Is the 2021 Ford Bronco the Overlander You’ve Been Waiting For?

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2021 Bronco Overlanding

Right now is a second golden age for off-road enthusiasts as overlanding has come in and done to off-roading what snowboarding did to winter sports in the 90’s. Fresh blood, new ideas. Not long ago the choices were basically between the hardcore crawling focused Wrangler or the more balanced 4Runner for off-road wagons. With this explosion in the market comes new and potentially difficult choices for what vehicle will be the best for you. While brand loyalties will likely decide for many people, many others are faced with the options wholistically and it’s to those people I speak to today.

Since my background is in touring/overlanding/fancy camping…whatever you want to call it…I will frame my thoughts around that. In a previous article I compared the best popular overland and off-road choices on sale at the time and ranked them on criteria including cargo, range, off-road prowess and reputation for being reliable and durable. I wanted to see where the newcomers landed and along the way talk about what we know about the new Bronco and how it will play in this space.  Jump ahead to the section that interests you the most

  1. Value ranking
  2. Merit ranking
  3. Capability
  4. Foundation
  5. Drivetrain
  6. Suspension
  7. Conclusion

Value

Overland Value 2020

If you were shocked to see the Bronco and Defender so far down on the list, so was I. A big factor was relatively meager fuel range and reputations (reliability) that aren’t as high as the others. Judging something like reliability it hard without a history and the Defender and Bronco are new enough to not have any. They are based on models that have been with us long enough to take a guess and while both brands have seen upticks in their reliability scores lately, both are average at best.  If you want a look into the methodology be sure to check the original story here.

Even looking at them without factoring price, they don’t fare as well as I would have thought.

Merit

Overland Merit 2020

As I said above, this list is tailored to the overlander and may not apply to you, but it’s food for thought. When it comes to a balanced approach to payload, range, capability, reliability and value the Bronco doesn’t stack up as well as I had hoped.

Obviously this is a paper only comparison and not the end-all of cross shopping tools. If you are looking for more capability this chart may be more valuable. 

Capability

Specs

*interpolation or best guess. TC = Advanced off-road traction control system.  CC = Off-road cruise control system.  F = Front, R = Rear.  

While no one has been able to drive the new Bronco yet there are a few things we know that we can talk about as it relates to it being an off-roader that may end up in your garage.  

Foundation

The Bronco is based loosely on the T6 Ranger currently in the market, sharing the basic front suspension design as well as frame and of course the 2.3 10-speed drivetrain combo, more on that later.  

Bronco sasquatch
Ford Motor Company

We know the front and rear axles are supplied by DANA and are M190/M220 front and M220 rear otherwise known as DANA 30 front on base models with all models getting DANA 44 rear the M standing for Metric and the number being ring gear size in MM.  The badlands and sasquatch models get M220 fronts.  For comparison the 4runner/GX front and rear is an 8 inch (200 mm), the Tacoma TRD is 8 front 8.75 (220 mm) rear. The rubicon is M220 front and rear as solid axles. The axles in the Bronco should be strong enough for all but the worst abuse on the 35 inch tires, moving to 37’s may require upgrades.

Dana 44 AdvanTEK solid rear axle with available Spicer Performa-TraK electronic locking differential for improved traction over rough terrain.

The transfer case options are a 2.717:1 part time collared transfer case, and a 3.06:1 clutch based part time case with auto coupling of the front axle. Not a full time 4WD system, but instead a 4wd on demand system. Both are a chain driven design, likely from Borg Warner.

Drivetrain

As mentioned the base drivetrain is the 2.3 ecoboost I4 coupled with a 10 speed.  This is the same powertrain in the ranger and it provides plenty of go in that platform, as well as having an optional Ford performance tuning kit that bumps up the power significantly. Many seasoned off-roaders are leary of a small turbo engine pushing something so large and while the Ecoboosts have shown to be good units there are scattered reports of issues like coking on the valves and engine oil dilution with fuel blowby. The ford/GM 10 speed seems to be a very solid unit. Without knowing fuel economy figures we have to make a guess and given the extreme gear ratios (up to 4.7:1), the huge tires (312/70R17) and the brick like shape I can’t imagine they will be great. Expect close to ranger mileage (20/24/22 City/Highway/Combined) for the base model with 30 inch tires, and expect MUCH worse with the 4.70 axle ratio and 35 inch tires. Those I’ve talked to with modded off-road rangers say 12-14 is expected off-road, expect 10 or so on the burlier Bronco’s when off-roading. It’s been my experience that in the continental US point to point range rarely needs to be longer than 150 miles or so, but it can be a little frustrating ducking off the main trail to get fuel more often. With 16.9 and 20.8 gallon fuel tanks, 2 door and 4 door respectively, you might be getting fuel often.  

The optional 2.7TT it’s a 3rd gen ecoboost and seems to be fairly reliable and fuel efficient under load, but don’t expect any better mileage.

Suspension

 

The front suspension is a double A arm type with aluminum knuckle. Wheel travel was supposedly a high priority on this design and it is claimed to up to 9 and a half inches of travel up front and over 10 in the rear.  With the higher spec spenesions it has position sensitive dampers with 3 damping zones keeping the middle zone soft and compliant while allowing for a strong compression and top out resistance.  The rear is a 5 link panhard type with coil over shocks mounted in such a way to reduce roll naturally negating the need for a rear sway bar on badlands, wildtrak and sasquatch models. Ford has a different coil sprung design on this chassis in the Ford Everest but that design uses a watts link instead of a panhard for better axle location, but limited wheel travel.  It’s clear that Ford was serious about speed here. To read more on the differences between Ford’s IFS approach and Jeeps solid axle approach, check out what I wrote on that here.

Conclusion

All in I think it’s clear that Ford was after the Wrangler in a big way and with the styling and open air experience that has been lacking from others like Toyota they may have hit the target. 

In its relentless pursuit of the Wrangler the Bronco appears to have picked up some of the Wrangler’s less desirable traits along the way. Low payload and tow ratings, large exterior volume for the interior volume and complicated roof loading challenges to name a few. From where I sit Toyota still has things pretty well locked up in the overland market and for good reason. That’s not to say the Bronco wouldn’t make a fine overland vehicle and it may not matter to you as it’s going to be a fast, fun, open air buggy with plates and a warranty. 


Will it be as versatile as the Wrangler? As loved in the aftermarket? Will people be using it to criss-cross the country overland style? Time will tell. While there are still a lot of open ended questions we won’t know the answers to for some time, I hope this guide helps put you on the right path to your ideal off-roader.

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We're all nerds at heart, some are sports nerds, some are sci-fi nerds and so on. Pat is a bonafide car nerd and proud of it. Pat loves absorbing some obscure technical car info and dispensing it to anyone willing to listen. He actually reads his owners manual.

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