By on August 19, 2020

Last week marked the Ford Bronco’s 55th anniversary, with the model’s creator celebrating the momentous occasion by throwing an exclusive and socially distanced Bronco party in Holly, MI.

At this off-road soiree, Ford showed off its Bronco family adventure concepts, announced that 165,000 Broncos have been reserved since the July 13 reveal, and proclaimed that Austin, TX would be the first location of the Bronco Off-Roadeo (Ford’s spelling, not a typo) off-road adventure playground.

While all these pieces of information are great, they aren’t exciting enough to headline a Bronco Anniversary party. Instead, the headliners of this party were the off-road ride-alongs in the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport and the 2021 Ford Bronco 2-door.

For this event, Ford took over Holly Oaks ORV Park in Michigan’s Oakland County. Situated behind the towering 350-foot Mt. Holly ski hill, this 235-acre park consists of sand and gravel mines, both active and inactive. It is a joint venture between the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Oakland County Parks system, and it’s scheduled to have its grand opening next month.

(Full disclosure: The author has placed a reservation on the Bronco.)

This yet-to-open ORV Park is an excellent place for the Blue Oval to demonstrate the off-road capabilities of its off-road-focused brand. Unfortunately, Ford didn’t allow journalists to drive the Broncos or take pictures of the pre-production interiors. Sad as it may be, we can still provide some feedback on Ford’s most anticipated product since the 2018 EcoSport.

First up was the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. Riding on the same platform as the Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport targets outdoor enthusiasts who are looking for adventure, Steppenwolf style. At this event, Ford showed off their most capable version of the Bronco Sport, the 2021 Bronco Sport Badlands. Starting at an MSRP of $32,660 with a destination charge of $1,495, it’s also the most expensive.

The 2021 Bronco Sport Badlands is powered by Ford’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Ford is targeting 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque in the Badlands. Power is sent through an eight-speed automatic transmission, and four-wheel drive comes standard. The Badlands trim also has an available advanced four-wheel-drive system with a twin-clutch rear-drive unit. Paired with Ford’s Terrain Management System that features up to seven G.O.A.T Modes (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain. Ford capitalizes both Ts, and yes, that technically spells G.O.A.T.T), the Bronco Sport starts to look, from the passenger seat, like a compelling off-road-focused product.

Dropping down the first hill in the park, it became apparent that the Bronco Sport in Badlands trim is more off-road capable than most other crossovers. It has a Subaru-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a torque-vectoring AWD system. In Sand mode, the Bronco Sport sliced easily through the floor of the former sand mine. The advanced four-wheel-drive system allowed for some wheel slippage in Sand Mode while never losing traction. When it comes to capability and enjoyment, the Bronco Sport Badlands feels similar on the sand to the Ford Focus RS in drift mode on the track. Part of that is because the rear differential on the Bronco Sport Badlands is similar to that of the RS.

On the trails, the Bronco Sport continues to feel extremely capable, again, as least as near as we can tell from the right seat. It handled mud and ruts with ease, climbed and descended the hilly terrain without complaint, and even plowed through the water hazard. While it was apparent that Ford set an off-road path that the Bronco Sport could handle, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an impressive vehicle off-road. If the Bronco Sport can handle loose gravel while traversing hills, mud, ruts, and some rocks, it should conqueror America’s crumbling infrastructure. For a vast majority of people, the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands will get you to wherever your adventure is located.

If you need to drive your adventure instead, there is the 2021 Ford Bronco. This is Ford’s direct challenge to the Jeep Wrangler’s American off-road supremacy. By the time the Bronco actually lands in dealerships, it will have been over four years since Ford made the announcement of the Bronco’s return. So was it worth the wait?

Yes. It was. The 2021 Ford Bronco appears to be a legitimate Jeep Wrangler competition.

Ford brought two pre-production two-door Broncos to the event. Luckily, we were able to ride in the vehicle with the top removed. Our ride came in the Outer Banks trim. Based on Ford’s Bronco trim documents, the Outer Banks is one of the more luxurious trim levels. It is the first Bronco trim that allows you to add leather, a 12-inch touchscreen, heated steering wheel, and the Bang & Olufsen ten-speaker audio system. This trim starts at $38,955 with D and D fees of $1,495. That is for the two-door version.

Under the hood of the Bronco provided was Ford’s 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 twin-turbocharged engine paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. This engine and transmission combination is one of the most popular pairings in the Ford F-150. In the Bronco, the 2.7-liter engine is good for 310 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. The V6 is not standard on the Outer Banks, but the 10-speed transmission is the only transmission available for that trim. That standard engine is a 270-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that also powers the Ford Ranger. The Outer Banks also features six G.O.A.T modes. Four-wheel drive is standard on all Broncos.

The most noticeable enhancement to our Bronco tester was the off-road-focused Sasquatch Package. This package includes 17-inch beadlock-compatible wheels, 35-inch mud tires, an electromechanical transfer case, locking front and rear axles, larger fender flares, a high clearance suspension, and heavy-duty Bilstein shocks. The Sasquatch Package is available on all Bronco trims. It requires the 10-speed automatic transmission and will have a price that varies by trim. So far, the price is as mysterious as Bigfoot himself.

Before hitting the trail, our driver demonstrated one of the Bronco’s off-road tricks; a spotter camera that shows you what’s in front of your Bronco. In certain G.O.A.T. Modes, the camera remains on for better visibility. In this instance, the camera showed off the steep incline we were about to enjoy.

As the Bronco descended into the off-road park, I was eager to see how it compared to the Jeep Wrangler. While I’ve had extensive seat time in a Wrangler, the ride can be unforgiving and harsh. I’ve been told that is the trade-off for a premier off-road experience. But maybe that’s just a Jeep thing. The Bronco’s monotube Blistein shocks feature remote oil reservoirs for better cooling and position-sensitive dampening. This smooths out the bumps over rocks and ruts while helping the Bronco attack sand and dirt.

Throughout the Holly Oaks ORV course, the Bronco’s powertrain felt much more powerful than the stated 310 horsepower. The 2.7-liter delivers a linear punch of power to all four wheels and provides blistering acceleration. Paired with the Sasquatch Package and G.O.A.T Modes, it feels as if you’ve unlocked some sort of off-road cheat code. Features like Trail-Turn Assist, which brakes the inside wheels when making a tight turn, and Trail One Pedal Driving, which lets you drive precisely with one foot while rock crawling, will help you feel like Ivan Stewart.

Despite all of these features, a good portion of the drive was spent with the G.O.A.T. Modes off. Our driver enjoyed the Bronco most while just putting the pedal down and navigating obstacles. Sand, rocks, hills, and water were minimal disruptions to the Bronco. All of this was completed in relative comfort with little drama. The Bronco with the combination of the 2.7-liter V-6, 10-speed transmission, and the Sasquatch Package seems to be the new off-road capability leader. We can’t wait for more Bronco seat time to fully verify that statement.

(Ed. note: The rumor mill suggests the first media drives of the Bronco will be next spring, pending the pandemic’s effects on travel. Of course, rumors are just that. Stay tuned to these pages and as soon as we get wheel time, and not just seat time, we’ll have a full first drive.)

While the two-door Sasquatch Package Bronco will most likely be the Bronco with the most capability, it’s easy to see that off-road adventure comes standard on every Bronco model. With six trim levels, numerous options, and over 200 accessories at launch, Ford is looking to take on Jeep. Based on our much-too-short ride along, Ford has the right product. Now they have to execute building and launching the vehicle. One-hundred and sixty-five thousand orders mean that a lot of people want a Bronco, but a lot of people also have high expectations of the Bronco. The good news for Ford is that if the 2021 Bronco performs like the pre-production model we rode in, they’ll exceed most of those expectations.

[Images © 2020 Adam Tonge/TTAC]

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39 Comments on “2021 Ford Bronco First Ride – Love at First Glance...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    Seems like Ford did a good job for this type of vehicle. Plus it might get us a V8 Gladiator. So win-win.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      As someone optimistic about the Bronco – while skeptical of Ford Motor Co. – I’ll be waiting to see if/when we begin to read about whether Ford has learned any lessons from its history of botched new-vehicle production and higher-than-average numbers of recalls. I would HOPE they are using all this time before production begins to work out problems they may already know exist.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        Back in the 80s, Ford embraced the Deming principles and really made some progress with quality. Unfortunately in biz, “lessons learned” often become “lessons discarded” when the MBA financial teams get back in charge.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “the Bronco’s powertrain felt much more powerful than the stated 310 horsepower. The 2.7-liter delivers a linear punch of power to all four wheels and provides blistering acceleration.”

    As I’m sure you’re aware, what you felt is the 400lb-ft of torque, not the 310hp. It’s the reason why a 180hp/380lb-ft rated diesel feels powerful right off the line or in short bursts even though it is actually a turtle on the stopwatch. Fortunately for Bronco buyers the 2.7T isn’t a diesel so overall it should have fully acceptable acceleration times (although “blistering” might be overstating it).

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      Yep. I own a vehicle with the 2.7TT engine. It gives your torque pretty much all the time.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        It moves my Super Crew F150 along nicely so it should be quick in the Bronco.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        People knock turbos all the time but I’ve always found the low end and flat torque curve makes for an engine that is very user friendly.

        I will likely get a Ranger to replace my V8 Dakota next year. Should prove very interesting using a turbo 4 for towing duty. Before my Dak I had a 4.0 V6 Ranger and it wasn’t up to the task. The fact that the EcoBoost 2.3 has more HP and more TQ then my 4.7 is downright amazing. Plus it can be chipped for some impressive gains.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          The turbos in the Ecoboost applications are tiny and spool quick enough that there isn’t any real lag. I assume most everyone’s non performance turbos are similar nowadays. I got into cars in the 80’s so the power delivery surprised me and my only 80’s turbo experience was with an old Lima Ford 2.3T which was fun, but had a more old school turbo delivery.

          The trade off is that they are all out of steam at higher RPM, but in these sorts of applications that really isn’t a concern. I prefer my 2.7 to my Father’s nearly identical truck with the 5.0, though some of that is attributable to his having the 10 speed auto and mine still having the 6 speed.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenn

            “The trade off is that they are all out of steam at higher RPM, but in these sorts of applications that really isn’t a concern”

            That would be the reason for the twin-turbo 2.7, with a small turbo for low-rpm and larger one for higher engine speeds. Right?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            @Kenn, to my knowledge and my couple seconds of googling, the 2.7’s turbos are both the same size. I don’t think they see much need for optimizing high RPM operation for a motor designed primarily for truck duty.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          In a utility vehicle I think the power delivery of a modern turbo engine works well.
          In a “performance” or “luxury” car setting I think a lot of them (at least the ones under an $80K price point) need some more fine tuning.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            As a guy who lives at altitude, I’ll take the turbos.

            Could even be pretty fun with the manual and being able to have the engine exactly where you want it in the powerband without the computer deciding to up-shift.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Turbos still lose 7% of their power per 1,000 ft of elevation. But that’s half as much as NA lose.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @DenverMike, right – which is why a 2.0T can feel stronger than a three-and-a-half liter na V6, at altitude.

          • 0 avatar
            conundrum

            Wrong. You lose about 3% power for every 1000 foot altitude in an NA engine. Same as the reduction in air density, gee what a bold new thought!

            The reason turbos were invented by GE was to maintain sea level power at altitude on aircraft piston engines, same as superchargers, so where this loss of power for turbos at say Denver altitude you speak of comes from, can only be explained by the confusion that exists in your brain housing group. The turbo just has to pump more less dense air to get the pressure back up to “normal”.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Do you still have that MKT?

        • 0 avatar
          Adam Tonge

          Unfortunately no. The MkT was totaled last October. My wife was sitting at a traffic light on Woodward and someone rear ended her going 45+ MPH. They did not touch their brakes at all. It pushed her into a car in front of her, and that car into another car. She’s fine, and was able to drive the MkT home, but it eventually got totaled. The four other vehicles in the accident were totaled as well.

          I would have preferred to buy another MkT, but I had very little time to purchase a vehicle. Usually I take months to buy the perfect used car. All the MkTs I found were either almost brand new and over $35,000 or had 90,000 miles. There was no in between.

          We ended up buying the best 2016 MKX we could find in about a week. My wife likes it a lot, but she misses her hearse.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    The Bronco Sport is looking more like a reasonable replacement for my 2nd gen Escape. Looking forward to getting a test drive… Someday :(

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Everything I’ve seen indicates that the Bronco Sport is far more capable than most enthusiasts will ever give it credit for.

      I’m a little disappointed that what I’ve seen indicates that you’ve got to step up to the Badlands trim level to get the 2.0T over the 3 cyl turbo in lesser trims but I know that helps Ford goose the CAFE numbers.

      And dang if that little CUV isn’t good looking.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The Bronco Sport looks like it will turn out to be the big surprise in all of the Bronco Hoopla. There were strong expectations for the Bronco’s off-road abilities, and it looks like it will deliver. The Bronco Sport on the other hand looks like it will far exceed expectations and may just draw competitors and be the start of a new segment.

      • 0 avatar
        Adam Tonge

        The Bronco Sport will do well. I was really impressed by it.

      • 0 avatar
        PenguinBoy

        The Bronco Sport may well be impressive, but I wouldn’t call it the start of a new segment. The Trailhawk Cherokee already exists in the “Compact crossover with surprising off road capability” segment. That said, it’s good to see more choices here.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          That’s true, but like the other Jeeps they’ve had this segment all to themselves for some time. Bronco Sport is a viable alternative to the crossover with some 4X4 chops category

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          That is just a trim level on something they try to sell as a more mainstream CUV. The Bronco Sport is going to positioned as a off-road focused CUV. That is the beauty of splitting it off from the Escape.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I am also a reserve holder ::ducks::

    A little disappointed in the lag between introduction and production; I was hoping the Bronco would be available in time for my upcoming birthday. It sounds like – based on what I’ve seen and my late reservation spot – that I won’t be able to have one until 2022. We shall see.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIcky

      Why do you duck? Congrats.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      My only issue with being a reserve holder is that I’m not reserving anything I can’t at least go online and do the “build your own” on.

      The Bronco Sport configuration machine is working but not the Bronco’s. I’d want to see what the color schemes were, options packages, what can I get “a la carte”? What’s the best infotainment I can get and keep the manual trans? Etc…

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Is there a specific demographic they’re looking for with the 55th anniversary gimmick, especially since the name hasn’t been used in 23 years. It was tacky in the anniversary edition Camaro and it is here too.

    That said, I like the thing and would roll it. Either the Bronco Sport or the Bronco. I’d have say I’d probably go for a mid-trim 2.3 Bronco since it’s not much more expensive than the first 4 cylinder option in the Bronco Sport (if my memory of my brief perusal of Ford’s website is accurate).

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    It still amazes me how much Ford phoned in these soft roaders.

    Let’s face it, an Escape could do everything that the Bronco sport did and the capability of the new Bronco II/Ford Blazer/Ranger SUV isn’t all that impressive when you consider how long it took Ford to develop it. Add to that Fords plummeting quality and outrageous pricing and you really have to wonder what would compel people to spend real money on these things. They’re so half baked.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Feature for feature, it’s priced below the Wrangler. Except the Wrangler doesn’t set a high benchmark for quality. Which is fine, the Wrangler doesn’t exactly set its sights on Land Rover customers. But you could say the Bronco could be cross-shopped against the LR also or similar, or even vs the Cherokee.

      Either way, the Bronco caught the Wrangler off guard, pants down, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Resale should be interesting on Bronco. Wrangler has such high valuations I do wonder if Bronco will follow or drop like most domestic products.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        Ha! Good one.

        The new Bronco II did not catch the Wrangler off guard. Heck just from size alone you can see how wrong Ford got the new blazer…err Bronco.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          Most of the fellows I know with Jeep Wranglers are hardcore off-roaders. They own the Jeep because it is currently the only easily modifiable trail rig out there. They all say the same thing, “the things are very unreliable but what else is there”?

          Some will build “pre-Tacoma” Toyota pickups for off-road and others are into old landcruisers or 1979 and older Ford pickups/Bronco’s. That requires considerable mechanical ability or really deep pockets.

          I do believe that the Bronco will provide a viable alternative to the Jeep Wrangler especially with the Sasquatch factory lift and 35’s. That gives the added reassurance that if things break, you have warranty.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Let me fix this for you.

    First up was the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. Riding on the same platform as the Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport targets outdoor enthusiasts who cannot afford the Bronco and don’t seem to understand or care they are buying a mildly changed Escape, Steppenwolf style.

  • avatar
    Super555

    Yes so you can park next to Karen and her “Unlimited” Rubicon with Rock Trac 4wd and 4.10 gears.

    “mall rated” lol

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “Holly Oaks ORV Park” “sand and gravel mines”

    That sounds much more exotic than spending the afternoon riding shotgun in a gravel pit!

  • avatar

    goood

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