By Steven Cole Smith
Photos courtesy of Ford
We travel to Austin’s Hill Country for a little rock climbing, Ford style
Casually, over dinner at the press introduction of the Ford Bronco, a company executive mentioned the lengthy waiting list for the all-new SUV. “You know,” he says, “the Bronco may be the most anticipated vehicle we’ve had since the 1965 Mustang.”
Think about that. The original Mustang’s introduction in 1964 is the stuff of automotive legend, single-handedly spawning the pony car genre, soon populated by the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Plymouth Barracuda and American Motors Javelin.
That a Ford product hasn’t been able to approach the appetite for the ’65 Mustang until now speaks more to how hard it is to generate a home run like the Mustang than any failing on Ford’s part.
And from this early vantage point, Ford has another smash hit on its hands.
The 2022 Ford Bronco should not be confused with the smaller but similar-looking, less-rugged Ford Escape-based Bronco Sport, a solid SUV but nowhere near as off-road capable as the Bronco.
This shouldn’t be a surprise: Ford has had decades to market-research the Jeep CJ and Wrangler, so the recently redesigned Wrangler is the natural target for the Ford Bronco. Ford says the Toyota 4Runner is also on the hit list.
Ford turned back the clock for the styling, going so far as to laser-scan one of the first-generation Broncos, which was introduced in 1966 and enjoyed a 12-year run with only mild success. Ford managed to top 20,000 sales of the Bronco only five years out of the 12. The new Bronco’s exterior resembles the original, but underneath, there’s state-of-the-art technology.
We drove the 2021 model at Ford’s Texas location of the Bronco Off-Roadeo, near Austin. The other destinations are in Moab, Utah; New Hampshire; and Nevada. The sites have brutal trails to show off the Bronco’s off-road prowess to customers and teach off-roading skills. The location is the Grey Wolf Ranch, less than an hour outside the city; drivers learn how to free a stuck Bronco, traverse rock-strewn trails and handle mud holes.
The vehicle looks — and feels — right at home in the Hill Country. Like the Wrangler, the Bronco comes in two- and four-door versions, and like the Jeep, the four-door will appeal the most to customers. Those doors come off, by the way — just like the Wrangler’s.
Inside and out, styling is clean and angular, with an interior that outdoes the Wrangler. Rear seat room is more than adequate in the four-door. A soft top is standard on the four-door, with a removable hardtop on the two-door. Prices from about $30,000 to around $60,000 are, of course, a far cry from the original Bronco’s base sticker of $2,200. The original Bronco lasted until 1978, when it was replaced by the larger model made famous in the O.J. Simpson chase.
Under the hood, the Bronco has a pair of potent engine options: the smaller one a 270-horsepower turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder, and the larger a 2.7-liter turbocharged V-6 making 310 horsepower. Yes, power-hungry off-roaders may wish for a V-8, and that wish may be granted someday, but either engine matched to the responsive 10-speed automatic is all you need. The four-cylinder is offered with a seven-speed manual that has a “creeper” gear for low-speed grunt when off-roading.
On the road, again like the Wrangler, the Bronco is happy around town and on the highway, but it is much more content in the hills. Ford is anticipating a large percentage of off-roading customers and has delivered with a sophisticated suspension and lots of competent bits and pieces — steps, big wheels, lift kits — some standard, some from the very long catalog of options. Even stock ground clearance is a healthy 11.6 inches, and Ford says the Bronco is capable of fording a stream that is almost
3 feet deep.
The on-road drive is not at all carlike but more like a generation-old pickup, once again similar to the Wrangler and a result of the parts shared with the Ranger truck. Curves may take a couple of steering inputs to get right; the bigger the tires, the more that sensation exists.
The 10-speed transmission may sound like its busy shifting up and down, and it is, but you won’t notice any performance change. The powertrain in general is expertly executed, a perfect match to the job that must be done.
The one thing you’ll need is patience if you decide to get on a waiting list.