When Ford first announced in 2017 that it was bringing the famous 4×4 SUV back, it only confirmed the name. The image reveals the Bronco to have a boxy, upright shape, a short-ish wheelbase, and minimal overhangs. We do know that it’ll challenge the all-conquering Jeep Wrangler and that it’s based on the 2019 Ranger.
The return of this proud old name is exciting – we still recall with great fondness our two Broncos, a ’74 and a ’92. The first, the Green Machine, was a great truck – manual everything, sheet metal and vinyl interior, and it would damn near go up and down trees. The second, the Dark Horse (black Bronco, Dark Horse, you get the idea) was bigger, more comfortable, and had an automatic transmission and transfer case, was damn near as capable off-road and much more suited for highway travel; the Dark Horse took us on outdoor adventures from Wyoming to the Mexican border, from Utah to the Mississippi.
But, as Ford informs us, the new Bronco will be based on that new Ranger, and that’s the subject of a little concern, at least to yr. obdt.:
It’s a real truck. The Ranger sits on a fully boxed, high-strength steel frame with six cross members. Suspension components of note include a double A-arm front suspension and monotube front dampers. Traditional leaf springs and shock absorbers help control a solid rear axle. Power steering will be electronically-assisted.
This Ranger gets frame-mounted steel bumpers with steel bash-plates and tow hooks. Two cab and bed options are available, but only one wheelbase is offered. SuperCab Rangers will have the longer of the two beds, while SuperCrew (full two door) Rangers will only get the shorter bed. Metal trim pieces over the wheel wells can be color matched or accented with a handsome magnetic grey color. The tailgate, front fenders, and hood are all aluminum, in keeping with one of the F-Series major brand identifiers. Engineers say that the Ranger has been tested to the same durability standards as the F-Series trucks.
That’s all good, but:
The only engine offered for the North American Ranger will be a 2.3-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder with a twin-scroll turbocharger. The crank and rods are forged steel. It will be mated to the 10-speed automatic with three overdrive gears co-developed with the folks at General Motors.
This isn’t an engine that will develop a lot of low-end torque. It’s a car engine; a truck needs low-end torque. But this is the real kicker:
The FX4 pack brings Ford’s Terrain Management system, a system first found on the ultra-capable Raptor. It has four modes: Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, and Sand. Grass/gravel/snow simply numbs throttle response. Mud/ruts carries with it the throttle numbing, while also throwing the drivetrain into 4-Hi for truck stuff. Sand activates 4-Hi, tells the transmission to grab the lowest gear possible, and relaxes the traction control to allow some wheel slip.
In addition to the Terrain Management tech, a system Ford calls Trail Control will debut on Rangers outfitted with the FX4 Off-Road package. Think of this as cruise-control blended with a hill-descent control system. Trail Control will allow the driver to set and maintain a low vehicle speed (1-20 mph) while traveling through less-than perfect trails on the way to the next adventure.
Here’s my concern: All these electronic gewgaws are not desirable, for two reasons:
- They allow the driver to get into touchy situations without first requiring the driver to develop any real knowledge of their vehicle’s capabilities, and without necessarily developing any real off-road skills.
- All that high-tech stuff will break, and it will break at the worst possible moment – say, when you’re up in the back end of Firebox Park south of Eagle, ten miles from the county road.
I’m not sure why someone can’t build a simple, tough utility with a manual transmission, manual hubs, crank windows, and a small-block V-8. My first Bronco, the Green Machine, was great because of its light weight, short wheelbase, 302ci V-8 and manual everything. It was simple, easy to clean, easy to maintain, and tough, tough, tough. Build a truck like that today, sell it for around twenty grand, and I bet you’d have people lined up to buy them.
In the meantime, I’ll keep my Rojito for woods-bumming. It’s a tad underpowered, but the 1999 Ranger was still available with damn near manual everything, and that’s the way I like it. I’ll probably go look at the new Broncs when they come out, but I’m prepared to be disappointed.