The Ford Motor Co. is caught in a vise.
Under new CEO Jim Farley, production plans for the all-electric F-150 pickup truck and the next-generation Transit EV work vans, the current top-selling F-150 and Super Duty trucks, plus other existing popular models like the Explorer, the all-electric Mach-E Mustang as well as its gas-powered sibling, are all being stymied by the ongoing (and getting worse) computer chip shortage. Ford has already lost 500,000 units of production so far this year. Income levels are strong, but market share is slipping, and lost sales units could plague plans (and revenue) for what is assuredly a different Ford in the future.
The flip side of the vise is the consumer demand for these products after 20 months of the coronavirus economy. Inventory levels are nonexistent, and the waiting lists are growing; Ford claims that over 160,000 customers have signed up for the next generation F-150 EV pickup, while long wait lists exist for the Mustang Mach-E.
Even more painful are the issues surrounding the unveiling of the all-new midsize Bronco. In August, Ford had 125,000 customers still waiting for their Bronco, the highly regarded reincarnation of the storied Bronco from the 1960s. Computer issues are again an issue, but so are some vendor problems with the soft-tops and hard-tops that are available with either the 2-door, First Edition Sasquatch sampled here, or the 4-door model. After a protracted rollout of the new Explorer two years ago, Ford badly needed consumers to get the much-anticipated Bronco in their hands as expected.
The wait will be worth it, Bronco fans, as this off-roader will satisfy your primal urges off-road, be supremely confident on-road, and is different enough from its primary rival, Jeep’s ever-popular Wrangler, to warrant your patience.
After being warned about countless impromptu encounters with curious motorists, our vividly colored Lightning Blue Metallic First Edition with huge 35-inch Goodyear tires (don’t call them Wranglers) affixed to black ALM beadlock rims actually got more attention from Jeep owners, with some even waving.
In discussion, the differences are sometimes subtle yet real between Bronco and Wrangler. The Ford steers and drives way better than the wandering Jeep due mostly to its independent front chassis vs the Jeep’s solid axle setup, plus a decided emphasis to create sharper steering responses in the Bronco. Outfitted with the Sasquatch off-road package, long travel shocks, those big tires and wheels, under-body bash plates, etc. the Ford also has a relaxed, compliant on-road ride. The Ford’s cabin is wider, and roomier than the Wrangler (ample elbow and hip space) while beefy grips on the dash indicate that this truck has a more singular purpose despite its on-road prowess.
The Bronco’s width is apparent from first glance — it looks wide, boxy even. One viewer said it reminded him of the old International Scout more than the previous Bronco. Distinctive LED headlamps announce your approach, while removable doors, fender flares, roof panels and rocker panel bars all play a part with the beach-bashing, bog-running nature of these vehicles.
Besides the GOAT mode dial (Go Over Any Terrain) there are electric buttons on the top of the dash for four-wheel-drive modes as well as traction control and deactivating the front sway bar — like Jeep. Despite these acclaimed traction aids, the Bronco was no match for the vertical GOAT trail on Norumbega Mountain in Acadia.
The large touchscreen will please many; it feels right, it is easy to use, and it offers off-road trail and GPS data. A shelf below gives your hand a nice place to rest while pursuing changes. There is a digital tach, plus analog and digital speed reporting, while the power window buttons are on the console, near the armrest in contrast to the Jeep’s on-the-dash location. Both take getting used to.
Power comes in the form of two turbocharged engines. Base engine is a 270-hp variant of the 2.3-liter Ecoboost engine from the Ranger, while the optional 2.7-liter V-6 borrowed from the F-150 makes 330 hp here. Both are harnessed to a 10-speed automatic, although the base four can be linked to a seven-speed manual. Acceleration is brisk, very lineal, and never feels stressed. Tow rating is 3,500 pounds for the 2-door. EPA mileage estimates are 17/17/17 mpg. We saw a steady 16 mpg at the elevated pace of today’s highway travel, while coaxing out 22 mpg in what one would consider daily commuter driving — 40-55-mph with few interruptions in pace. Ford promises a hybrid model.
Pricing starts at just under $29,000 and climbs to $60,000 for top Outer Banks and Wildtrak models. There are seven trim levels and several off-road and appearance packages including numerous accessories for the off-roading lifestyle.
The cabin could be quieter — those frameless doors, the removable roof, and those big tires can create quite a din — but the rest of the Bronco will please fans looking for an alternative to the Wrangler.