With the new Ford GT and SVT Raptor, it may seem like Ford’s benches are clearing. But if you’d rather spend your time blasting through trails than eating up highway, the best days are still to come. A renegotiated contract between Ford and the United Auto Workers moved Focus and C-Max production out of their current plants — and brought the Ranger and Bronco back in. The midsize Ranger pickup has been out of the company’s American lineup since 2012, and the Bronco has been sorely missed since it was discontinued in 1996, a victim of SUV demand shifting away from off-road capability to suburban cul-de-sacs.
In ’96, the final-edition Bronco was based on the F-150 platform. But in the early ’80s, Ford had introduced a standalone model, the Bronco II, which shared its platform with the Ranger. In 1990, that evolved into the Explorer, which arguably became the first soccer-mom friendly mass-market SUV. After more than a quarter century apart, we now know the Ranger and Bronco will share the same DNA again, and we can expect it to be as rugged as it was in its glory days.
We still don’t know much, but we’re starting to get a vague picture of what to expect. Since 2012, Ford has been selling a Ranger model known as the T6 in virtually every market outside of the U.S. and Canada. Come 2019, we’ll be getting it stateside, albeit with sheetmetal and an interior that’s unique to the North American market. As for the Bronco? Based on what we know about the T6, plus a few big hints from Ford brass, we’ve come up with 10 things we think are pretty safe bets when it comes to the return of Ford’s legendary SUV. First off:
1. It’s finally, officially coming
After years of concepts, teasers, and circumstantial evidence, Ford’s President of the Americas Joe Hinrichs and Vice President of Global Development Raj Nair officially confirmed at the 2017 North American International Auto Show that the Bronco is 100% coming back. The company is reviving the Ranger nameplate for a midsize Toyota Tacoma/Chevy Colorado fighter, which is due in 2019. The Bronco will share a frame with the pickup and will be here for the 2020 model year.
2. It’ll be a lot like the Everest
In the Pacific and African markets, Ford offers the Everest as its midsize SUV. It might not look particularly inspiring, but its body-on-frame construction and solid rear axle make this seven-seater a legitimate off-roader. It’s also available with gas- and diesel-powered engines and with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Because it shares its frame and powertrains with the global T6 Ranger (the truck we’ll be getting in 2019), it looks like the Bronco will have a lot in common with the Everest. But don’t worry.
3. But it won’t be the Everest
The Everest may be the real deal when it comes to ruggedness and off-road capability, but let’s face it, it just looks like another SUV you’d lose in the Costco parking lot. Thankfully, Ford understands the new Bronco needs to live up to its name. Speaking with Autoline, Nair said, “It will be an incremental vehicle from the Everest” when it comes to underpinnings, but added, “This Bronco is completely unique from that Everest.” Consider us relieved.
4. It’ll have four doors
Like the Everest, the 21st century Bronco will buck tradition and have four doors. According to the folks at The Truth About Cars, insiders say Ford is looking to position the Bronco against the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. On the plus side, that means the SUV will almost certainly be able to tackle tough terrain right out of the showroom. It also means it’ll likely respond well to all kinds of aftermarket suspension mods. But unlike the classic trucks, it probably will have four doors — and only be available with four doors.
Still, with Wrangler sales hovering close to 200,000 a year and most buyers opting for the four-door Unlimited, this seems like a small compromise to ensure the Bronco has an appeal beyond just enthusiast circles.
5. It’ll go topless
Every Bronco ever made had a removable top. Early reports seem to indicate Ford has taken that to heart, and sources have said the new SUV won’t be breaking that tradition anytime soon. Several sources confirmed to The Truth About Cars that the Bronco will have an “Air Roof,” with up to six removable panels that can be stored in the truck. It will have fixed roof rails, and the system will be similar to the MySky option on the Jeep Renegade. It may not be another massive fiberglass cap, but hey, we’ll take it.
6. It won’t have a V8
A 5.0-liter V8 might still be offered in the F-150, but Ford has made it pretty clear the big motor’s days as top-dog engine choice are numbered. Case in point: The 2017 SVT Raptor ditched the late model’s 6.2-liter V8 for a 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V6. The old motor made 411 horsepower and 434 pound-feet of torque; the new V6 makes 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet. You’ll see this mill under the Bronco’s hood long before you ever see a heavier, thirstier V8. The days of the big displacement Broncos may be gone, but then again, the wheezy inline-sixes of the ’70s are a thing of the past, too.
7. It won’t be a Tahoe-fighter, or a 4Runner-fighter
When the Chevy Tahoe was introduced to replace the full-size Blazer in 1992, it was available as a two-door Bronco-fighter. Within a few years, it had quickly grown into a luxurious, slightly shorter-wheelbase Suburban. Today, the Tahoe also can weigh up to 5,600 pounds. With Ford going all in on aluminum construction for its trucks, look for the Bronco to be a few linebackers lighter than the Chevy. And after initial reports suggested the SUV might just be a rebadged Everest, it looked like Ford was targeting the venerable Toyota 4Runner. Don’t worry. Ford is going after Jeep’s flagship off-roader, just like it did in the ’60s and just like it always should.
8. It will be built in America
It might seem like a no-brainer, but this is an important point. The current Ranger is sold in 180 countries but is largely kept out of the U.S. because of the draconian Chicken Tax. In the latest contract between Ford and the U.A.W., most of Ford’s cars could be built in other countries by the end of the decade, with most American plants shifting to truck and SUV production. As a result, the Focus and C-Max are leaving Ford’s Michigan Avenue plant, and the Ranger and Bronco are moving in.
9. It will be four-wheel drive and only four-wheel drive
The new Bronco needs to walk a very fine line: It must live up to its rugged reputation while successfully differentiating itself from Ford’s current SUV lineup. One way to do that is to come standard with four-wheel drive. The Ranger needs to compete with the midsize Colorado/Canyon twins, so the new pickup will likely offer both rear-wheel and four-wheel drive variants, as it does in the rest of the world. But with the Bronco shaping up as a Wrangler-fighter, we doubt it will be offered with anything less than power to all wheels, regardless of what its platform-mate does.
10. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for a Raptor version
For decades, the Bronco was known for its effortless ability to transition between daily-driver and unstoppable off-roader. Its rock-crawling reputation has only grown in recent years, as early trucks modified by companies, such as Icon, are now fetching six figures. Ford has a bona fide modern-day classic on its hands with the Baja-ready SVT Raptor. With the Bronco’s dirt-loving reputation, we can’t think of a single reason why a Raptor-ed version of the SUV wouldn’t be hitting dealerships within months of the new Bronco’s arrival.