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As World War II was about to become a reality, the U.S. Army solicited bids for an Army-specified 1/4 ton “light reconnaissance vehicle.” They were thinking of a modern version of the durable Ford Model T, a tough and nimble and, in this case, a four-wheel-drive vehicle for military use. Three companies were considered — Bantam, Willys, and Ford. While Ford did not get the final contract, they did build a number of prototypes and produced the final version along with aircraft at their factories in support of the war effort.
Two decades later, in 1966, Ford brought out a Bronco. Much like those small four-wheel-drive military vehicles. Now for peacetime use by active outdoors enthusiasts. Who used it for going out into the wilderness to hunting and fishing cabins or just for off-roading enjoyment. Like most vehicles of that era, the Bronco morphed into a larger Sport Utility Vehicle. Eventually being dropped as the company focused more on pickup trucks and upscale family-friendly S.U.V.s.
Twenty-First Century Bronco
In the late 20-teens, Ford announced it would be reintroducing the Bronco and got an overwhelmingly positive response. So it is developing it into two distinct models with similar looks; a smaller Bronco Sport, not unlike the Ford Escape, just tougher, and a full-size Bronco, with a lot of F-150 energy. This is the full-size four-door Bronco that Ford sent us for our review in early January 2022.
Models you can get are
- Base – simple with the base 2.3-liter Ecoboost I-4 engine and 7-speed manual transmission. Upgradeable to the larger 2.7-litre Ecoboost V6 engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission.
- Big Bend – like the base choice of both Ecoboost engines and transmissions
- Black Diamond
- Outer Banks
- Wildtrak – only comes with the 2.7-litre Ecoboost V6 and 10-speed automatic transmission
Today’s full-size Bronco comes in a two-door or a four-door version and is packed with a lot of technology and can look quite intimidating. First of all, it is a hulkingly big off-roader that is powered by what would have been thought of as a small engine back in the day. Inside the Bronco, you will find the full suite of Ford’s Co-Pilot360 safety technology; while much of it is standard, you can option in even more as you move up in packages. A body-on-frame truck-based S.U.V. (based on the next-generation Ford Ranger Pickup truck. The full-size Bronco has a longitudinally-mounted engine. This makes it lightweight for its large size.
Tough is what it looks like, and versatile is what it is. Our tester came with a removable hardtop; since the temperature was in the sub-teens, we did not pop the top and drive around, not that it was not on our minds. BIG is the first thing you think of, especially when you have to hike up your jeans so you can climb into the driver’s seat. Nothing an aftermarket step would not help out with. No cowboy, country, or urban wants to split his seams getting into his truck.
When you look back at those mid-60s Broncos, you can see a lot of the design inspiration. Boxy with a very square and upright design. This vehicle is made to be rugged, yes Built Ford Tough, but more than that, with tie-downs on either side of the front hood, it gives you a sense of where those front corners are. There are no aerodynamic swooping lines here; flat front, upright windshield enormous square door openings mean lots of space inside this Bronco.
Inside is outfitted to be rugged with great looks and functionality. However, that utility is not unattractive either. The leather trim vinyl sandstone black seats are attractive and durable, considering that this Bronco is designed to have the top off and open to the element, sun exposure, and abrasions due to sand and dirt. Don’t expect a carpeted floor that is a rubber mat and will be easy to rinse out, and if you get in a little too deep fording a stream, it will be an easy clean.
This vehicle is high-tech to be hosed off, especially under the hood.
This is not a three-row S.U.V. Instead, it is a very spacious two-row, with rear doors providing easy access to the 2nd row of seats. Even they have some of the creature comforts that you might not even find in some street-savvy S.U.V.s.
There is space in the back for cargo with the 2nd-row seats up. As we have become accustomed to in modern S.U.V.s, fold down the right or left side, and you get more space for longer items. Though you do not have a fully flat load floor when those 2nd-row sears are down, there is a considerable jump up, which will make it hard to sleep in unless you plan for that, especially if you choose to go camping in this Bronco.
I was able to get a six-foot step ladder in the back, and while it would not lay flat, you had to put it on its side and angle it to close the cargo tailgate.
Street Savvy makes it Trail Savvy Too
With Ford’s CO-PILOT360 TM technology built in, there is plenty of safety tech on board this truck. Not to mention airbags, blind-spot monitoring, and all the tech that you think of in today’s modern Ford vehicles is right there on this Bronco. The more upscale a trim model you get, the more safety tech you get. The basic cameras and sensors are in place, and the Ford 360 system will help you on the street and off-road. For sure, the cameras will give you a view of where your tires are going what you are driving over, though that will take your eyes off your spotter or the scenery nearby.
Ford’s Ecoboost engines give the Bronco a lot of power for their size. While our media review vehicle had the 2.7 Ecoboost V6 engine, you can also outfit the Bronco with an Ecoboost 2.3 Liter (138 cubic inches 2.2264 cc) GTDI-4cylinder direct injection engine. Both are turbocharged. And both run on 87 octane regular unleaded fuel. You can get it on the base model with the 2.3-Liter engine if you want a manual transmission. Actually, you get a 7-speed (six with a crawler gear) Getrag manual transmission. Or the optional 10-speed automatic, which is available on both engine choices. If you are looking for a manual, I would advise ordering one of those early, as we know manual transmissions are rare and getting rarer with time.
This tester had the 10-speed Automatic that you find in most F-150 pickups. Along with the terrain management and G.O.A.T. Mode – Goes Over Any Terrain, up to seven driver-selectable modes are offered, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand, with Baja, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl for off-road driving. All very helpful when you are out traversing the rutted and rocky trails that off-roaders yearn for.
Future of This Storied Nameplate
Ford has confirmed the Bronco Raptor will arrive in 2022. No doubt you will see this model evolve as time moves on, and we might even get a Hybrid or even an all-electric version in the future, especially with the success of the new F-150 Lightning Pickup Truck.
While this is an amazing off-roader, it is a very complex one. While it has a great look, my thoughts are you will see more of these crawling along the fancy boulevards than being on the fire roads up in the mountain forests. Most off-roaders that I have ever known are the seat of their pants, junkyard dogs, who like to cobble things together. Ford really wants you to buy their accessories from them have your service done by their dealership mechanics, making this Ford Bronco more a rich man’s toy than that of the everyday off-road enthusiast. If you have a budget to buy the $50K plus, and it can plus well in excess of that, then you can afford someone to wash it and repair it. Though not sure you will have someone with you along the trail if you need something tweaked.
Would I buy this Bronco? If I had the budget for it, yes. My background is more of that junkyard dog I spoke of earlier. I like to source my own parts, install them myself, and fiddle with my truck, so it may not be my mug of beer. Early examples of the Bronco have been in high demand and low supply, primarily due to supply chain issues and hardtop production woes.
Words and Images by WIlliam West Hopper, unless otherwise noted.
Mr. Hopper has long been an automotive enthusiast, and as a gay man, an outcast as a car enthusiast. His interest began early on as a young boy with a yellow pedal car, and his first car purchase was a 1972 Yellow Fiat 850 Spider. Today Mr. Hopper has led several automotive enthusiast organizations and been President Emeritus of the Washington Automotive Press Association and a member of the International Motor Press Association. You can find him on Twitter, TikTok as well as LinkedIn. Plus, he has created two YouTube channels to bring his written stories to life on the digital screen.