Hit the Trail

10 things true off-roaders will love about the 2021 Ford Bronco

The Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport are designed for true off-roading.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Editor's Note: Sue Mead is a photojournalist and features writer for numerous automative publications and, beyond that, she's co-driven two of the world's toughest off-road races, the Baja 1000 and the Paris-Dakar Raid (Dakar Rally). She also has attended four Camel Trophy adventures for Land Rover North America; gone way off the beaten path in countries far and wide including Mali, Mongolia, Belize, and Bolivia; and authored three books about 4x4s. When it comes to off-roading, there are few that know it better.

Off-roading is having a big moment right now. It's big bucks for automakers who sell vehicles that have 4WD prowess and overlanding potential. It's big fun for vehicle owners that were born with an adventure gene that want to use their vehicle to climb mountains, ford streams, and explore the hinterlands.

2021 Ford BroncoThe Ford Bronco has debuted with two sizes, a two-door and a four-door.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The 2021 Ford Bronco comes in three models built for off-roading. As a seasoned off-road professional, there's a number of equipment and technology features that stand out to me as being particularly good for those of us who like getting off the beaten path.

It comes with a manual

Not all Broncos have manuals, but the ones designed for the most hard-core off-roaders do.

A seven-speed (6+1 crawler gear) Getrag manual transmission on the 2.3-liter engine in the Bronco is made for enthusiasts and racers that want to do their own shifting. A 10-speed automatic is available for the 2.3- and 2.7-liter power plants.

The Bronco Sport is not available with a manual. It comes standard with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmissions. When buyers upgrade to the 2.0-liter EcoBoost power plant they get an eight-speed SelectShift automatic with an oil cooler, manual shifting mode, and paddle shifters.

Removable doors, roof, and body panels

2021 Ford Bronco 2-door perched sunset

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Two-door Bronco models can seat four while four-door versions can accommodate five. Four-door Broncos have removable doors, roof sections, and body panels; the doors can be stowed in the rear in storage bags, if you so choose. Digging into the product info Ford sent over, it looks like additional partial door options are on their way.

The Bronco Sport's doors don't come off.

Numbers a 4x4 enthusiast will love

The two- and-four door Broncos come standard with 4x4 with part-time selectable engagement, two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly, and a 2.72:2 low ratio. Buyers can upgrade to advanced 4x4 with automatic on-demand 4H engagement, a two-speed electromechanical transfer case, and a 3.06:1 low ratio.

Laudable ground clearance, ingenious design choices

2021 Ford Bronco 2-Door Wading Fording Water

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The new Broncos family of SUVs don't just look off-road capable, they truly are. They deliver laudable ground clearance that ranges from 8.4 inches to 11.6 inches and select models can ride on up to 35-inch off-road tires before any aftermarket modifications.

Borrowing the styling and "form follows function" legacy of the heritage Bronco, the two- and four-door Bronco versions have impressive angles of approach (35.5/43.2 degrees); breakover (21.1/29.0 degrees) and departure (29.8/37.2 degrees); along with a maximum water fording depth of 33.5 inches.

Beveled fender tops that can be used as sight lines for driving are an ingenious addition to the model.

Numbers rock crawlers will love

The two- and four-door Broncos are the most capable. Four different crawl ratios are available depending on transmission and transfer case:

  • Automatic transmission with electronic shift-on-the-fly - 57.19:1
  • Manual transmission with electronic shift-on-the-fly - 79.92:1
  • Automatic with electromechanical transfer case - 67.8:1
  • Manual with electromechanical transfer case - 94.75:1
(Maximum ratios with high-capability option packages)

Differentials make a difference

2021 Ford Bronco GIF

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

In the rear of the two- and four-door Bronco is a Dana 44 AdvenTEK solid rear axle with available Spicer Performa-TraK electronic locking differentials. Up front, a Dana AdvanTEK independent front differential unit lives, but can be upgraded to a Spicer Performa-TraK electronic locking differential.

G.O.A.T. modes

2021 Ford Bronco interior GOAT Modes

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The original generations of the Bronco were marketed as G.O.A.T.s, vehicles that could go over all terrain. Ford has used this vintage nomenclature to refer to the seven drive modes the Bronco and Bronco Sport can come equipped with that modulate speed and torque delivery for more control, and mannered, safer motoring. These include: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl. Availability of the modes varies by vehicle.

Additionally, Trail Control (cruise control for low-speed trail driving), Trail Turn Assist (tightens off-road turning radiuses with torque vectoring), and Trail One-Pedal Drive (manages acceleration/braking control and adds control and comfort for slow-mode rock crawling) are available.

The suspension is made to be ultra-smooth

2021 Ford Bronco GIF

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Bronco and Bronco Sport's suspension is engineered to smooth the ride and lift and support the chassis over truly rugged terrain.

The two- and four-door versions of the Bronco come standard with twin alloy A-arms and coil-over springs in the front. At the rear, there are solid five-link rear axle with active bushings and coil-over springs. Bilstein position-sensitive shock absorbers with end-stop control valves are available for both axles.

The result is best-in-class suspension travel.

Bronco Sport comes standard with an independent MacPherson strut-type with coil springs, stabilizer bar, twin-tube hydraulic gas-pressured shocks at the front. The rear has an independent double lateral link semi-trailing arms with coil springs, stabilizer bar and monotone hydraulic gas-pressured shocks; as well as an isolated steel subframe with cast knuckle.

Buyers wanting to upgrade can get unique coil springs for the front and rear.

Disconnecting on the run

2021 Ford Bronco

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

A semi-active hydraulic stabilizer bar disconnect design maximizes articulation and increases ramp angle index for off-camber terrain. What is unique is that it allows the bar to disconnect during articulation; it can reconnect under all conditions to improve steering and stability at higher speeds.

Off-roading apps and navigation are taken to a new level

The FordPass Performance app with off-road navigation allows owners to plan, navigate, and share their personal off-road adventures. An advanced topographic trail maps' system boasts more than 1,000 curated trail maps that are powered by class-exclusive trail content from NeoTreks' AccuTerra Maps, Trails Offroad trail guides, and FunTreks trail guides.

Trending News

 
 

The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

Trending News

 
 

New electric SUV

Honda teases its first EV

The Prologue will go on sale as a 2024 model.

Honda

Honda is nearing the unveiling of its first electric vehicle, the Prologue, and today the automaker gave us our first glimps of the new vehicle. It's just a sketch, but Honda did share some production details and information on its product roadmap.

Honda DealerHonda plans to sell half a million EVs by the end of the decade. Honda

Honda says the Prologue will be an adventure-ready SUV "capable of satisfying everyday driving and weekend getaways with a strong hint of the well-received Honda e in the front fascia." The SUV was developed in Honda's Design Studio in Los Angeles, and was designed with an eye on Honda's global EV models. Honda said it focused on aerodynamics and fine-tuning the body to reducelines and improve range.

The Japanese automaker developed the Prologue alongside GM, but it has other EVs coming to market by 2026. By 2030, Honda says it will release 30 new EVs globally with a production volume of two million units. The co-developed vehicle is the first, but the rest will be built on Honda e:Architecture. In 2027, the automaker will begin building and selling a line of affordable EVs using the architecture developed with General Motors. Honda says it plans to sell half a million EVs in North America by the end of hte decade.

Trending News