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Remaking an Icon: Ford Bronco

The new Bronco has broad appeal with the promise of plenty of adventures off the beaten path. Here's how it stacks up.

I have always wanted to own a first-generation 1966-77 Ford Bronco. I am not sure where this came from, but there is something about the simplicity and functionality. The unfussy, utilitarian minimalism. The flat glass, straight bumpers and squared-off doors and panels. There was a neatness in the symmetry. It was only produced as a two-door truck, with a few half-cab pickup versions and a rare, and perhaps slightly ill-conceived, roadster. But the first-generation two-door truck has become iconic and maybe even a bit mainstream. Mint unmolested originals with the recessed rear wheels are hard to find and fully restored custom models command a serious price premium.

We are certainly experiencing a wave of nostalgia for the designs of the 60s and 70s — everywhere you look there seems to be a resto-mod of one type or another, hence some of the hysteria around the new Ford Bronco. Relaunching the Bronco in the mold of the first generation, which has become iconic, is really a tough act to follow. Many manufacturers fall flat in their efforts to recreate the romanticism of the original — cast your mind back to the ungainly and bloated FJ Cruiser.

So, does the new sixth-generation Bronco live up to expectations and all the hype that you read in the motoring press? 

Let’s start with the design, which in my view is a huge win and a terrific homage to the iconic first-generation Bronco. Ford has really done a great job incorporating the styling cues, dimensions, and lines of the first generation into this new iteration. The two-door version feels really authentic, with the round lights and position of the indicators, the flat grill, flat hood, steeply raked screen, and squared-off doors and side panels. 

The design is boxy and rugged looking, particularly in the Badlands spec with 17-inch machined carbonized gray-painted wheels and 33-inch all-terrain tires that give it a wonderfully squared-off look. From certain angles, it almost looks a bit like a Hot Wheels toy — and I mean that with the sincerest of compliments. In some of my photographs, like the ones below, it’s almost hard to tell the difference. So many fabulous new designs become diluted as they move from the prototype and concept once the accountants have their say. This does not seem to be the case for the new Bronco, as it looks exactly as the concept might have been penned. This Bronco has definitely been one of my favorite vehicles to photograph, particularly in the Cyber-Orange color with the graphite hardtop.

The Bronco comes in a range of different flavors up from the base model. Each has an evocative name that speaks to the utilitarian purpose and design intent for increasingly ambitious off-road adventurous escapades. My demo was in the Badlands spec, which seems to be the mid-range price point with the right level of creature comfort and off-road capability. The Badlands version comes with position-sensitive Bilstein monotube shocks and a front stabilizer bar disconnect that allows for increased articulation and obstacle clearance on rugged terrain. It also has the electronic locking front and rear differentials to optimize traction and improve off-road performance by ensuring you can connect power to the ground. It also has the Terrain Management System with seven selectable G.O.A.T. (Go Over Any Terrain) modes and the advanced 4×4 system with automatic engagement as standard. This uses an automatically controlled two-speed transfer case that offers four modes (2H, 4H, 4L, and 4A) and continuously varies power to the front wheels for optimum performance, as well as electronically locked power to both axles for and increased wheel torque for more challenging terrain.

The design is boxy and rugged looking
33-inch all terrain tires give it a squared-off look

For more aggressive off-road plans, there is a WildTrack version that comes with a bigger engine and a Sasquatch package, with 35-inch tires and 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels as standard. There is also an Everglades version with a winch-kit and snorkel and the new Raptor version which comes with the 3.0L Ecoboost V6 engine, HOSS 4.0 suspension with Fox Live 3.1 Internal Bypass Semi-Active Dampers, and 37-inch tires, for those with Baja type aspirations. You can either buy a pre-packaged model or build and create your own from the vast array of factory options that Ford provides.

The interior feels practical and utilitarian. Climbing into the Bronco, the handle grips on the side of the dash and passenger side of the transmission tunnel with the orange accents and rubberized grips are an immediate visual and tactile message that this is a vehicle designed and built for off-road use. The orange trim extends to the door panel inserts and vents. The interior is very much to business with a flat dash and embossed Bronco logo to the rubberized switchgear for the differential controls. The instrument cluster combines an analog speedometer with a digital display that is easy to navigate and scroll, though looks a little awkward. My demo was equipped with the 334A Lux Package, which includes the 12-inch LCD Capacitive touchscreen which is huge and is absolutely superb, and it is easy and intuitive to navigate. The Lux package also includes additional sound deadening, the excellent adaptive cruise control and evasive steering assist, the B&O sound system with 10 speakers and subwoofer, as well as Ford’s Sync 4 system with navigation and voice recognition. It adds a hefty $5,085 to the price tag but offers a superb set of features. The start button is designed in the shape of the front lights and there is a small Bronco and US flag on the shifter, which are nice, detailed touches. The Bronco also comes with some built-in rocker switches on a panel in front of the rear-view mirror for various accessories.

The front seats are relatively comfortable with good lateral support and offer plenty of adjustments. My demo had the leather trim which seems a bit pricey at $2,195. The orange stitching and embossed Bronco logo in the seats are also nice details. The rear seats in the two-door are a bit utilitarian and not somewhere you want to be for long trips. The hardtop is sturdy and well fitted. It also comes in three sections and can be removed and replaced relatively easily. The sections above the driver and passenger can be removed in a couple of minutes with simple revolving latches and can be stowed in a storage bag in the rear compartment. The hardtop over the rear section requires the removal of some bolts and certainly the assistance of a friend, but can also be removed in around 10 minutes, but needs to be stored. Without the hardtop, the Bronco has a built-in body-colored roll cage, which looks superb and adds to the torsional rigidity as well as safety.

The doors are also easily removable and you can order a retractable top, bimini mesh or canvas sunshades, and even tube doors. The rear load compartment on the two-door version is quite compact, but the rear seats fold flat to provide a functional and very usable space. Ford has also thoughtfully designed the Bronco with a wash-out interior and drain plugs should you get into deep mud or sand or need to hose it out after a trip to the beach with the dogs.

My demo Bronco had the optional 2.7L EcoBoost V6 engine, which produces 330hp and 415 lb-ft of torque, and the 10-speed automatic transmission which is standard with the 2.7L engine. I am not sure whether performance specifications are very meaningful for trucks like this, but this configuration propels the Bronco from 0 – 60mph in just over six seconds, pretty quick for a truck with such boxy dimensions and semi-off road wheels. It trundles along on the highway comfortably at around 70 – 80mph, though there is limited soundproofing and I am not sure you would need or want to be going that much faster. There's a surprising amount of noise that reverberates through the hard materials of the cabin, which can become a bit wearing on the highway and on longer trips. This is one of the trade-offs for practicality and functionality in a vehicle that is also built for dual on and off-road use.

Other reviews I have read have lauded the 2.3L with the manual transmission based on it being fun to drive, but after driving the 2.7L it seems to me that the smaller engine might feel a bit underpowered. I don’t have any experience with the Jeep Wrangler, but I am told by reliable sources that the ride quality and comfort of the Bronco is notably better than the Jeep Wrangler. 

Ford has also smartly realized, just as Jeep did back in 2007 with the third-generation Wrangler, that buyers come from all walks of life and a longer wheelbase four-door version adds a level of practicality and wider buyer appeal. Only 30% of the new Broncos will be in the two-door version, with the majority of buyers opting for the more practical four-door, which extends the wheelbase from 100-inches to 116-inches. I have not driven the four-door, but from an aesthetics perspective, the purist in me much prefers the look of the two-door, as it feels more authentic and is a nod to the original first generation. However, the longer wheel-base version is likely to be considerably more practical for most and will also offer a more comfortable ride. 

It will be interesting to see who ends up as the core demographic for the Bronco. Initial demand is fueled by a robust economy and Gen X’ers who put in their deposits and have the discretionary wealth and can afford to splurge on the vehicles of their aspirational youth. There is also a newer younger generation of buyers, proven by the success of the Wrangler, who want affordable customization and personalization at an affordable price — starting as low as $30k the Bronco is certainly aimed at this market as well.  

I think part of the Bronco’s appeal is the promise of adventure. They can also be highly personalized, not just through the extensive options list from Ford, but also with a vast array of after-market options. A friend of mine who owns a four-door Badlands with the Sasquatch package was telling me that he had spent a very enjoyable Saturday fitting a set of fog lights and is planning off-road weekends with a local 4×4 club. All this is much to the surprise and slight dismay of his family, who thought this was all a bit out of character for a chap in his mid-fifties with limited dexterity or experience in wielding a wrench. His Saturdays involve frequent visits to Home Depot and he is building quite the Craftsman tool collection. But I think that’s part of the charm of the new Bronco, it is a fun versatile truck that can be easily customized with lots of bolt-on accessories that can markedly change and personalize the appearance.

I did not get the chance to put the Bronco through its paces off-road. I think it would be fantastic fun up at the Knoxville Off-Road Park, but in truth, the idea of two hours behind the wheel to get there and two hours back in the noisy cabin seemed a bit daunting. I will bide my time until I have the opportunity to drive the Raptor version with the 3.0 V6, with its 400hp and 415 lb-ft of torque and Fox suspension. Based on my experience with the F150 Raptor, I am sure the Bronco Raptor will be hugely fun to drive off-road in the mud.

The Bronco certainly generated a lot of goodwill on the road from passersby and there are more and more appearing on the roads. It is fun seeing how people make this truck their own with not only the selections from the myriad of options that can be ordered from the factory during the build but also the rapidly growing range of aftermarket options. 

The Ford Bronco starts at a very reasonable $30,800 for a base two-door and goes all the way to a fairly hefty $68,500 for the Raptor version before options — though it is already pretty well equipped at that price. My demo truck was in the Badlands two-door configuration that has a base price of $44,495. The options included Cyber Orange Metallic Tri-Coat ($595), Leather-Trimmed Vinyl Seats ($2,195), 2.7L EcoBoost Engine ($1,895) with 10-speed Select-Shift automatic transmission ($1.595), and the Lux Package 334A ($5,085) which brought the total price to $57,455.  

So, does it live up to the expectations? Absolutely. From a design perspective, Ford has done a superb job in creating a modern version of the iconic first-generation Bronco with all the styling cues and in very a practical, modern package. They have created a truck that can be accessible for as little as $30k and is a platform that offers owners the ability to customize and personalize their Bronco to be fully tricked out with the extensive options list.

The new Bronco has broad appeal for different types and generations of buyers with the promise of plenty of adventures off the beaten path. Seems like a home run to me!

For more information visit the Ford Bronco

Photographs by James Henderson.