will run an exclusive Terran Management System with selectable G.O.A.T. modes as standard on all model grades. Standing for Goes Over Any Terrain, G.O.A.T. covers up to seven modes, with Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand as the default modes. Added with certain model grades and option packs are Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl modes.
Under the label of ‘Trail Toolbox,’ off-road assistance tech includes ‘Trail Control,’ a form of off-road cruise control, and ‘Trail One-Pedal Drive’ that automatically controls acceleration and braking in slow-speed situations like rock crawling.
While some specs are still to be released, further evidence of Ford’s fair dinkum approach to making sure the new Bronco can take on the wildest terrain is the inclusion of Dana AdvanTEK front and rear axles as standard, with Spicer Performa-Trak electronic locking diffs optional.
The suspension is what Ford calls H.O.S.S., standing for High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension. Available across all three new Broncos, the H.O.S.S. system on the two- and four-door models incorporates an independent front end with twin alloy A-arms and coil-over shocks, and a five-link rear with coil-overs that offers up to 215mm of front travel and 261mm rear travel, depending on the model grade and options. Ford are claiming this as best-in-class and 17 per cent better than its closest competitor – the Jeep Wrangler.
It’s the options that have US off-road enthusiasts salivating, starting with a Bilstein position-sensitive damper upgrade for the H.O.S.S. and including the aforementioned advanced 4x4 system and Spicer diffs, as well as an automatic sway bar disconnect function that can be disengaged under load. There’s also optional enhanced power steering for low speed turns and the ability to fit beadlock-capable 17-inch rims with 35-inch tyres – a factory first from any volume manufacturer.
“We created the Bronco family to elevate every aspect of off-road adventure and equipped them with class-leading chassis hardware and exclusive technologies to raise the bar in the rugged 4x4 segment and take people further into the wild,” said Ford COO, Jim Farley.
“They’re built with the toughness of an F-Series truck and performance spirit of Mustang – and come wrapped in one of the most stunning and functional off-road designs that’s true to the original Bronco design DNA.”
Base, Big, Black, Banks, Bad, Trak . . . and Sasquatch?
While the range of options – and an accessory list that’s already 200 items long - will allow Bronco owners to make their vehicle their own, Ford are making the process a little easier with a range of pre-packaged trim levels. Above the base model, buyers will be able to choose from ‘Big Bend,’ ‘Black Diamond,’ ‘Outer Banks,’ ‘Wildtrak’ and ‘Badlands’. Incorporated into these trim levels are different equipment packs – Mid, High, Lux and Sasquatch - that offer a range of tech, convenience, capability and cosmetic features.
The first three packs are pretty self-explanatory, but Sasquatch (what a cool name!) needs explanation. Made for off-roading, this package includes the aforementioned beadlock-capable 17-inch wheels with 35-inch tyres, as well as electronic locking front and rear diffs, a 4.7:1 crawl ratio, high-clearance suspension with Bilstein shocks and accommodatingly higher wheelarch flares.
BASE BRONCO: Comes with the 2.3 EcoBoost, 7-speed manual and part-time four-wheel drive as standard, plus the Terrain Management System, five GOAT modes, 16-inch wheels with 30-inch tyres, push-button starting, cloth seats and floor carpeting.
The ‘stripper’ spec of the base Bronco allows Ford to list it at US$29,995 in two-door form and US$34,695 in four-door form. The 2.7-litre engine, 10-speed auto and Advanced 4x4 System can be added, but of the equipment packs, only the Sasquatch is offered on the base model.
BIG BEND: Standard features over the base model include an additional GOAT mode, 17-inch wheels with 32-inch tyres, LED head and fog lights, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear shifter, plus some cosmetic changes. Options on the Big Bend level that are unavailable on the base Bronco include heated front seats and remote starting. Engine, trans and 4x4 system options carry over, with the Sasquatch and Mid Equipment packs available. The latter includes features like Ford’s SYNC 4 infotainment system, ambient lighting, heated front seats, 12V outlet, dual-zone temp control, remote starting and an enhanced safety suite under Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 banner.
BLACK DIAMOND: Adds more off-road capability and durability with a heavy-duty modular front bumper with removable end caps, a steel rear bumper, rock rails, heavy-duty bash plates, seven GOAT modes, water-repellent marine grade cloth seats and rubberized flooring that can be hosed out. Both the Mid and Sasquatch option packs are available.
OUTER BANKS: Drops back to six GOAT modes, but upgrades the rims to 18-inch and adds signature LED lighting front and rear, heated front seats, overhead console switchgear, powdercoated side steps and the Mid package as standard. Like the base, Big Bend and Black Diamond Broncos, the 2.7 engine and 10-speed are optional, as is leather trim and the Sasquatch package, with the High and Lux option packages introduced with this trim level. The former includes a 12-inch centre console display, 360-degree camera, forward sensors, sideview mirror and additional sound deadening. The latter adds a 10-speaker B&O sound system, wireless charging pad, voice-activated sat nav, additional USB ports, Evasive Steering Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control.
WILDTRAK: A familiar name, but with unfamiliar features. The 2.7 EcoBoost and 10-speed auto are standard on this grade, as is the Advanced 4x4 System, seven GOAT modes, heated cloth front seats, and the Mid and Sasquatch packages. Leather upholstery, High and Lux packages are also available.
BADLANDS: Takes the Big Bend spec and adds 33-inch tyres, a unique suspension configuration with sway bar disconnect and seven GOAT modes. The heavy-duty modular front bumper with removable end caps and steel rear bumper from the Black Diamond are also added, as well as marine grade cloth seats, rubberized flooring and overhead console switchgear. All four equipment packs are optional on this grade, along with leather seats.
FIRST EDITION: Limited to 3,500 units and an upgrade on the Badlands spec. Includes a safari bar, special exterior graphics, black hardtop and a unique interior trim with leather seats (including heated front seats and a 10-way power driver’s seat) and carpeted floors. Lux and Sasquatch packs are standard on this limited-edition.
No Bronco Here
While there’s a lot to get excited about with the Bronco, there’s also something to be disappointed about – it almost certainly won’t be coming to Australia. Apparently, there are no plans to build the Bronco in RHD, so that excludes us and our Kiwi cousins, as well as the UK, Japan and South Africa, to name the prime RHD markets.
With the two- and four-door Broncos being body-on-frame, that will make RHD conversion easier, but any local company looking at doing so would have to look long and hard at the business case for such an undertaking. With Ram and Chevrolet pickups being locally converted, the skills are obviously here, but poor Jeep sales in Australia wouldn’t inspire confidence that Bronco conversions could deliver a return on investment.