After years of leaks, rumors, and speculation, Ford confirmed it’s finally bringing the Bronco SUV back to North American showrooms. The timing is certainly right: Gas prices are relatively low, motorists are buying SUVs faster than car companies can build them, and the footage of O.J. Simpson on the run is gathering dust along with the Sega Saturn in the pantheon of 1990s history. The company published a teaser image (pictured above) to give us insight into what to expect. So far, we like what we see.
What will it look like?
Ford used the Bronco nameplate on several models between 1966 and 1996. The off-roader came in different shapes and sizes, but every single version came with two doors. Ford’s teaser image suggests that won’t change when the next generation rolls around — the wheelbase looks too short to accommodate four doors. We see an upright windshield, a squared-off roofline, a rear-mounted spare tire, and, looking closely, even a retro-inspired front end treatment. Could Ford draw on its heritage to take on the Wrangler? Some sources say “not a chance,” but the teaser shot tells an entirely different story.
Another point of contention is whether it will have a removable roof like most of its predecessors. An anonymous Reddit user who allegedly works in Ford’s research and development department revealed the Bronco will settle for a fixed roof, but inside sources told website The Truth About Cars that this is not the case. Instead, it will feature a clever system named Air Roof, which is made up of six individual panels that can be removed manually and stored in the car. The back end of the truck won’t come off, according to insiders, so it won’t be a full convertible like the Wrangler. Again, bear in mind nothing is official at this point.
Ford is increasingly relying on aluminum to help its heaviest models shed weight, and the Bronco could benefit from the lightweight material. It might not be all-aluminum for cost reasons, but using aluminum body panels would boost both fuel economy and performance while helping the Blue Oval reap the financial benefits of economies of scale.
What’s under the sheet metal?
The Bronco will feature rugged body-on-frame construction. It will ride on an evolution of the frame that underpins the upcoming 2019 Ranger, but it won’t be related to the Explorer-sized Everest SUV sold in countries such as Australia and Thailand. Merely slapping a Bronco badge on an existing model wouldn’t be good enough to honor the heritage-laced nameplate.
“People have an idea of what a Bronco should be, and certainly we have an idea of what a Bronco should be, so we’re looking forward to bringing that to our customers,” explained Raj Nair, Ford’s former chief technical officer, in an interview with Autoline.
Even though it entered popular culture as a getaway vehicle, the Bronco started life as a true, no-nonsense 4×4 with better-than-average off-road prowess. The next-generation model will continue that trend by offering a generous amount of ground clearance, four-wheel drive, and possibly even solid axles manufactured by Dana.
Technical specifications remain unconfirmed at this point. If we had to guess, we’d say the Bronco’s base powertrain will be a turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission. A model-specific version of the 2018 F-150‘s 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 could be offered as a more efficient alternative, but a turbo four looks unlikely due to the model’s size and weight. However, insiders suggest there are tentative plans for a gasoline-electric hybrid version.
What will its rivals be?
The ’60s and ’70s were the best time to shop around for an open-top off-roader. American buyers had at least seven options to choose from, including models built by Jeep, Chevrolet, GMC, Dodge, Plymouth, International-Harvester, and, of course, Ford.
Today, the only topless 4×4 with body-on-frame construction is the timeless Wrangler. The Bronco will rekindle a decades-old rivalry by competing in the same segment as the all-new Jeep. That’s why off-road chops and a cheap, simple way of going topless are so important.
The Bronco and the Wrangler might not have the market to themselves for very long, however. Unverified reports claim GMC will return to the segment by the turn of the decade, but nothing is official at this point. Parent company General Motors has considered a new Wrangler-punching model for several years but, as far as we know, the model has never made it past the drawing board.
When will I be able to buy one?
Bronco production is tentatively scheduled to start in Ford’s Michigan assembly plant in 2020. That means it will make its debut next year, possibly at the Detroit Auto Show, and the first examples will arrive in showrooms in time for the 2021 model year.
Updated on March 15, 2018: Added new teaser image, as well as up-to-date information.
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