Long Form

Riding right seat in the Bronco R in Baja shows the prototype truck's good and bad side

Legendary off-road racer Sue Mead went to Mexico and brought back this story about what it's like to ride in the Bronco R.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Professional racer Brad Lovell throttled the Bronco R out of the dirt parking lot at El Rancho Taqueria in Valle de la Trinidad, Baja California ahead of the SCORE Baja 1000. The synapses in my brain instantly lit a bank of grey-matter cylinders that were experiencing a rush of adrenaline. As the Bronco's turbo punched air through the Ford motor, an alluring and seductive exhaust note filled the soft desert air. It was the type of a serenade that's worshipped by those who are wired for racing.

This whistle stop village, situated in a broad valley with nearby access to some of the toughest off-road trails used in Baja racing, is home to approximately six dozen inhabitants. It is cherished by off-roaders and dirt racers for its Pemex fuel station and muy delicioso tacos.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead suits up before her ride in the Bronco R.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

A small corps of Ford Performance team members, along with a cadre of engineers from Geiser Brothers off-road racing had descended on the town with the mission of putting some on-and off-road miles on Ford's prototype truck.

Visible to the naked eye was a body designed to tease the looks of the upcoming street-legal Bronco, with cues that harkened to the original icon. It was punctuated by a color scheme and a "2069" badge that reflected Rod Hall's legendary 1969 Baja 1000 win in a Bronco; the number honored Hall and reflected the class the Bronco R would compete in the next day. The shell rode on top of a purpose-built, roll-caged race truck, with a stock motor, transmission, transfer case and front differential; the "race rear end" and other add-ons were not from the Ford stables.

Ford confirmed that the engine and transmission in the Bronco R are the same components that will be in the 2021 Ford Bronco.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead met up with the Bronco R race team in Valle de la Trinidad.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Earlier in the week, the "R" had been experiencing issues with its added-on race bits. Its first high-speed pre-run earlier in "Valle de T" had illuminated the need for more time and testing. All involved knew those were a limited commodity but, as the long, mud-splattered hood was removed, tools were placed at-the-ready and a team of experts filled every available orifice the Bronco R has to fix its teething troubles.

Electrical wiring was replaced in an effort to remediate issues with fuses and the cooling system of the race vehicle that was developed in skunkworks only five months before-- and had only been driven approximately the same number of miles in testing as the grueling race was long.

As the Bronco R roared back to life, I donned a race suit, helmet, HANS device, and gloves, and slipped sideways through the webbed window. Lovell, one of the world's top racers and fabricators with multiple Baja 1000 wins sat in the driver's seat while I took my spot up front.

Tapped to be on Ford's seven-person Dream Team of notable off-road racers for the '19 Baja 1000, Lovell started our ride along Baja California's Rt.3, in the northwestern quadrant of this Mexican state. "The ride is really smooth," I hollered into the mic, as cactus, yucca, and desert scrub blurred along the roadside. Lovell picked up the pace. "It is smooth and handles really well," he responded.

The other seat in the cabin is a single back seat that is bolted in. During races, that seat is generally reserved for engineers and this ride along was no exception. Its occupant was Brian Novak, Ford Performance off-road racing supervisor. The reserved-but-amiable mechanical engineer has an impressive CV as a track racer and heads up Ford's Le Mans, NASCAR, and Virgin Australia Supercars Racing programs.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead hops into the Bronco R for her 100-mile ride.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

During the ride, his job was to monitor telemetry and, like a parent of a child with a cough and running a high fever, Novak was watchful and concerned. It was less than 24 hours before the green flag would wave at the start of the 2019 Baja 1000 in Ensenada and thousands of eyeballs in Mexico and around the world would be on the Bronco R.

I settled in for the ride in my side-hugging Recarco race saddle. Crisp air blew in through the open windshield and buffeted the world around me. Having raced 30,000 off-road miles around the globe over the last few decades, I felt instantly at home, although mesmerized by the Star-Wars-like bank of controls, gauges, digital readouts, and graphics.

As we turned onto a dirt track to run the truck along a section of race course with undulating terrain, snaking turns, and mud troughs, I noted that Lovell's hands stayed steady and quiet on the wheel. "You're right," said Lovell. "The steering is tight and a bit heavy, which works well."

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead rides right side in the Bronco R.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Lovell alternated between letting the intelligent transmission up-and down-shift on its own merit and using the paddles to motivate the truck, pointing out that both fulfilled their assigned function. Most impressive, to me was that the Bronco's Fox suspension seemed perfectly calibrated to allow the 'R' to float, when needed, and collect the reins for straight-line, steady and buttoned-up motoring, when required.

By the time we crested the mountain ridge that led into Ensenada, the lights of this seaside city, known as La Cenicienta del Pacifico (Cinderella of the Pacific), filled the night sky with a glistening yellow glow.

Nearly one hundred miles in, I was impressed with the Bronco R, but noted that the team spent the last 40 minutes of the drive frequently instructing me to push an override switch control, as an ominous red warning light illuminated the dark.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead's ride revealed the good and bad of the Bronco R's engineering and design.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

As we pulled it into the make-shift workshop behind the La Pinta hotel, where a team was waiting to apply fixes and address the overheating issues, I knew the next Bronco chapter is still in outline form, awaiting its instructions to become a true work of art.

This new race horse in the Ford stable had an extraordinarily qualified team of trainers, racers, and support staff. After that initial ride, I thought that the Bronco R had a good chance to complete the world's most arduous challenge over the dirt, sand, mud, mountains, dry lake beds, washes and boulders that make up the Baja 1000. I also thought: this is a colt that might need more time.

Baja 1000 Race Results

Following a 24-hour weather delay, 264 vehicles left the start line early Saturday morning with racers from 39 U.S. states and 22 countries.

After issues with a broken skid plate that wreaked havoc with some underbelly parts, a damaged front suspension, and overheating issues, the Ford pulled the plug at Race Mile 580, as the truck was on track to enter a remote and rigorous stage of the race, where it would have been nearly impossible to get support to the onboard crew.

From there, the Bronco R was able to be driven on paved roads to the finish line in Ensenada, where the team celebrated its efforts and Ford formally announced its sponsorship of SCORE racing for the next three years.

"The Ford production parts performed flawlessly; where we have an opportunity to improve is in the fabricated parts that allowed us to race in an event like the '1000 –to show the rugged capability of our trucks," said Novak. "We will be back."

When the course closed at 11:27:28 p.m. PT on Sunday, there were 145 official finishers for a 54.92 finishing percentage, especially good considering the difficulty of the race course.

AutomotiveMap's writers chose their favorite vehicles to use to make a large Costco run.

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

It's always the paper towels. They take up more room than you think and then you're left trying to figure out where to put the rotisserie chicken.

When you're ready to upgrade your vehicle, consider these AuotmotiveMap picks, which are perfect for shopping trips to Costco, Sam's Club, and the like.

​2020 Ford Escape

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Sue Mead: The 2020 Ford Escape has been completely redesigned for the new model year. The sportier, more powerful, and more premium Escape comes in front- and all-wheel drive variants. It's also available as a hybrid that has up to 400 miles of range. The value-priced Escape has standard Ford Co-Pilot360 safety and driver assistance technology and a large rear cargo space.

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Harvey Briggs: Start with 165 cubic feet of passenger volume, the convenience of stow-and-go seating, side doors and a tailgate that open wide and there's no better vehicle for hauling a 65" flatscreen, five pounds of crab legs, and four all-season radials than this. Get a black 2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with the S appearance package for a look that's bad to the bone.

​2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Jesus Garcia: When you absolutely, positively need to buy and carry everything you buy at Costco, accept no substitute than the 2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van with its efficient 3.0-liter V6 turbo diesel engine and available 4x4. Like any good passenger van, it has gobs of storage space.

2020 Honda Ridgeline

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Perry Stern, AutoNXT: The unique cargo carrying ability of Honda's pickup truck – a lockable trunk below a proper cargo bed – make the Ridgeline an excellent option for the run to Costco.

2020 Chrysler Pacifica

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Nicole Wakelin: Like is hybrid counterpart, the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica offers lots of cargo room without having to fold down the seats so you can head straight to pick up the kids at school without a stop at home.

2020 Honda CR-V

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Eileen Falkenberg-Hull: The Honda CR-V ticks a lot of boxes for the average family and many of them are likely big box retailer shoppers. The compact SUV seats up to five and has cavernous cargo space which means you can easily fit a stroller alongside your load of toilet paper, roasted chicken, wine, and fruit snacks.

2020 Ford Expedition Max

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Chad Kirchner: The 2020 Ford Expedition Max is the way to go because the extra 12-inches of cargo space is needed for the bulk buys when you're toting along your whole family for an excursion.

The Ford Escape and Explorer are two formidable SUVs.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Both the 2020 Ford Escape and the 2020 Ford Explorer are meant for consumers of all kinds, from the parent carting their kids to sports practices to the avid outdoor explorer. The vehicles have both form and function – they will get you where you need to go and will do so in style. Ford has completely redesigned the SUVs from the ground up for the 2020 model year.

Driving these vehicles back to back emphasized their commonalities. Both can comfortably transport you, your passengers, and your cargo. On the surface, the primary differentiator between the two vehicles is the number of rows. The Explorer's three-row, six-passenger standard configuration allows you to transport more passengers and/or cargo than the Escape's two-row/five-passenger setup.

2020 Ford Escape The Ford Escape was redesigned for the 2020 model year.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Here's a little more information to help inform your decision.

2020 Ford Escape

The Escape comes in five trim levels: S, SE, SE Sport, SEL, and Titanium.

The SUV's new powertrains give greater fuel economy and better range. Ford offers four powertrain choices for the Escape: 1.5-liter EcoBoost, 2.0-liter EcoBoost, 2.5-liter hybrid, or 2.5-liter plug-in hybrid (PHEV). The 2.5-liter hybrid engine is most fuel efficient. The EcoBoost powertrains are paired with eight-speed automatic transmission. The hybrid and plug-in powertrains are paired with PowerSplit, an electronic continuously variable transmission.

The Escape feels spacious due to smart design. A dial shifter frees up space between front row seats, and a sliding second row offers optimal flexibility between legroom and cargo space. When the second row is fully indexed forward (six inches), the trunk can accommodate a normal sized dog crate. Unlike the Explorer, the Escape does not have a third row of seats. The way the second-row seats move is one of the most impressive parts of the Escape. It is easily configurable to accommodate passengers and cargo.

2020 Ford Escape The Ford Escape has a large cargo area.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Despite its spacious interior, the vehicle feels compact and maneuvers easily on both surface streets and freeways. The Escape swings easily into parking spaces and has good visibility so you don't have to rely on a camera to get between the lines.

Driver assist technology, including a blind spot information system, lane-keeping system, and automatic emergency braking come standard on the Escape in a suite called Ford Co-Pilot360. Additional safety and driver assist technologies are available as part of options packages.

2020 Ford Escape The interior of the Escape is logically set up.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

According to Ford, the Escape's main competitors are the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker is quick to point out that the Escape distinguishes itself from these competitors with its technological capabilities, interior flexibility and styling, and distinctive looks.

The Escape is a great choice for anyone looking for an attractive vehicle suitable for errand-running, exploring, and anything in between. This vehicle offers the flexibility and functionality that today's consumers need. The Escape looks just as at home parked outside a restaurant while you enjoy a fancy dinner as it does perched next to a mountain stream while you set up your campsite.

2020 Ford Explorer

Ford offers three powertrain choices for the Explorer: 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder, 3.3-liter hybrid, or 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6. The Explorer is as fuel efficient as a 2020 Honda Pilot but not as efficient as the 2020 Toyota Highlander.All engines are paired with a ten-speed automatic transmission. Driving the Explorer with the EcoBoost engine felt smoother than driving an Escape with an EcoBoost engine.

2020 Ford Explorer The 2020 Explorer got a complete redesign and now rides on a rear-wheel drive platform.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Explorer is available with three rows of seats but the Escape is not. Driving the Explorer at first felt like driving a minivan, but it quickly became clear that the vehicle is easily maneuverable on both surface streets and freeways. Despite its length, the Explorer was easy to park.

According to Ford, the Explorer is the bestselling SUV in the U.S. More than six million Explorers have been sold since the vehicle's introduction in 1991. The 2020 iteration is the sixth generation of this vehicle. This Explorer has the SUV's broadest lineup ever: Base (fleet only), XLT, Limited/Limited Hybrid, ST, and Platinum.

The wheelbase of the Ford Explorer was expanded for the 2020 model year by six inches, meaning that the front and rear axles are six inches further apart than they previously were. This positively affected the capability and looks of the SUV both inside and outside allowing the vehicle to feel more planted on the road in this new generation.

2020 Ford Explorer The 2020 Explorer shares many of the design hallmarks of the last-get Explorer.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Explorer feels more spacious (although it expanded by no more than a tenth of an inch in any direction). Passengers have more leg and shoulder room and the trunk can fit more cargo. The SUV has improved departure and approach angles for off-roading.

It can now tow up to 5,600 pounds (one of the highest towing capacities in the segment) whereas previously it had a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.

The engine and transmission are now mounted north-south, giving the vehicle a nearly 50-50 weight distribution, which helps it feel balanced and agile.

The Explorer also has great technical abilities, including autonomous emergency breaking, reverse break assist, traffic sign recognition, and side wind stabilization.

2020 Ford Explroer The 2020 Explorer features a large 10-inch screen in the center of its dashboard in premium models.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The SUV has a focus on human-centered design. The configurable cargo management system allows you to hold a variety of cargo, from groceries to sporting equipment. Step cleats allow easy access to the top of the vehicle. A console in the second row allow passengers to store beverages and other items. Its low profile ensures that the third row is still easily accessible.

According to Ford, the Explorer's main competitors are the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander. Reasons to choose the Explorer over its competitors are its range, horsepower, and long list of standard equipment.

The 2020 Ford Escape and the 2020 Ford Explorer can take you from the mall to the mountains and do so with panache. As Lee Newcombe, Explorer Marketing Manager at Ford, summed it up, all of the vehicles' features are "meant to make your daily drive or your adventure drive easier on you".

What may not be easy on you is the price tag. The 2020 Ford Explorer starts around $32,000 and tops out well over $58,000. The Escape is more cost-effective coming in with a starting MSRP of $24.885 and reaching $33,550 in its top Titanium trim.