Ford unleashes its latest Bronco, a daring redesign of the rough-riding classic

Ford claims the new Bronco can make it through snow, ice and more than two feet of water.
Pre-production 2021 two-door Bronco Black Diamond series in Cyber Orange Metallic Tri-Coat.
Pre-production 2021 two-door Bronco Black Diamond series in Cyber Orange Metallic Tri-Coat.Ford

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By Paul A. Eisenstein

Ford unleashed its latest Bronco on Monday night, offering up a daring redesign of the rough-riding classic that has been one of the top-selling SUVs since its debut in model-year 1966.

Ford is so confident about the success of this new SUV that it is launching an entire “family." That includes retro-styled 2-door and 4-door versions sharing the same underlying chassis as its Ranger pickup. It also will produce a smaller, less angular model built off a ruggedized version of its Escape crossover platform.

“We’ll start with the three models we have,” targeting the fastest-growing segment, said Mark Grueber, the new sub-brand marketing chief, responding to a question from NBC News. “But we will continue to look at where we can satisfy customers and how to continue to expand the brand in the future.”

While Ford officials won’t discuss possible future products, there’s been speculation that could include a hybrid or even a plug-based model. That would come as little surprise considering Ford’s $11.5 billion investment in electric propulsion — and the fact that there will soon be both “mild” hybrid and plug-in versions of the Jeep Wrangler, Bronco’s most direct competitor.

Pre-production versions of the all-new 2021 Bronco family of all-4x4 rugged SUVs.Ford

For now, the bigger Broncos will offer either a 2.3-liter turbo package, making 270 horsepower or a 2.7-liter turbo engine pumping that up to 310 hp. The smaller, lighter Bronco Sport will deliver the choice of a 181-hp inline-four engine making 181 hp, or a 2.0-liter package rated at 250 hp. Buyers can pick either a seven-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Significantly, all three models will come with all-wheel-drive, as will all future Broncos, something Ford officials hope will help the brand stand out from competitors such as Jeep and Land Rover.

SUVs and crossovers dominate today’s market, though few can handle anything more challenging than a gravel road. Ford claims all Bronco models will scamper through snow and ice, while clawing over beach ball-sized boulders. All three model also can ford over two feet of water.

One reason is what Ford calls "GOAT mode.” A turn of a dial instantly adjusts vehicle settings such as throttle, transmission and electronic nanny systems, maximizing grip no matter what challenge a driver faces.

But unlike the original Bronco, Ford claims the new model will be equally at home on the highway. All three models feature the automaker’s latest infotainment and safety technologies, including advanced driver assistance systems, such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. To help negotiate tough trails, the 2- and 4-door Broncos will offer low-mounted cameras so drivers can see where they’re placing their wheels.

Drivers may appreciate more low-tech features, however, such as rubberized flooring with drain plugs allowing some models to be hosed out after a day on the trail.

Prototype version of the all-new 2021 two-door Bronco interior.Ford

"There is no doubt that Bronco will be more than capable off-road, but what might be the most appealing is the vehicle's combination of classic styling with modern features and conveniences,” said Ivan Drury, a senior analyst with auto tracking firm Edmunds.

Ford also plans to have at least 200 different accessories available at launch. “Bronco isn’t just a truck. It’s personal,” said chief designer Paul Wraith. Eventually, these will range from brush guards to kayak carriers to pop-up roof-mounted tents.

First introduced during the 1966 model-year, the Bronco was one of the first SUVs targeting a broad retail market. It gained a loyal following but also found itself inextricably linked to former football star O.J. Simpson, after a 1994 police pursuit as he rode in a white Bronco on Los Angeles freeways on June 17, 1994 — a slow-speed chase that was viewed on national TV by 95 million people.

Ford originally planned to introduce the all-new 2021 Bronco last week, but rescheduled the event when it realized that the launch date would coincide with Simpson’s birthday.

"We wanted to be sensitive and respectful of this concern,” Ford public relations chief Mark Truby said of the rescheduling.

In normal times, Ford would have unveiled the Bronco at an auto show, such as the one scheduled for Detroit last month but canceled due to the coronavirus. But the automaker found a way to gain an even bigger audience Monday, not only streaming the Bronco family’s debut on its YouTube channel but also teaming up with Disney.

Three short films were produced, one that ran during the Country Music Association’s “Best of Fest” program. Another during ESPN’s SportsCenter. Academy Award-winner Jimmy Chin produced a third for the National Geographic channel. The Hulu channel now follows with a full round-up of Monday’s festivities.

“With Ford, we’re reimagining what a product reveal can look like by drawing upon our best-in-class sports, entertainment and streaming brands to bring the new Bronco family to life in a way that honors its heritage and gives viewers an unforgettable experience,” said Rita Ferro, president, Disney Advertising Sales.

Ford isn’t ready to offer precise dates, but says the Bronco Sport will reach showrooms “later this year,” with the bigger 2- and 4-door models to follow early in 2021. The automaker is now taking initial, $100 deposits for all three Bronco models.

The base price for the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport will begin at $26,660, plus $1,450 in delivery fees. The 2-Door starts at $28,500; the 4-Door at $33,200. Those bigger models carry a higher $1,495 in delivery fees. If the Jeep Wrangler is any indication, the bigger versions of the Bronco, when well-equipped, will likely push well above $40,000.