The 2021 Ford Bronco is coming, and it’s going to have a manual transmission. Automotive publication The Fast Lane Car has some excellent photos of the shift knob, as well as great under the hood and underbody shots of the upcoming Jeep Wrangler fighter. Check them out.
The Fast Lane Car scored some great shots from “an anonymous source”—ones showing the 2021 Ford Bronco’s shift knob, 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-four engine, and front suspension.
Let’s start by talking about the shift knob in the image above. It displays a reverse gear, gears one through six, and a “C” gear, which is presumably a “crawler” gear for low-speed off-roading.
Though uncommon on modern vehicles (I will note that the now-discontinued manual transmission Ram 2500 Cummins did have a short ~6:1 first gear for towing, and other commercial vehicles offer something similar), a separate “granny low” gear was fairly normal on older pickups and SUVS that utilized ~5:1 or shorter gearing.
That’s a Muncie SM465 shift knob above; it threads onto a shift lever that actuates a 6.55-to-one first gear. Granny gears on older vehicles were often labeled “L” on the shifter, though in many cases, they were just labeled “1.” Under normal street use, the driver tended to start from a stop in second.
This crawler gear—along with whatever the low-range gear reduction and axle ratio are—should give the Bronco a large crawl ratio. You can read my explainer on crawl ratios to understand why that’s a big deal off-road, but what it comes down to is creating lots of torque, and very little angular velocity, at the wheels to allow for controlled, unstoppable climbing.
Just as exciting as this new shift knob image is a picture The Fast Lane Car snagged of what is apparently the new Bronco’s engine bay:
The photo shows a turbocharger heat shield behind an intake tube, and towards the top of the image is a valve cover that looks exactly like that of the 2.3-liter found in the Ford Ranger.
In the mid-size truck, the engine makes 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, and feels quite quick when mated to a ten-speed auto. I bet the Bronco will get that same transmission, and I also would guess that the motor will feel similarly quick when hooked to the seven-speed manual.
In addition, TFL’s new images show buttons for locking front and rear differentials and a sway bar disconnect. The lockers are there to ensure that all four wheels rotate even when they are facing disparate traction conditions (i.e. if one wheel on a given axle is on ice, and the other is on concrete, they’ll both spin at the same rate and keep the vehicle moving forward—if it had an open differential, the vehicle would go nowhere). The disconnecting sway bar—and it’s unclear if it’s for the front or rear—should allow for some additional articulation to keep those tires on the terra firma.
I mention that it’s unclear whether the disconnecting sway bar applies to the front or rear axle because the front suspension is a regular, double A-arm independent setup (with what look like Bilstein shocks). Such a setup’s articulation tends to be limited by half shaft angles and geometric constraints, and not so much by the sway bar. That said, I do think there’s some amount of flex to be gained by unhooking the sway bar, but with IFS setups, added suspension travel from disconnecting the sway bar is considered by many to be marginal. But we’ll have to wait and see how Ford has this set up.
The Bronco’s rear, solid axle could theoretically gain quite a bit of flex with a disconnected sway bar, though rear sway bars tend to be a lot less substantial (i.e. smaller diameter) than those up front, so maybe unhooking it wouldn’t be that dramatic.
TFL told me that, per a photo sent by its source (you can see it, and photos of the Bronco’s roof latches and auxiliary switches for easy integration of things like aftermarket and winches and lights on TFL’s site), it appears that the sway bar disconnect is indeed located at the front axle. It’ll be interesting to see how the vehicle’s Ramp Travel Index score changes with the sway bar connected versus with it unhooked. On solid-axle machines like the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator, the difference is substantial.
These new images have me more excited about the new Bronco than ever. Lockers, a disconnecting sway bar, a manual trans with a granny low gear, Wrangler-esque roof latches, auxiliary switches—I can’t wait to see what this thing is like off-road.