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.
While the hotly anticipated Bronco won’t make its public debut until 2019, a set of leaked images might have given us an early look at it. Some sources claim the photos show Ford’s so-called baby Bronco, which will be aimed at the Jeep Renegade.
What will it look like?
Photos shown to a group of Ford dealers during an annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, suggest the born-again Bronco — assuming that’s indeed what we’re looking at — shares little more than a name and a few styling cues with its predecessors. It has been completely reinvented for the 21st century. Uncovered by website AutoGuide, the images show a four-door SUV with a soft-but-rugged design accented by round LED headlights and a two-tone paint job. Nothing is official yet — Ford certainly hasn’t commented on the leak — but we could be looking at a close-to-production concept that will preview the off-roader.
From what we see, Ford will aim the Bronco directly at the Toyota 4Runner and, to a lesser extent, at the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. It won’t be offered with two doors, but it will nonetheless give motorists the option of going semi-topless. While this feature isn’t visible in the leaked images, inside sources told website The Truth About Cars the Bronco 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.
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. The F-150 and the Expedition are already aluminum-intensive.
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 2019 Ranger, but it won’t be related to the Explorer-sized Everest SUV sold in countries such as Australia and Thailand. The photos put those rumors to rest once and for all. Merely slapping a Bronco badge on an existing model wouldn’t have been 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 familiar with Ford’s product plan 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.
In 2018, the only topless 4×4 with body-on-frame construction is the timeless Jeep Wrangler. And while the Bronco looks closely aligned with the 4Runner, it will inevitably rekindle a decades-old rivalry by competing in the same segment as the four-door Wrangler Unlimited.
The Bronco, the 4Runner, 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 in 2019, possibly at the Detroit Auto Show, and the first examples will arrive in showrooms in time for the 2021 model year. Pricing will likely start in the vicinity of $30,000.
Updated on November 13, 2018: Added leaked images.