Twenty-four years, endless rumors, and one decade-old concept later, the Ford Bronco is back, baby! We’ve waited with very, very bated breath for Ford’s resurrection of one of its most evocative nameplates, and after poring over images and scouring the spec sheet, we’re glad it took its sweet time. With a sweet-as-honey retro design, thoughtful engineering, impressive 4×4 bona fides, mountains of factory accessories, and an optional manual transmission on the base engine, the new 2021 Ford Bronco appears as though it exceeded all of our expectations.
2021 Ford Bronco: A Sneak Peek
Honestly, before we saw the finalized product, at best we expected a Bronco-flavored unibody soft-roading crossover that slotted somewhere between the Escape and the Edge. It turns out, that’s exactly what we got—at least in the form of the smaller, less expensive Bronco Sport, though initial information pegs the baby Bronco at being more capable than you might expect. But the full-fat, true 2021 Ford Bronco is the body-on-frame lifestyle dream-machine we desperately hoped would leave the drafting board, and we can’t wait to sling some mud on those rear quarter panels.
A few months ago, when the Bronco was still publicly under wraps, we were part of a small media group that got a sneak peak of the fully uncovered SUV. In person, both the two- and four-door variants look positively spectacular, appearing much like a concept that snuck past the front gates at Ford’s design HQ. The retro styling movement may be on its last gasps—as of right now, only the Dodge Challenger remains of the original retro gang—but the new Bronco is one of the sweetest, cleanest, and well-executed modernizations of a truly classic design.
2021 Ford Bronco: As Charming as the Original?
Like the original, the new 2021 Ford Bronco’s aesthetic is built on flat, upright surfaces. Its square single-piece grille and squared-off back makes it look a bit like a last-gen Land Rover Defender run through a red, white, and blue filter. Loaded up with all of the available off-road chassis hardware—more on that in a bit—the Bronco is fairly chunky; parked next to one of today’s four-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicons that just so happened to be present during our early peek, the Jeep looks a bit delicate. No, seriously—in either door configuration, the Bronco looks like a Tonka soaked in growth hormone.
It’s not just our imagination, either. If we compare the Bronco to the Wrangler—and we should, considering the Wrangler is numero uno on the Bronco’s hit list—the two-door Ford has 6.9-inches in length on the Jeep coupe. The four-door is an inch longer than the equivalent Jeep, but it has a 2.3-inch shorter wheelbase. The Fords are 2.1-inches wider, 0.7-inch lower, and can swallow more “stuff” than the Jeeps, with 3.9 (two-door) to 10.6 cubic-feet (four-door) of storage with the seats left in place, and 5.2 (two-door) and 26.4 (four-door) cubic feet with the seats folded flat. Heck, there’s even enough room in the back of the four-door to stow the removable doors.
2021 Ford Bronco: Drop Those Doors (And Roof)
Oh, we hadn’t mentioned that yet? Yup, those doors come all the way off, and not only for those with corded muscle and an extensive tool kit. Looking over the careful engineering and months of focus-group feedback that went into the new 4x4s, it’s readily apparent Ford worked hard to make both Bronco versions, and it must have labored over how to balance the ease of door removal with crash safety, structural rigidity, and noise insulation.
The resulting removal procedure is as low-sweat as it gets. The doors are frameless and mirrorless, with the side-view mirrors bolted squarely to the fixed body. Those mirrors, like the hood and tailgate, are made from lightweight aluminum, so a single average-size person should have no problem carrying the doors for safe stowage. To start, lower the windows, drape the door in the protective covering, unplug the thick wiring loom bundle–with integrated spring-loaded door to keep out weather and dirt, natch—and take out a single bolt on the hinge. Boom—enjoy your aire libre.
Of course, the top comes all the way off, too. You have a few options when figuring out what top you might want, starting with the basic hardtops that come in either black or white, incorporating two removable sections over the front portion that, provided you make room, can stow safely on board. Hop up to the four-door models, and in addition to the front sectionals, a rear roof piece lifts off to give an unobstructed view for all occupants. Sadly, that rear piece is a big fella, so you will have to leave that in the garage.
Spend a bit more coin, and the second modular hardtop is painted to match the body and adds the aforementioned removable rear panel to the two-door 2021 Ford Broncos. Leave the rear section on this bougier hardtop, and you have the option of removing the rear quarter windows for some brow-cooling breeze. On the four-door only, purists and those who live in areas with unpredictable weather can opt for a soft-top that can be bunched up to the rear area much like the Wrangler, but still offers a rear portion that allows for cargo access.
2021 Ford Bronco: Four and Six Cylinders, Auto and Manual Transmissions
Sorry folks, no V-8 this time around, but looking over the pair of available drivetrains, you won’t hurt for power. Lower-spec Broncos pack the ubiquitous 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, offering the familiar 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque enjoyed in the modern Ford Ranger. This is essentially the same 2.3-liter found in the Mustang EcoBoost, so expect factory powerkits that match the 330 hp and 350 lb-ft found in the Mustang EcoBoost Performance Package to take center stage in the ever-expanding Ford Performance catalog.
For those with people to haul and mountains to climb, the big engine option is the 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6, spitting out 310 hp and a rock-powdering 400 lb-ft of torque. While the big, bad six is only fitted with the familiar 10-speed automatic transmission found on the Ranger and F-150, the four-cylinder can be had with a glorious six-plus-one-speed manual transmission. Six forward gears accompany a single ultra-low-speed crawler gear available in either high or low range for when the going gets extraordinarily tough.
Regardless of trim, engine, or transmission, all new Broncos come standard with four-wheel drive. Like the F-150s, the 4×4 system is selectable while in motion, with the range including 2Hi, 4Hi, 4Lo, and neutral. An optional upgraded 4×4 package with an “electromechanical” two-speed transfer case adds a 4-Auto mode that does its best impression of all-wheel drive, along with a revised 3.06:1 low range.
2021 Ford Bronco: Trail Terror
Underneath all of this good-lookin’ sheet metal is some serious off-road firepower. First off, much like the new Land Rover Defender and updated Mercedes-Benz G-wagen, the 2021 Ford Bronco leaves the solid front axle on the shelf; it instead goes independent for the front with a Dana AdvanTEK differential, while retaining a solid rear Dana 44 axle. Of course, all of the critical hardware is heavily shielded from an errant rock or small mountain you might smack, particularly around the fuel tank, transmission, and the optional anti-roll bar disconnect mechanism. Higher-level trims block the radius arm mounts and shocks. Get a model with rock rails, and they are strong enough to support the vehicle’s weight to prevent any undue body damage.
Slide into the range-topping, trail-hungry Bronco Badlands, Wildtrak, and limited First Edition trims—we’ll talk about those in a bit—and the high-travel, position-sensitive Bilstein suspension controls all four corners, augmented by an electro-hydraulically operated disconnecting front anti-roll bar from BWI Group. The bar can disengage at speeds less than 20 mph, and re-engage when you hit the speed threshold.
Wheels and tires are one of the most important pieces of the off-road puzzle, and the all-new Bronco has rubber to spare. Stick with the base-level Broncos, and buyers have a choice of steel wheels shod with 255/70 R-16 tires, complemented by a selection of aluminum wheels with varying tire sizes. Those sizes range from 255/75 R-17, 255/70 R-18, 265/70 R-17 to 285/70 R-18 tires in either all-terrain or mud-terrain tread configuration. The bigger, badder Wildtrak, First Edition, and Badlands feature standard 35-inch LT315/70 R-17 tires, offered as an option on all trims as part of the impeccably named Sasquatch Package.
2021 Ford Bronco: Trim Talk
Speaking of the different trims, the 2021 Ford Bronco’s got quite a few of them. Unlike a traditional tiered hierarchy, Ford offers some higher-level trims, with some lateral trims that achieve different goals for different buyers. We’ve already mentioned the unnamed “base” Bronco; one step above that is the Bronco Big Bend, which essentially adds a few niceties and minor aesthetic touches. The Outer Banks is a more luxurious spec, adding options like an upgraded sound system and subtle aesthetic touches, while the Black Diamond offers a balance of off-road capability, daily usability, and a rough-and-tumble attitude with steel bumpers and heavy-duty underbody shielding.
For those who plan on tackling some serious trails, you might want to stick with the Wildtrak, Badlands, or First Edition Broncos. Wildtrak is the desert runner of the bunch, the Badlands the most capable for rock crawling, trail busting, dune hopping, river fording, and snow crunching, and the First Edition at both cruising and off-roading, as it incorporates the off-road capabilities of the aforementioned Wildtrak and Badlands, along with the luxury touches of the Outer Banks.
2021 Ford Bronco: High-Tech and High-Style
If you do opt for the chunky off-road stuff, there’s a host of trail tech and toys to keep you both entertained and shiny-side-up. For starters, every late-model off-roader worth its weight in winch-cable features some variety of off-road driving modes, usually tailored for specific terrain or environments. The 2021 Ford Bronco’s package of terrain modes is cheekily named the G.O.A.T modes—or Goes Over Any Terrain—and comes standard on all Broncos, regardless of trim or specification.
Twiddle the dial on the center console, and the driver can select from Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Baja, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl. The last one is the most interesting: When set in Rock Crawl mode, the computer handles the lockers, anti-roll bar disconnect, throttle, and transmission, making seemingly impassable terrain almost point-and-shoot.
Once you’ve picked the right mode, neat-o stuff like Trail Turn Assist and cameras take the worry out of wheelin’ the new Bronco. The former drags the inside rear brake to sharpen the turning radius for on-the-spot trail u-turns or jackknife corners, while the latter features a 360-degree view of each corner and could potentially take the place of corner spotters when crawling through truly hardcore environs.
2021 Ford Bronco: It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts
Avoiding pavement and crashing through mud is dirty work, particularly if done with doors and roof off. In another case of careful engineering, the 2021 Ford Bronco’s interior is designed from the floor-up to handle mud, water, and dust. We mentioned floor because that might be the coolest bit of the interior; the rubber floors offer optional drain holes for when you want to hose off any sludge and debris still hanging on from the trail run. Don’t worry about overspray from that hose, either—all switches on the dashtop and steering wheel are waterproofed, as is the optional marine-grade boat-seat vinyl available on the seats that resists stains, moisture, scents, and rips.
Because most people who purchase a 2021 Ford Bronco are more than likely outdoorsy, action-adventure types, Ford reckons there will be heavy use of action cameras, phones, and other devices. To keep the dash de-cluttered and suction cups off of the windshield, a mount system runs the length of the dash that even incorporates a section of USB plugs so wires don’t drape down the center stack in front of the screen or climate controls. Depending on trim, the center stack is fitted with an 8.0- or 12.0-inch SYNC 4 infotainment system, with a Bronco-specific suite of topographical maps, and off-road trails sourced from AccuTerra Maps, Trails Offroad Trail Guides, and FunTrek.
2021 Ford Bronco: Accessorize, Accessorize
If you’re still not convinced about all of the goodness of the 2021 Ford Bronco, how about some personalization to sweeten the deal? Ford says the Bronco will be available at launch with a load of more than 200 individual accessories, including winches, bumpers, lights, tents, wheels, cargo management, and auxiliary power add-ons. The base-level two-door Bronco starts at just $ 29,995, including destination charge, so you’ve got plenty of breathing room to add as many optional extras as your wallet can handle.
If it wasn’t already painfully apparent, we’re excited for the arrival of the 2021 Ford Bronco. This is the first true competition the Jeep Wrangler has faced in, well, decades, and if we were in charge of Wrangler at the moment, we’d be quite concerned by those two round headlights facing us on the trail. If you’re as hyped as we are, pre-orders for the 2021 Ford Bronco are now open, with deliveries slated for spring next year, so head over to Ford’s website and get in line.
2021 Ford Bronco Highlights:
- One of the greatest retro-flavored designs we’ve ever seen
- New design should appeal to longtime fans and new enthusiasts alike
- Jeep should be worried
- Powerful engines with more coming in the near future
- Removable doors, roof
- Manual transmission!