As Bronco demand continues to overwhelm supply, Ford fans and execs are getting into heated discussions with Jeep Wrangler fans. That’s understandable, given both are heritage-heavy off-road SUVs with removable roofs and doors. But it’s in the doors where the Ford Bronco may have the advantage over the Wrangler. Because, while the Jeep’s getting a V8, the Bronco may be getting more airbags.
The Jeep Wrangler’s and the Ford Bronco’s tube doors
Even before the production-spec Ford Bronco was revealed, we all but knew it would have detachable doors. That’s thanks to several patents Ford filed describing them. But these patents also described something that could be installed in their place: tube doors. And now, Bronco6G forum user 72roadster, through some creative digging on the Bronco configurator, seems to have uncovered what they might look like, Muscle Cars & Trucks reports.
Tube doors are what they sound like: metal tubing shaped into the form of doors. SUV owners install tube doors so they can enjoy not having solid doors without risking someone falling out. Essentially, they’re like mini roll cages or roll bars, but just for the door openings.
Tube doors are by no means a new creation, Motor1 explains. Not only have several special-edition Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators offered them, but there are also a plethora of aftermarket ones to choose from. However, as The Drive explains, the Ford Bronco’s tube doors may contain more than just metal.
Ford has 2 patents describing what appears to be tube doors. One where they stay in place, and another where the tubes are telescopic, The Drive explains. In both cases, though, the tubing houses an “inflatable device” which expands to protect occupants from impacts. Basically, Ford is working on giving the Bronco airbag-equipped tube doors.
And that could have a significant impact on its safety rating.
Why airbags in tube doors matter
SUVs’ safety ratings can be a bit contradictory. Their higher weight and taller height make them more dangerous to pedestrians and other road users. And, as the Jeep Wrangler demonstrated recently, that also gives them a larger risk of tip-over in certain crashes.
Although, because of modern crash structures, ADAS features, and airbags, modern SUVs have better safety ratings. But there’s a problem with that last part for any vehicle with removable doors, such as Jeep’s Wrangler and Gladiator. Or rather, for the vehicle’s occupants.
In the US, having removable doors exempts the vehicle from side-impact crash tests, The Drive explains. So, while side airbags aren’t legally required, removable doors give manufacturers another reason not to offer them.
That’s not to say that the Wrangler’s normal doors are unsafe. In fact, although both the EU and New Zealand’s NCAP (their versions of the NHTSA) gave the Wrangler poor overall scores, the SUV received excellent side-impact ratings. But neither agency tested it with tube doors, which JLWrangler forum users generally agree are great for keeping occupants in, but not necessarily at stopping an approaching car.
Having a built-in airbag, though, may change that.
Will this make the Ford Bronco safer than the Wrangler?
According to Motor Trend, ‘tubular doors’ will be one of the accessories Ford offers for the Bronco at launch. However, as of this writing, Ford has neither confirmed nor denied if they will have any airbag-like devices. We’ve reached out to Ford on this matter and will update this post if we receive a reply.
UPDATE 7/31/2020 12:52 PM CST: An official Ford spokesperson got back to us, saying only the company “doesn’t comment on product rumors or speculation.”
It’s worth pointing out that the 2-door 2021 Bronco has been spotted with door cutouts. It’s possible the tube doors, airbag-less or not, might be based on this design. But it’s not clear, Road & Track reports when such doors will be available.
Additionally, it’s difficult to say if having inflation devices in the door tubes will automatically make the Ford Bronco safer than the Jeep Wrangler. Firstly, the Bronco will also likely be exempt from the side-impact tests for the same reason as the Wrangler. Secondly, safety involves more than just one test. That’s why, although the Wrangler did well in side-impact testing, it received a low overall score. And finally, even if the airbag improves occupant safety, what about pedestrian or cyclist safety?
That being said, even the perception of added safety sells. Simply offering this option, whether or not it actually helps, may boost the Bronco’s sales and popularity.
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