The new 2021 Ford Bronco is one of the most hotly anticipated new SUVs in years, and not just because it’s finally a revived beloved nameplate that isn’t a dull, watered-down crossover. The Bronco is an enthusiast’s dream inside and out, with best-in-class departure and breakover angles, gigantic tires available from the factory on every trim level, built-in trail navigation apps and an interior built to open up to the elements and get absolutely coated in mud.
Oh, and trust us: you’re going to want that seven-speed manual transmission. As you reflect on that, here’s a roundup of everything that will make it powerful when it leaves the pavement.
Every Bronco Has Four-Wheel Drive
All Broncos come with two available four-wheel-drive systems with low-gear ratios: the base version and an upgraded Advanced 4×4 one.
The Bronco’s standard system has an electronic transfer case that shifts on the fly. Advanced 4×4 upgrades that to an electromechanical transfer case with an auto mode to shift between 2-high and 4-high modes on-demand. That power goes to a solid Dana 44 AdvanTEK rear axle and a Dana AdvanTEK independent differential unit upfront. Both can be optioned with Spicer Performa-Trak electronic locking differentials that keep both wheels spinning, enabling the truck to keep pulling itself forward as each side loses and regains traction.
The Advanced 4×4 system and seven-speed manual transmission is the combo you want for maximum crawling ability. That gives you the Bronco’s maximum crawl ratio of 94.75:1, which Ford touts as the best in the Bronco’s class. The 10-speed automatic with the Advanced 4×4 system still touts a 67.8:1 crawl ratio, although the fact that you’re letting the truck shift for you already makes wheeling a tad easier, so we’ll consider this leveling the playing field (or payback for prior stalls).
The Bronco’s Terrain Management System with G.O.A.T. Modes offers up to seven selectable drive modes (beyond the default “Normal”) help the Bronco navigate different conditions and kinds of terrain: Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, plus Mud/Ruts, Baja and Rock Crawl for better off-road performance. G.O.A.T. usually stands for “Greatest Of All Time,” which is a bold claim for something we haven’t driven yet. Here, it’s for “Goes Over Any Type [of terrain],” but we know what they meant. We’d like to check these claims as soon as possible. (Ahem.)
Ford included some extra high-tech features to make off-roading even easier, including cruise-control for low-speed crawling called Trail Control, Trail Turn Assist that uses torque vectoring to tighten turn radiuses, and Trail One-Pedal Drive to control acceleration and braking for slow rock crawling situations.
The Bronco makes it easy to hit the trails with over 200 factory-backed accessories available at launch, which enables dealers to customize it at purchase for buyers’ specific uses. Yet even if you don’t add on a lot of extras, the Bronco is more than ready to bash around off the pavement.
Ford touts a list of best-in-class figures for the Bronco, including up to 33.5 inches of water fording ability, a maximum 29-degree breakover angle, and maximum 37.2-degree departure angles It also packs 11.6 inches of ground clearance, compared to the current JL-generation Jeep Wrangler’s 10.8 inches.
Steel shields protect the Bronco’s most critical hardware, with upgrades available on higher-performance trims. Front and rear exposed tow hooks are available stock as well in case you or a buddy need them.
There are plenty of doubters about the lack of a solid axle upfront, but the Bronco’s front independent suspension/rear solid axle combo has some tricks up its sleeve—err, fender flares? Sure. Ford claims that the Bronco’s independent front suspension was chosen for better control and comfort, particularly for high-speed off-road conditions. Ford also credits its independent front suspension for giving the Bronco 17 percent more suspension travel than its competitors in both the front and rear. That’s helped by a set of long-travel, position-sensitive Bilstein dampers designed for off-road use as well as reduced harshness.
In case you hate getting out and manually disconnecting and reconnecting your sway bars, the Bronco’s semi-active hydraulic stabilizer bar disconnect design should have you covered. It automatically disconnects to increase articulation and ramp angles, and automatically reconnects to give you better stability (read: less of that “about to be flopped out of an open door-hole” feeling) at higher speeds on the road. Either way, we’ll have to drive it to check these claims and see if all of this works.
Need to carry something on the roof? The trail sights built into the corners have a 150-lb tie-down capacity for longer roof-mounted items.
Some of those options and upgrades are incredibly desirable, though. Every trim level—even the base one—has the optional ability to upgrade to 35-inch tires. That’s something you usually only get as an aftermarket upgrade, plus that enables you to drive right off the lot and tackle gnarlier, rockier trails than you’d expect in a bone-stock SUV.
Should you choose to upgrade to even bigger rubber meats anyway, the Bronco comes with large open wheel wells with quick-release attachment points for that exact reason.
There are plenty of other upgrades that are extremely common, but typically the sole domain of aftermarket shops and vendors. For example, swapping out bumpers for trail use is so common that one of my friends keeps threatening to build a “Bumper-Henge” in his yard out of stock Jeep bumpers. There may be fewer Bronco ones to add to that given that one of its factory options is a set of modular steel Ford Performance bumpers with integrated mounts for the winch.
The more off-road-ready trims can also get shields for the fuel tank, engine and transmission as well as a front bash plate. Side rock rails rated to hold the Bronco’s weight are another option to let you navigate trails with less damage to the important bits.
Trick Trail Tech
Finally, you can document that time you got lost on a harder-than-expected trail and made it out anyway (…or not) with the FordPass Performance app. It’s a built-in digital trail mapping app available on all of the Broncos that allows drivers to plan, record and share where they’re going, and the only thing like it in the Bronco’s segment. Over 1,000 curated topographic trail maps are included from NeoTreks’ Accuterra Maps, Trails Offroad and FunTreks trail guides. Over-the-air updates to the Ford’s onboard systems should also help keep it current.
The Bronco’s 360-degree camera system isn’t just for parking, either—it has off-road spotter views that can help navigate obstacles. As with the F-150, you can option the Bronco with an 8-inch or a 12-inch infotainment screen. On top of that, there are mounts built into the instrument panel for any other devices you may want to use along with plenty of 12-volt power plugs.
Ford expects you to get the Bronco dirty, which is why it’s an actual crime to leave it on the pavement punishable by an ancient mud god curse which will doom your feet to a series of gross puddles until you leave the asphalt. (We’re only slightly exaggerating there.)
The Bronco is available with both a soft top as well as quick-release stowable roof panels to let the light in, and the four-door can be optioned with both a soft and a hard top if you can’t decide. For the two-door models, the removable hardtop features a three-panel design, and there are four roof panels for the four-doors. Both have left and right front panels reminiscent of a T-top. You can get them molded in your color of upgrade to painted versions. Every hardtop lets you remove the rear quarter windows in three quick steps if you’d rather let air in without taking the roof off. Ford claims that these roof panels are removable by one person, and the two-door version also lets you stow the front roof panels onboard.