Retrospective

Now and then: How the 2021 Ford Bronco differs from past Broncos

The Ford Bronco came in a number of body styles over the years. Let's take a look back.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

What's old is new again, but much improved. The long-awaited 2021 Ford Bronco has finally broken cover.Designers and marketers have looked to the first Bronco, born in 1965, and leveraged its history for the design and engineering of the new Bronco family of vehicles.

The new Bronco comes in three versions similar to the originals, but benefits from a treasure-trove of modern-day technologies and innovations, as well as a fully-developed marketing plan that includes hundreds of available after-market accessories for personalization.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport FamilyThe 2021 Ford Bronco Family builds on the foundation of decades of off-roading excellence.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The competition

The 2021 Bronco is hard-wired and poised to go to war with its closest rival today--Fiat Chrysler's family of Jeep vehicles and the legions of enthusiasts that Jeep has culled with Mopar accessories, as well as the independent Jeep Jamboree USA program and a collection of other Jeep owner events across the country and beyond. The off-road rivalry is nothing new for the companies, who trace the origins of that battle back to World War II when they competed to build the perfect all-terrain vehicle for troop transport.

Don Frey, Ford Motor Company Vice President, is noted as the brainchild behind two Ford ponies - the first Bronco and the Mustang (along with some help from Lee Iacocca). The boxy, durable two-door with round headlights was constructed of a body-on-frame design with high ground clearance and short front and rear overhangs; it was unveiled in '65 as the first automobile called out specifically as a "Sports-Utility Vehicle".

Exterior styling

The 2021 Bronco follows the same utilitarian form-follows-function design aesthetic as the original, with all panels and glass styled straight and flat, plus it has been penned outside and in using nearly mirror-image styling and legacy cues. The Bronco Sport design inspiration links to the all-new Bronco halo model, borrowing rugged attributes that include a signature encapsulated cartridge grille, round headlamps, clean, flat bodysides, short front and rear overhangs and tough unpainted exterior finishes.

Offered as a '66 model, the first Bronco came in three body styles (the open-air no-frills, two-passenger Roadster; a Sport Utility with pickup bed; and a wagon, with two doors, tailgate, full top and a rear bench seat as an option). The base Roadster was the least expensive starting at $2,194, with optional doors and roof, while the Sport Utility seated two or three riders on a bench seat and had a pickup bed that earned it the moniker "half-cab".

1966 Ford Bronco The 1966 Ford Bronco was available in a variety of body styles, suiting many families' needs.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford's newest Bronco family is made up of classic two-door and first-ever four-door offerings, as well as a Sport. The two- and four-door versions have quick-release stowable roof panels and doors on some models that are paired with matched color and trim combinations, along with available packages and options, 11 color choices, and more than 200 dealer-installable accessories. It starts at $29,995.

The 2021 Bronco Sport comes in one four-door body style and five trims, with four accessory bundles and over 100 factory-backed stand-alone accessories. It's cleverly been crafted to carry two mountain bikes in the rear cargo area—and two cyclists in the front.

Limited-volume First Edition versions of the three models will be available at launch.

Power and prowess

Frey said the original line of Bronco SUVs married the attributes of conventional cars and trucks and would serve the needs of sportsmen and families to use in the woods, on the farm or for civil defense. Advertised as an "off-road vehicle" (ORV), its 92-inch wheelbase and 4WD attributes squared it up against the compact Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. During its reign, four other generations followed that bumped its footprint into the popular midsized SUV segment.

1966 Ford Bronco two-doorThe model was made as a vehicle that could go over all types of terrain.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The new #BuiltWild Broncos, are constructed on wheelbases that range from 100.4-inch and 116.1-inch for the classics to 105.1 for the Bronco Sport. They also come with advanced four-wheel-drive technology and Terrain Management Systems with G.O.A.T. Modes (seven different selectable drive programs for varying road conditions, availalbity varies by model).

Two 4x4 systems are offered on all modern Bronco models, a base and an advanced 4x4, plus an impressive assortment of world-class 4WD hardware that provides prowess and no-compromise handling and maneuverability especially where the pavement ends and adventure begins. The two-and four-doors are most like Jeep Wranglers, while the small sibling will compare to Jeep's Compass or Cherokee.

2021 Ford Bronco SportThe 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is off-road capable- not just another pretty face.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The original Bronco sported an H-pattern 'three on the tree' manual transmission connected to a 170 CID inline six-cylinder engine with 105 horsepower that was borrowed from the Ford Falcon and modified for off-road duty. A year later, V8 power appeared on the option sheet, first as the 289 and, later, the 302 in 1977. Upgrades in '73 included power steering and an optional three-speed automatic transmission.

1966 Ford Bronco engineThe first Bronco engine had just 105 horsepower.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The newest Broncos assert their power using a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 (projected to produce 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque) or a 2.3-liter four-cylinder (tapped to achieve 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque). Classics have the option of a seven-speed (6+1) manual transmission or a SelectShift 10-speed automatic transmission. Bronco Sport buyers will find a 2.0-liter EcoBoost (targeted 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque) or a 1.5-liter EcoBoost (rated 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque); both engines are shifted with an 8-speed automatic transmission.

In early Broncos, standard 4WD was set up with a Dana 20 transfer case and a Dana 30 front differential that was upgraded to a Dana 44 in 1971, while a Hotchkiss type driveshaft was connected to a 9-inch axle at the Ford's rear end. Up front was a suspension comprised of coil springs and radius arms that provided competitive wheel travel and a tight turning radius. Heavier-duty leaf springs sprung the rear while air assist front springs was an option for owners that wanted added toughness.

The new Bronco's base system utilizes a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case, while the optional advanced system features a two-speed electromechanical transfer case with an auto mode for on-demand engagement to select between 2H and 4H. Power is distributed to a Dana44 AdvanTEK solid rear axle and Dana AdvanTEK independent front differential unit – both with available Spicer Performa-TraK electronic locking differentials for improved traction over tough terrain.

2021 Ford Bronco SportThe modern Bronco and Bronco sport are designed as go-anywhere vehicles. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Some Bronco Sport series versions use an advanced 4x4 system with a class-exclusive twin-clutch rear-drive unit set up with a differential lock feature to allow greater off-road performance – similar to a traditional mechanical locking differential. Two- and four-door Bronco models get an independent front suspension with a solid axle design featuring coil springs with five locating links in the rear; long-travel position-sensitive Bilstein dampers with end-stop control valves are available. All Bronco Sport models sit on independent front and rear suspension systems; uniquely tuned front struts with hydraulic rebound stops are used on some series, along with 46-millimeter-diameter monotube rear shocks.

Well-outfitted and equipped

Standard issue, the first trucks stuck to utilitarian roots with equipment, but dealers and a robust initial owner base found the first-gen truck could be outfitted rather nicely - options included bucket seats, along with a tachometer, a CB radio, a power take-off, winch, and post-hole digger. If more off-road capability was desired, a plow, tow bar, and an auxiliary gas tank could be ordered, as well as aftermarket performance parts for the engine, and larger wheels and tires.

1966 Ford Bronco interiorThe interior of the 1966 Bronco was rather sparsely appointed.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Among the many standout features of the two- and four-door versions of the 2021 Bronco are 35-inch tires, grab handles that are integrated into the modular instrument panel and center console, and MOLLE hooks that are mounted in the seatbacks. Attachment points are built into the instrument panel to mount a bring-your-own-device rack, with 12-volt power connections to mount cameras, navigation units, phones, or other devices like a GoPro. A 12-inch SYNC 4 system brings over-the-air updates and seamlessly integrates to the FordPass Performance app with off-road navigation and displays the available 360-degree camera system projecting off-road spotter views to provide greater visibility for technical driving.

Features on the new Bronco Sport include a class-exclusive liftgate with a flip-glass rear window, LED floodlamps, zippered seatback pockets for additional stowage, and fun and unique items like a built-in bottle opener in the cargo area and a slide-out work table. All Broncos can be had with a variety of washable rubber flooring throughout the cabin and cargo area, easy-to-clean cloth seating surfaces and silicone-sealed control switches. An available storage bin is located below the second-row passenger-side seat to stow wet and muddy gear in Sports; Ford's SYNC 3 system is engaged through an 8-inch touch screen and is compatible with Apple CarPlayand Android Auto; other technology includes Ford+Alexa and SiriusXMsatellite radio.

2021 Ford Bronco SportThe 2021 Ford Bronco Sport features a bottle open at the rear.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Downsizing

Ford introduced the Sport option package for the Bronco wagon in 1967, adding chrome exterior trim and wheel-covers and red-painted FORD grille lettering. In 1970, it became a freestanding model rather than an option package. To comply with federal regulations, the SUV was fitted with backup lights and side marker lamps (in 1967 and 1968, respectively).

After struggling with sales, production of the open-body Bronco Roadster ended after the 1968 model year and, in 1972, the Bronco half-cab was cancelled due to low sales. The same year, in line with F-Series trucks, the Ranger trim became the top-of-the-line Bronco, wearing body stripes, model-specific wheel covers, cloth seats, woodgrain door panels, and a carpeted interior. In a 1975 interior revision, the Bronco Sport and Bronco Ranger adapted the two-spoke steering wheel from the F-Series. Highway performance was now added as a laudable attribute.

Designed for the road and beyond

The first-generation Bronco (1966-1977) was redesigned and replaced by a single three-door second-gen '78 model with a removeable hardtop and a rear window that lowered into the door. By now, it had gained popularity with an ever-growing bevy of buyers, as well as 4x4 magazines, and was redesigned for better daily driver performance with two available V8 engines and a bigger, more comfortable cabin with air conditioning and an AM/FM radio.

A third-generation of the Bronco (1980-1986) came with a new logo and an updated six-cylinder engine (the V8 was still available) that brought improved fuel economy and upgrades to its suspension.

1993 Ford BroncoThe 1993 Ford Bronco was part of the company's last generation of the model. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Of note, a smaller Bronco II was introduced in March 1983 as a 1984 model and was built from 1984 through 1990, based on the Ranger platform with four V6 engine options and an Eddie Bauer trim package.

The fourth-gen Bronco (1987-1991) was crafted to look and be sized more in line with F-Series pickups, with a variety of modernized features, such as electronic fuel injection, rear anti-lock brakes and, after 1988, two five-speed manual transmissions, and custom trim packages.

The fifth-gen model (1992-1996) replaced the removable roof with a fixed roof. While much was carryover, this generation was the first to feature driver's side airbags, three-point seat belt systems, along with a host of other safety upgrades.

Many of the upgrades made in the fifth generation of the Bronco live on today. The 2021 model is the safest one yet with more airbags and a stronger body structure than previous iterations. It has a variety fo roof options and comes with a long list of cutting edge safety technology.

2021 Ford BroncoThe 2021 Ford Bronco is not just off-road capable - it's safe too.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Thirty years after its debut, the last Bronco of the 20th Century rolled off the assembly line in June, 1996, at Michigan's Ford Truck Plant, where the new 2021 Ford Bronco is being built. The original Bronco was an icon that attracted buyers who wanted an adventurous lifestyle and a vehicle with off-road capability. The classic Bronco returns and is made to appeal to hardcore off-road enthusiasts and those who want to be.

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2023 Subaru AscentThe new front fascia design is more aggressive than before. Subaru

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2023 Subaru AscentThe Ascent's interior is available with great tech, such as an 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Subaru

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Subaru CrosstrekThe Crosstrek's cabin is adventure-ready and packed with great tech. Subaru

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Subaru CrosstrekThe Crosstrek delivers 8.7 inches of ground clearance.Subaru

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