Here It Comes…
We never forget the things we really love, no matter how long we’ve gone without them. The 2010’s are a decade ripe with 90’s nostalgia. The music, clothes, and fashions of flannel-clad yesteryear are all in vogue once again. And soon, Ford begins doing its part in the big comeback tour by reintroducing a favorite ride that we haven’t seen the likes of since 1996: the world-renowned Ford Bronco is soon returning and hopes to challenge its old Jeep rival for its spot atop the four-wheeling universe.
Many fans of the burly off-roader wonder why it ever went away to begin with. For 30 years it dominated in a class that it essentially created. The fan base is so vast that there is even a publication called Bronco Driver Magazine, devoted solely to the love of the bygone beast. To say that there is a cult following is putting it mildly. With most Broncos now old enough to achieve classic car status, it is a special thrill to see a well-kept one rumble up to a stoplight.
The First Ford Bronco rolled off of the assembly line in 1966. The first generation lasted until 1977 and was available as a pickup truck, a hardtop, or a convertible. Built on the same platform and with many similar components as Ford’s F-100 pickup, it featured either a six or eight-cylinder engine. Broncos were ready for back country terrain from the very start, complete with such equipment as a transfer case and four wheel drive. Even in its early years, Ford competed with Jeep for class dominance, namely the Willys Jeep CJ. Its go-anywhere style and Spartan interior made it beloved by the practical off-roader almost immediately.
Growth and Change
The second generation narrowed in on what Bronco fans wanted. For ‘78-’79, the Bronco was only available as a 3-door model, with a removable hardtop and a V8 engine. The third generation (1980-1986) brought back a six-cylinder option in light of the national fuel crisis. A retooling of the front suspension vastly improved the on-road experience. The next installment (1987-1991) put a whopping 5.0-liter V8 under the hood. The front end was restyled for better aerodynamics, and the interior was treated to a significant upgrade, including a new steering wheel and instrument panel. The Bronco’s final form, until production ceased in 1996, added leather seats as an option and was engineered with safety in mind like never before. However, many Broncophiles pass on this generation, as it is the first version in which the roof is not removable.
The End Of An Era
But alas, the Bronco’s end was at hand. Ford introduced its replacement, the sensible yet unexciting Expedition. With the domestic market entering full-on SUV hysteria, the need for a four-door option to compete with the likes of the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon grew greater and greater.
And then, silence. Larger four-door SUVs, like the Ford Excursion, Chevy Suburban, and the GMC Yukon XL flourished. Consumers wanted four-door behemoths with a rear gate that swings open vertically. The Bronco had a concept car treatment in a 2004 auto show, but little other news came about. Automakers seemed content to leave the Ford Bronco and its heyday in the past, a fond and ever more distant memory.
A Fresh Start
And then, hope. In 2016, rumblings began online and in Bronco forums about a possible return. Ford moved production of the Focus to a plant in Mexico, leaving room for their potential assembly in Michigan. As of January 2017, at the North American International Auto Show, those rumors are true. The Bronco will make an official comeback (along with the Ford Ranger), with the first models available by 2020.
So what can we expect from the second coming of this legendary beast? While not all of the details are official just yet, a general idea is beginning to emerge. The new Ford Bronco will undoubtedly look to compete with the Wrangler, a platform that has been standing alone and unchallenged atop off-road mountain for quite some time in the Bronco’s absence.
Quite simply, all of the information isn’t out yet. Ford is apparently busy at the drawing board, but specifics are not official. However we do know that the Bronco will take the spot in the Ford line beneath the Expedition, which was vacated when the Explorer officially became a crossover in 2011. It will indeed be built at the original Bronco plant at Michigan assembly. It definitely will not be a mere re-branding of the Ford Everest (a popular member of Ford’s Asian fleet).
Reports have alleged that the new Ford Bronco will have solid front and rear axle, a feature aimed directly at courting the Wrangler newcomers. This feature will no doubt be of interest to serious off-road fans, but plenty of those Wrangler newcomers never intend for their rides to leave the pavement. And for this crowd (mockingly known as Mall Crawlers), a removable top holds some sway. With an alleged 3-paneled removable roof in the works, perhaps Ford can pick off that segment of the market that will fall for the next shiny new thing in this class, regardless of the specs. To be sure, the Bronco plan to compete with Jeep certainly does not mean they intend to copy every move. For example, despite the look of its classic predecessor, experts don’t expect to see a 2-door Bronco model.
As for power, don’t hold your breath hoping to see a V8. Ford doesn’t even have a V8 option with its class-leading F-150 Raptor anymore. Think V6, with mentions of a hybrid in the works. A 2.7-liter EcoBoost Twin Turbo V6 runs in the Fusion Sport and the 2018 F-150, and may fit nicely here. And the transmission is anyone’s guess, but Ford’s automatic 10-speed is a safe one.
What is it gonna take to get into one of these babies? Like so many details, we just don’t know yet, but a base price around $30,000 seems likely. A small price to pay to have this piece of Americana back on the road.