By KEVIN WEAKS
It’s pretty obvious that the hot-selling Jeep division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is keeping the whole shebang afloat these days, so it stands to reason that Ford and General Motors would answer with off-road brutes of their own.
GM recently announced the revival of the Hummer, the civilian version of the military’s Humvee – the 2022 GMC Hummer EV. Hummer, a name last seen on the 2010 H3 small SUV, will come back sometime next year and be built in GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant. GMC claims the all-electric Hummer EV — no gasoline or diesel engine — will produce 1,000 hp.
Ford, on the other hand, is sticking with pistons in its resurrection of the fabled Bronco. Back in 1966, Ford introduced its original SUV (a knock-off of the International Harvester Scout) and cut a trail that would be followed by generations of Americans. Now Bronco is back, “strapped with thrilling power and go-anywhere capability, uniquely equipped to carry true adventure seekers deep into the wild and untamed places their souls long to be,” Ford Motor Co.’s website modestly notes.
Production of the Bronco ended in 1996 but a preview of its return appeared at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit back in 2017. The mid-size version of the rejuvenated off-roader is expected to have retro-inspired exterior styling for maximum nostalgia and will likely show up for the 2021 model year.
Instead of sitting on an F-150 frame like previous generations, the 2021 Bronco will utilize the same underpinnings as the Ford Ranger. Like its predecessors, expect cool features like a removable roof.
FIRST, THE BABY BRONCO
The launch of the bigger Bronco will be preceded this year by the so-called “Baby Bronco,” a crossover SUV based on the 2020 Escape. The Baby Bronco will appeal to those who find the Escape a tad too squishy with its jellybean appearance, but still appreciate on-road dynamics.
In addition to the more macho look, the Baby Bronco will also have greater ground clearance and an all-wheel drive system more suited to light off-road work. The vehicle, which Automotive News says could be called Bronco Scout (gee, where’d they get that name?), Bronco Adventurer, Bronco Sport or Maverick, will rival the Italian-made Jeep Renegade. Teaser shots reveal a boxy profile, round LED headlamps and the Ford name embossed on the front grille. It will probably be priced at a premium over the all-new 2020 Escape, which starts at about $25,000.
The mid-size Bronco, coming out in 2021, will be offered both in two- and four-door models. No pricing has been announced. There’s also speculation that Ford could do a pickup version of the Bronco somewhere in the 2024 timeframe. It would compete with Jeep’s very popular Gladiator. The Gladiator pickup is priced from just over $33,000.
The Bronco will have body-on-frame construction and will be built by UAW members alongside the mid-size Ranger at Ford’s Wayne, Mich., assembly plant. It’s expected to have a boxy, rugged SUV look to it, great off-road capability along with the requisite removable roof panels and doors, similar to its key competitor, says Kelly Blue Book.
Bronco, like Ranger, will likely draw its power from Ford’s EcoBoost engine family. The 2.3-liter turbo-four found in the Ranger could serve as the base engine while a twin-turbo V-6, either the 2.7- or 3.5-liter unit, may be optional. All probably would be mated to Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission. A seven-speed manual tranny is rumored as well. Hybrid powertrains are also a good bet. Standard models will be offered in rear-drive with four-wheel drive optional on lower trims and standard higher up in the line.
Since it is viewed as a direct competitor to the Wrangler, expect pricing to follow the Jeep’s pricing. The two-door versions of the Wrangler start at just over $28,000, so KBB.com estimates that the new base two-door 2020 Escape-based Bronco should start at just under $30,000. The four-door Wrangler starts at about $31,000 and range up over $40,000.
A LITTLE BRONCO HISTORY
Ford originally introduced the Bronco in 1965 as compact off-road vehicle meant to compete against the Jeep CJ-5 and featured a removable roof and doors. The second-generation Bronco arrived for the 1978 model year, growing from a compact to full-size SUV built over the F-Series pickup but a wheelbase a foot shorter.
In addition to the big F-Series-based Bronco, Ford also produced a smaller model called the Bronco II. This vehicle was based on the smaller Ranger pickup and was in production for the 1984 to 1990 model years. By the 1990s, the Bronco II was discontinued in favor of the Explorer, which was also based on the Ranger but was slightly larger to compete with Chevrolet’s S10 Blazer. The fifth-generation Bronco, offered from the 1992 to 1996 model years, was the last model before it was shelved.
Incidentally, the International Harvester Scout was an off-roader produced from 1961 to 1980. A precursor of more sophisticated SUVs to come, it was created as a competitor to the Jeep, and it initially featured a fold-down windshield. The Scout and second-generation Scout II were produced in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as two-door trucks with a removable hard top with options of a full-length roof, half-cab pickup, and/or soft top.
Ford has done a great job keeping both the large and small Broncos under wraps while letting out just enough teasers to keep us interested. So when will dealers and Bronco fans see the newest generation SUV? Ford announced that the Baby Bronco will debut this spring — but don’t hold your breath. Spring ends on June 20.
(Contact Kevin Weaks at email@example.com.)