First Ride

First ride: 2021 Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport go off-roading, show Jeep-fighter credentials

The Ford Bronco got its first test in front of the media during an off-roading day last week.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Sculptor Frederic Remington captured the Wild West like no other. His 1895 bronze sculpture “The Bronco Buster" features a cowboy fighting to stay aboard a rearing bronco, with a stirrup swinging free, holding on by the reins for dear life. It looks like a heck of a ride and so is the new family of Ford Broncos.

The 2021 Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport are on the way and one of the things the company is trying to emphasize is that it's nicer to drive than the competition while being just as – if not more – capable. They've tamed the Bronco to be more approachable, or at least that's the theory. With the new trucks going on sale soon and reservations pouring in, the question is this: Did they succeed?

2021 Ford Bronco The Bronco was driven across a variety of terrain.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

While the public hasn't had a chance to drive them yet, Ford did invite some journalists to the Holly Oaks ORV Park in Michigan to ride in the new four-door Bronco, two-door Bronco, and Bronco Sport. However, they assigned seats so only experiencing two of the three was how it shook out. The complicated courses featured dirt, sand, rocks, and even a water crossing - experiences true off-roading enthusiasts can appreciate.

Here's what I learned.

2021 Ford Bronco

The two-door Bronco feels bigger on the inside than the similarly-proportioned Jeep Wrangler. You don't sit as close shoulder-to-shoulder to the passenger as you do in the Jeep. This proved especially beneficial when I was being bounced around the cabin along the high-speed sections of the course.

The 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine feels plenty potent – this author likes this motor in nearly everything he's driven with it – and the seven-speed manual transmission seems to be geared for the best performance off the tarmac. The Ford employee driver briefly demonstrated the crawler gear on some rough terrain, and it's pretty cool. Most people still would likely prefer the automatic, but the manual does seem to offer quite a bit of control (and the best crawl ratio of the Bronco lineup).

2021 Ford Bronco Bronco offers an impressive amount of water fording capability and most models offer a floor with drains.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The independent front suspension of the Bronco handles the bumps better than the Wrangler's solid front axle. Granted, Ford designed this course, but there was nothing that seemed to flummox the capability of the Bronco and the course seemed reasonably challenging. We didn't ride on the road, but the improved off-road ride quality will surely equate to a better on-road experience.

The other impressive demo showcased during the event was the SUV's disconnecting front sway bar. It's hydraulically controlled, meaning that it can work under load. So, if you're up on an obstacle and realize you should've disconnected the sway bar, you can do it on the fly.

Until we can put it back-to-back against the Jeep Wrangler, it's hard to say which'll perform better, but under the controlled environment that Ford let us ride in, the Bronco appears to be as capable as it needs to be to directly compete.

2021 Ford Bronco The Ford Bronco is as capable as it needs to be to compete against the Jeep Wrangler.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

The surprise delight of the day was the Bronco Sport. While it technically shares a platform with the 2020 Ford Escape, it's nearly completely different inside and out.

High speed through sand, the Bronco Sport slides around like it's a rear-drive-biased AWD system. It's difficult to feel the economy-crossover underpinnings. Power delivery felt consistent from the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-banger and the twin-clutch rear drive unit splits power, shifting it from the rear to the wheel that needs it the most at any given moment.

While we didn't get a chance to experience it on-road, there's no reason to think the Bronco Sport wouldn't ride as nicely as the Escape does, though the off-road focused tires might be a tad bit noisier.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport The Ford Bronco Sport is surprisingly capable.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

When tackling some tough off-road trails, the Bronco Sport feels like it is more capable than a Jeep Renegade or the slightly larger Jeep Cherokee in Trailhawk trims. Ultimately, they'll also need to be tested back to back to verify, but the new Bronco Sport is not the joke many on the internet seem to think it is.

The biggest takeaway from the day is that Ford put time and effort into developing both the new Bronco and the Bronco Sport. Instead of just putting in what they think customers would want, they spent the time going where the potential customers are and seeing how they use their vehicles. It seems like, based on this initial taste, they're on the right track.

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New off-roader

Ford Bronco Production Officially Begins

The Ford Bronco is finally ready for primetime.

Ford

The time is finally here. After years of speculation and several months of pandemic-related delays, the Ford Bronco is starting to roll off the assembly line. The SUV marks the first new Bronco model in Ford's lineup in 15 years, not counting the Bronco Sport, and is one of the most hyped and sought-after vehicles to hit the market in quite some time. Ford's announcement that production has begun will be accompanied by a special YouTube presentation that Ford says will include interviews with the Bronco team and with reservation holders at the automaker's new Modification Center.


2021 Ford Bronco Ford added 2,700 jobs to support Bronco production.Ford


Bronco production has driven Ford to invest $750 million into its Michigan Assembly Plant, and the automaker says it has added 2,700 jobs to support the rollout. Ford's push to begin production can't come soon enough. Over 125,000 Bronco orders have been placed, and multiple delays have pushed the vehicle's arrival back, meaning there is considerable demand for the off-road legend.

Ford is ready to capitalize on the craze and will offer several ways to customize the new vehicle. At its 1.7 million square-foot Modification Center, The Blue Oval will factory-install several optional modifications that include equipment such as a front bumper safari bar, graphics packages, roof racks, and more. That's on top of more than 200 factory-backed accessories that can be installed at the dealer, either at or after the time of purchase.


2021 Ford Bronco Delays and production difficulties have pushed the Bronco back.Ford


If you are hoping to get behind the wheel of a new Bronco, it could be a while. Even buyers that have been in line for a while now might not see their new vehicle until late 2021 or 2022, and the vehicle's official rollout will almost certainly re-spike demand. Even so, many feel it's worth the wait, and Ford's vehicle configuration tool is live, so go check it out for yourself.

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The Nissan Pathfinder is just at home on the trial as it is on the road.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". The message is about making choices and, how the road taken made all the difference. Often in life and on the road, we have to make one choice. Take one road. No turning back. I thought of this poem on my recent test drive in the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder in the hinterlands of Montana, when I could take two different roads—paved and dirt—and that made all the difference!

Nissan has redesigned and retooled its fifth-generation Pathfinder instilling greater latitude for buyers who want to travel both types of roads and expand their adventure footprint. After seven decades of off-road development, 35 years in the business of selling Pathfinders, and with more than 1.8 million sold in the U.S., this Japanese automaker has moved the needle with a ground-up revision of the previous-gen model.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a capable off-roader.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The full-sized sport utility is available in four trims (S, SV, SL and Platinum) and two- and four-wheel drive versions; Nissan expects that nearly 60 percent of buyers will choose four-wheel drive. The Pathfinder is in a segment that has grown larger each year as more families want a vehicle for around-town, school and playdate runs and for weekend getaways with traction technology that allows travel in the backcountry and good towing capability. Direct competitors are the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Ford Explorer.

A day-long drive of approximately 150 miles on tarmac and over a variety of dirt roads and tracks provided the opportunity to assess the Pathfinder's updates. A late-spring snowstorm added slickness to all the road surfaces in the region and allowed the Pathfinder to show off its traction capabilities at both slow and higher speeds and with lane change and emergency-braking maneuvers, when towing. I concentrated my evaluation on the augmented hardware and software designed to enhance the crossover's capabilities for backcountry travel and towing.

What I found most notable over every road surface was the comfortable ride and responsive handling that come from a collection of upgrades—and, in particular, as a result of the following: the gearing on the new nine-speed transmission, with paddle shifters for personal and more precise shifting for sport driving and slowing over rough terrain; the new terrain mode system that's engineered for different driving conditions; the four-wheel drive system that moves torque more quickly to avoid wheel slip; the improved suspension system; and new tires with a larger contact patch and more aggressive tread pattern, among other changes.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Pathfinder's drive modes are designed to inspire confidence. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Pathfinder provided sure-footed motoring and comfort over uneven surfaces. Its 7.1 inches of ground clearance easily maneuvered over the small obstacles on the trail and hill descent control took the reigns without hesitation for steeper and longer downhills on traction-compromised surfaces.

I was also impressed with the Pathfinder's towing competence and appreciated the standard trailer sway control onboard all trims. It offered notably strong, mannered acceleration from a standing start and excellent straight-line braking without porpoising for either exercise.

The new 2022 Pathfinder brings off-road and towing attributes that are important to families who are seeking to spend time in the backcountry for days trips and longer and for overlanding in terrain that doesn't require a true off-road vehicle with a low range. It's will appeal to buyers who want don't want to have to choose only one road.

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