On a sunny day near a rock quarry an hour outside of Detroit, Ford lined up its all-new Bronco and Bronco Sport for a bevy of masked and socially distant journalists. We weren’t here to actually drive the cars, which was probably a good idea as the brand-new Holly Oaks ORV Park had some more challenging routes and these were pre-production Broncos. The interiors were still the bare bones plastic of pre-prod vehicles, but we were getting a chance to closer to the car on everyone’s minds than ever before.
With Ford drivers at the wheel, we set out to get a look at the Bronco’s off-road bona-fides.
The Ford Bronco Sport: Weekend Warrior
The Bronco Sport is certainly the one you’ll be more likely to encounter in a grocery store parking lot than at the top of a sand dune, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t capable. My driver was climbing 19-degree hills and fording water like they were the only thing standing in the way of picking up his kids from swim practice. The Sport is as wildly customizable as the Bronco, so there’s no reason not to turn it into a vehicle for both work and play.
Maybe it was because Ford started me off with a screaming run through the off-road course in the Baja 1000 Ford Bronco R, but I was surprised by how smooth the ride in the Sport was. We were climbing the same craggy hills, but the bumps were barely blips. This is the car that will earn Ford the big bucks. It’s the suburban special for those who want to occasionally have some fun in their vehicle.
We ran it over rocky hills without flinching and forded water, all with the cushy ride SUV buyers expect from their unibody toys. It was quiet and smooth, even over rocky terrain. It’s rare that a car aims to be everything to everyone and turns out to be any good, but the Sport seems capable of delivering (of course, we won’t know for sure until we can actually drive it.) It also comes with automatic braking that allows the driver to smoothly inch downhills with confidence. It seems like a more accessible vehicle that could open up even casual buyers to try out some of the Bronco’s off-roading abilities.
The Sport I rode along in came with the 245 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 gas engine. That may not sound like much, but it was more than enough for what we were using it for. I’ll admit though, it didn’t feel like a Bronco with a capital B. For that kind of engaging, soul-to-trail off-road madness, we’d need to step it up a notch.
The Ford Bronco: Dirt, Mud, And Glory
Now this is what we are here to talk about. I got to ride along in the two-door Bronco outfitted with a 310 HP, 2.7-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 and it was a goddamn delight. The extra power over the four-banger was immediately evident and the off-roading courses we hit in the Bronco were much more challenging.
Riding in the new Bronco is more like stepping into a time machine. Sure, there are all sorts of modern bells and whistles, but the old-school connection to the trail is what fans are after. I’m happy to report that that is where the Bronco shines.
This is a beast specifically made to get down and dirty. My driver used the automatic braking system to hang our 2-door seemingly in midair on a 21-degree slope, reminding me of the Douglas Adams line, “hung in the air much the same way that bricks don’t.” He was able to automatically inch the Bronco down that incredibly steep incline a half-inch at a time, without any shuddering, slippage, or angry automatic braking noises. It was remarkably quiet, even with the top off.
While the pre-prod interior did have a few glitches (which we can’t really fault Ford for) they were able to demonstrate the multiple wide camera angles that the Bronco can summon to show you exactly where your tires are. Prominently featured on the dash were a row of hand buttons for locking the front or rear differentials, or engage Trail Turn Assist to make ridiculous quick sharp turns.
It happily chewed deep ruts in deep sand and then bounced over them without a second thought. We went flying through most of the course with the confidence that comes from driving an extremely sure-footed vehicle. Indeed, Ford’s archivists told us that the original Bronco was code-named GOAT—Goes Over All Terrain. As you probably already know, the new Bronco’s selectable off-road settings are known as GOAT modes.
While we were speeding along with an experienced off-road driver at the helm, the ride never felt violent from the passenger seat. I never even reached for the ‘oh shit’ handle. I didn’t feel overly jostled or banged around; just the fun kind of engaging bumpy ride that has made off-roading’s resurgence as a mass-appeal past time possible.
That’s what really stood out to me: even while absolutely flying down the course and connecting with rocks and rough terrain, this was still a vehicle comfortable enough to be a daily driver. That’s a very tough balance to strike. We’ll let you know if the other, better-known GOAT acronym can be applied to the Bronco when we have a chance to actually drive it.