"Now that’s boxy."
This is the first thought that fired through my brain as the camouflage came off the 2021 Ford Bronco. Just a few days before The Great Lockdown in March, Esquire photographer Alex Bernstein and I went out to the desert about three hours east of Los Angeles to get a very early peak at the newly redesigned 4x4. That distinctive, goat-like, go-anywhere stance. Big round headlights. And yes, undeniably, bold boxiness. Boxy is good! It was easily the year’s most-hyped new car, and seeing it in real life for the first time did not disappoint.
"That squared-off design is one of the things that really cements it as a Bronco," David Pericak told me over the phone last week. He’s the director of enterprise product line management for Ford Icons and a key architect in bringing back the Ford GT as well as the Ford Mustang-E. "It was designed to not live back in yesterday, but to capture that essence of Bronco. It's very rectangular, it’s simplistic in many ways, but there's interesting details when you really look at it."
It’s not easy to bring back an icon, especially one that aims squarely at another 4x4 with a deep cult following: the Wrangler. This is the first Bronco produced since 1996. Automotive throwbacks can look too close to the original at the risk at living off the fumes of nostalgia. Other times, they can look, well, for lack of a better word, swoopy—one too many parabolas towards looking like a Prius. The 2021 Bronco, on the other hand, looks thoroughly like a Bronco but manages to feel like its own thing, too.
But if we’re trying to zero in on which previous Bronco the 2021 model hews closest to, it would probably be the first generation vehicle, made from 1966 to 1977, which, coincidentally, was created to go head-to-head with a goliath of a competitor, the Jeep CJ. Of course, looks mean nothing if the machine doesn’t have the off-the-grid, bring-on-the-apocalypse credentials. Do most people use Wranglers and G Wagons and Range Rovers as Costco-mobiles? Absolutely. But you can’t build mystique on boxy style alone. Even if you know the extent of your off-roading will be a dirt driveway at a friend’s COVID-escape country house.
And so, the Bronco is the real deal with monstrous ground clearance, 360-degree cameras for spotting yourself when traversing gnarly trails, water-fording capabilities, hill-descent controls, and more than 200 factory-backed accessories. You can even get massive, 25-inch wheels straight from the lot. And yes, you’ll have the option of getting a manual transmission.
Even with all of the Bronco’s technical promise and impeccable styling, the features where it really beats the Wrangler are the removable doors and roof panels. On the four-door version of the Bronco, all four doors can be detached with ease and stashed in the back of the vehicle. With the Wrangler, taking off the doors is a complicated endeavor, and once you get them off, you have to store them in your garage (or chain them to a tree). Should it rain on your joyride to the beach or on the off-road course? Yeah, you’re getting soaked until the sun comes back out.
While the Bronco has been in development for years, the timing for a 4x4 that lets in the air of the open road or trail or beach seems essential. We can’t think of a better way to escape the monotony of lockdown life. Here are more details:
What flavors will it come in?
The 2021 Bronco will be available in a two-door version, and for the first time, a four-door model. (There’s also a unibody Ford Bronco Sport. More on that later.) A cloth soft top comes standard on the four-door models. The various trims will have names like Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak, and Sasquatch. Starting price is a bargain at $29,995, and you can reserve one now for spring 2021.
How easy is it to remove the doors and roof, exactly?
Easier than compared to the competition. Roll down the windows, disconnect a wire connector, remove two bolts with a hex tool in the tool kit, and pop the door off. You won’t have to take off the roof panels first. Store the doors in the back inside of protective bags.
Removing the roof just takes turning three latches for each panel. One person can do it, no tools needed. You will need two wrenches to remove the back cap, however.
What’s under the hood?
First off, for you enthusiasts, there’s a seven-speed manual transmission available—a rarity these days, especially in a 4x4. The standard engine is a 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost I4, with 270 horsepower and 310 ft-lbs. of torque. Or you can upgrade to a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6, with 310 horsepower and 400 ft-lbs. of torque. Standard transmission is seven speeds, but there will also be a 10-speed automatic for both engines, meaning greater highway fuel economy.
What’s the interior like?
Very functional. There’s an option of washable rubberized floors with integrated drains and marine-grade vinyl seating surfaces that resist mildew. Instrument panels can be wiped down. There’s seamless silicone rubber on switches, and lots of rubber in key places to protect from water and dust.
What about the Bronco Sport?
Think of this as the Jeep Renegade to the Bronco’s Wrangler. It’s sort of boxy like the proper Wrangler but is built on a car platform, as opposed to the Bronco’s body-on-frame truck platform. In other words, it’s more of a crossover and shares a lot of parts with the Ford Escape. Available later this year, it will start at $28,155.
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