Ford’s New Bronco: Bucking The Trend
For most people their SUV is basically an aerodynamically inefficient car that provides a nice view out the front windscreen and the vague illusion of capability. Unlike the rough-and-ready utility vehicles of a few decades ago, the emphasis of modern SUVs is on comfort and convenience as well as (for those lucky few whose bank accounts are over-swollen with funds) downright luxury. If one’s posterior is sufficiently delicate that leather seats would cause unbearable discomfort, inconvenient chaffing can be avoided by means of purchasing an SUV from Bentley, Rolls-Royce, or Lamborghini and specifying alcantara seat coverings therein.
Nowadays it seems as if everyone has at least one SUV and no school run would be complete without a horde of nearly identical vehicles crowding the roads, all jostling for just the right place to drop the kids before heading to Starbucks to collect a much-needed double macchiato with almond milk and a dusting of cinnamon to wash down the hand-glazed craft donut into which 380 calories have been duplicitously crammed. And that’s what nearly all today’s SUVs are designed for. It is why buyers adore them and their juicy profit margins keep the world’s automobile manufacturers afloat.
But how capable are these soft-roaders when the tarmac runs out?
Not surprisingly, the answer is: not very. In fact, due to the combination of street tires and traction-control systems designed to stop owners from harming themselves, most SUVs would fail to make it up a gently sloping wet garden lawn. Although marketing videos depict SUVs heroically battling snowdrifts and boldly fording streams, the sad truth is that 95% of SUVs would come to an embarrassing stop less than one hundred yards after leaving a firm dry road surface.
Fortunately the roads between school and Starbucks are usually good enough, even given the state of crumbling US infrastructure, for that arduous journey to be completed successfully most of the time.
But what about the strange and peculiar people who actually want, or need, to have their vehicle traverse unpaved roads, ford moderately deep streams, cope with snow, ice, and sand, and deal with uneven deeply-rutted trails? In today’s soft-roader-dominated world, the list of viable options has been shrinking faster than a man’s gentleman parts after being plunged into an icy river. Today the list of vehicles capable of dealing with anything more than a puddle or a tiny bit of gravel has contracted to a handful of choices: a Toyota Landcruiser or 4Runner, a Jeep Wrangler or Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, a Ford Raptor, or alternatively one must spend significant funds modifying a pickup truck in order to make it more capable off-road.
Some may at this point stand up and wave their arms excitedly and squeal (in a very manly way, of course) “what about the Land Rover Discovery or the Range Rover or, ooh ooh ooh, the new Land Rover Defender?” To which one can only shake one’s head, sigh in a suitably theatrical fashion, and point to the fact that Land Rover products are so unreliable that even the word abysmal fails to capture their true awfulness. And it has ever been thus. Fifty years ago, in the unforgiving terrain of the Australian Outback, great wisdom was expressed as follows: “if you want to go into the Outback, drive a Land Rover. But if you want to come out again, drive a Toyota.”
Into our ever-diminishing set of choices now strides, if not exactly like a Colossus than at least like a medium-sized person striding with great optimism and hope, the new Ford Bronco. All those who venture off-road may rejoice and give thanks for garments can remain unrent and teeth can remain ungnashed. This is because the new Bronco is a real, genuine, proper, serious 4x4 for people who want or need to take their vehicles off-road on a regular basis.
Unlike more luxurious competitors, the Bronco doesn’t employ air suspension. This means it can’t lower itself on the highway to achieve a fractionally less terrible drag coefficient nor raise itself up outside one’s favorite restaurant as a pre-meal party trick to impress one’s younger friends. But it does mean that the suspension won’t fail at random moments or when challenged by washboard trails or when a tire suddenly slips off a rock and crashes down onto the ground below.
Unlike more luxurious competitors the Bronco doesn’t have a humidor, an onboard wine cooler, massaging seats, a head-up display, nor a specially designed storage bin into which one can tuck the au pair. In fact the Bronco is rather sparse by modern standards and almost enough to cause a person to choke on their double macchiato cinnamon almond milk latte. But it has multi-link rear suspension with good articulation, high-quality shock absorbers, underbody armor and skidplate, very acceptable approach and departure angles, and a wading depth of thirty-one inches. Furthermore it has an electronically-detachable front roll-bar which, unlike its Jeep Wrangler counterpart, doesn’t require several Hogwarts spells and half an hour of cursing to re-attach later.
All this plus BF Goodrich All-Terrain or Mud-Terrain tires as standard from the factory means that the new Bronco has the makings of a true off-roader. Ford’s engine and transmission technologies have now advanced sufficiently that they provide adequate power and shift ratios in a reliable and compliant manner, which should significantly reduce unwanted trouser incidents when rock crawling and undertaking other delicate maneuvers. Speaking of which, the Bronco in many of its trims comes with… (drum roll & trumpets): locking front and rear differentials. Not for the Bronco today’s norm of brake-reliant electronic traction systems; no, for this beauty only proper locking diffs will do. And that is a very excellent thing indeed.
As for the interior: while sparse it does offer the basics, such a decent infotainment system with an optional 12-inch touchscreen, plenty of switches for aftermarket lights and other electrical items, and all the usual nobs, buttons, and switches for wipers, headlights, and climate control as well as mandatory airbags all round and a rear camera. I would very much like to see a front camera too, for all those times when one has inexplicably left one’s semi-feral spotter at home. Perhaps in the fulness of time Ford will come to see the wisdom of providing this $50 addition.
Ford is at least offering a range of factory options which, as is the way of such things, are seemingly intended to introduce a great deal of amusing friction and frustration into the buying process. One can, for example, order a roof-rack — unless one has optioned the 2.7L engine, in which case the roof rack is verboten for no good reason whatsoever. Likewise one can option either external LED lights just ahead of the side mirrors or a lightbar on the roof, but not both. Perhaps there’s a secret Ford conspiracy to limit the number of photons the driver is permitted to emit lest passing alien spacecraft should be alerted to the fact there’s supposedly semi-intelligent life on Earth. If a Bronco owner is however unfortunate enough to be buzzed by an alien craft, they won’t be able to take refuge in the nearest river or lake because inexplicably Ford isn’t offering a snorkel option. And why, oh why, didn’t Ford equip the Bronco with an electronic front windshield defroster to go along with the optional engine block heater?
But these are small and trivial irritations and omissions when compared to the enormous and joyful fact that we now have a worthy addition to the sparsely-populated rank of serious off-road vehicles. It may even be that the Bronco will spur other manufacturers to consider offering their own competing versions, much as the Ford Raptor nudged FCA to gussy up its RAM pickup in an attempt to look a little more macho and provide slightly more off-road capability.
Will the Bronco be sufficiently civilized to do duty on the school run? Will the wind noise and inevitable rattles coming from the Wrangler-like plastic roof make for an ear-aching journey for anything over ten minutes duration? Will the sound system be sufficiently hi-fi to permit owners to listen to disaffected inner-city rappers cursing and shouting as though they were right there in the vehicle just in front of the driver’s lap?
These are all questions that will be answered in the fulness of time, after Ford actually starts its manufacturing run sometime in 2021 and thereafter begins to deliver the Bronco’s keys into the tender outstretched hands of waiting buyers, among whom I myself shall be numbered. For the meantime we must hope that the promise inherent the Bronco’s specifications translates into a truly capable and reasonably reliable off-roader that bucks the trend toward ever-less-capable softroader dadmobiles. And frankly, if it can do that then no one will give a damn about anything else.