After years of leaks and speculation, Ford has confirmed it’s finally bringing the Bronco SUV and the Ranger pickup truck back to North American showrooms. The timing is certainly right — gas prices are relatively low, motorists are buying SUVs and pickup trucks 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 ’90s history.
We expect the Ranger will essentially be a face-lifted and Americanized version of the eponymous model sold in dozens of markets around the globe. It’s more difficult to decipher what form the Bronco will take, however, because it will be a brand-new vehicle. To complicate the matter, it has never been spotted testing on public roads, and official information is scarce.
What will it look like?
Ford could go full-retro with the Bronco’s design; the heritage is definitely there. However, it sounds like the Blue Oval will pen a Bronco for the 21st century instead of re-interpreting an automotive icon from the past. A Ford engineer closely involved with the project told website Gear Patrol the truck will borrow styling cues from the Jeep Wrangler-esque Troller T4 (pictured below) that Ford sells in Brazil. If that’s accurate, that means it won’t look like the Bronco6g renderings (shown above) that recently set the internet on fire.
The Bronco nameplate was used on several models between 1966 and 1996. The off-roader came in different shapes and sizes, but every single version was offered with two doors. However, Gear Patrol’s insider reports the new model will exclusively be offered as a four-door. There’s just not enough market demand for two-door vehicles to justify developing two body styles, according to the source.
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 receive 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 engineer who spoke to Gear Patrol confirmed removable roof panels will be offered, though the source claims there will be three panels, not six. The back end of the truck won’t come off, so it won’t be a full convertible like the Wrangler.
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 aforementioned 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 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, Gear Patrol’s source reveals 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 next-gen Jeep, which is scheduled to make its debut before the end of the year. 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 debut about a year after the U.S.-spec Ranger, and the first examples will arrive in showrooms in time for the 2021 model year.
Updated on 07-20-2017 by Ronan Glon: Added information about the Bronco’s powertrain, looks, and body style.
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