If you’re a Brit, you can be forgiven for not knowing Bronco.

Born in the same era as Mustang, its nameplate echoes the same wild, untamed character as its pony car brother.  At its launch in 1965, Ford branded Bronco “a completely new line of sports-utility vehicles” – the first use of the now ubiquitous SUV term by an American manufacturer – and it went on to star in countless movies as it cemented its place in American popular culture.  Just like Mustang did.

Although production of the Bronco ceased in 1996, it has never faded from memory.  Classic Broncos saw their prices rise steadily over the years, at least until Ford’s announcement in 2017 that Bronco would return prompted values to more than double.

Now, though, Bronco is back, and if first impressions are anything to go by, it’s all set to out-wrangle the Wrangler.

From the outset, Ford is telling us Bronco is ‘built wild.’  Every part, every feature, has been designed with off-road adventure in mind.  Think of it as the spirit of Mustang, blended with the capability of the Ranger Raptor.

As it turns out, that analogy is quite a good place to start.  Underneath, new Bronco is engineered much like a pick-up: strong, ladder-frame chassis, solid Dana 44 AdanTEK rear axle, and a matching but independent Dana front axle.

Where things get clever is that across the seven-model range, that hardware stays much the same.  And that means even the base model can be loaded to the gunwales with off-road kit, safe in the knowledge the drivetrain is tough enough to take it.

How tough?  Well, from the factory you can specify 35-inch tyres on beadlock-capable wheels.  Ford aren’t mucking around.

As standard, Bronco uses a two-speed part-time transfer case with a 2.72:1 low range, although an optional electromechanical unit drops that to 3.06:1 while adding an auto mode for on-demand switching between 2H and 4H.

Both axles can be equipped with Spicer Performa-Trak locking differentials, while ratios can be as low as 4.70:1.  Combined with the standard manual transmission – a seven-speed Getrag unit with an ultra-low 6.588:1 crawler gear – that gives Bronco a Wrangler-beating crawl ratio of 94.75:1.  Ford say you can start the engine in gear when off-road, too, something that’s not so easy in a Jeep.

Skid plates are available for the full-length of the vehicle, while optional rock rails can support the entire weight of the vehicle.

A hydraulic stabiliser bar disconnect allows the front axle to articulate freely over challenging terrain but, unlike the Wrangler’s set-up, Ford’s system can reconnect even while the suspension is still under load.

Besides beadlock-capable 17-inch wheels with 35-inch Mud-Terrains, the optional Sasquatch package also adds high-clearance suspension with Bilstein’s position-sensitive dampers for finer control, plus high-clearance fender flares.

If it’s numbers you want, the Bronco’s got plenty: 11.6-inches of ground clearance, 33.5-inches of water fording, 43.2 degree approach angle, 29-degree breakover, 37.2-degree departure, up to 261mm of suspension travel, and an RTI (Ramp Travel Index) of up to 700.

But it’s the smart thinking that elevates the Bronco and risks making the Wrangler look like old-hat.

For instance, see those trail sights protruding from the top of the front fenders?  They’re not just there to make it easy to see where the corners are.  They have a 150lb capacity for securing cargo, brush guards, or attaching a GoPro.

The doors are removable, a process made simple thanks to a single bolt, but their frameless design makes them easier to carry and stow than a Wrangler’s.  In fact, all four doors can be carried on-board in protective bags once removed, while body-mounted side mirrors mean you don’t need to resort to aftermarket items to maintain safety.

Two-door models come with a three-piece hard-top, while four-door variants feature a four-piece design.  Both can have their rear side windows removed quickly and easily, while all removed panels can be stowed on-board.  A soft-top is available, complete with a tilt-up feature that allows quick access to the rear cargo area, while the lack of a lateral sportbar leaves an uninterrupted view of the sky with the roof removed.

Seats are available in a marine-grade vinyl trim that resists water, dirt and mildew; the floors are rubberised with integrated drain plugs; the instrument panel is wipeable and the dash-top buttons are waterproof, as are the overhead switches that offer pre-wired power for accessories.

An attachment rail is built into the top of the dashboard for mounting phones, cameras, navigation units or other devices, and there are matching 12v power points to keep them all fed.

Infotainment duties are conducted via an 8- or 12-inch touchscreen, with Ford’s Sync 4 system set to be expanded over time thanks to regular over-the-air updates.  It connects with your smartphone using the FordPass app and offers not just regular navigation duties but off-road topographic data from NeoTreks’ AccuTerra Maps, Trails Offroad and FunTreks trail guides.  The system even works offline when away from mobile data coverage and allows drivers to make their own trail maps for sharing with others.  A 360-degree camera set-up offers the chance to include video clips in your own trail guides, while a virtual spotter feature makes it easy to see exact wheel placement when rock-crawling.

Tech features extend to the driving experience, too, with what Ford calls their Trail Toolbox.  Trail Control is like cruise control for low-speed off-road work, while Trail Turn Assist uses individual brakes and torque vectoring to tighten turn radius.  More interesting, though, is the new Trail One-Pedal Drive that offers acceleration and braking control through just the gas pedal, like an electric car.  Great for fine control during tricky rock-climbing.

Up to seven drive modes are available depending on vehicle spec, selected through Bronco’s Terrain Management system with GOAT Modes (Go Over Any Terrain): Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, Baja, Mud and Ruts, and Rock Crawl.

As standard, power comes courtesy of Ford’s 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder unit from the Mustang, delivering 270hp and 310lb/ft of torque.  Also available will be a 2.7-litre EcoBoost V6 with 310hp and 400lb/ft which comes mated to the company’s 10-speed automatic.

Both engines and wheelbases can tow 3,500lbs and feature a 450lb static roof load – good for roof-mounted tents.  Maximum payloads are 1,170 and 1,370lbs for two- and four-doors respectively.

Speaking of tents, Bronco will launch with more than 200 dealer-installable accessories from tents to winches and lights to raised air-intakes.

The 2021 Ford Bronco will be built in Wayne, Michigan, in a choice of seven models: Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Wildtrak, Badlands, and a special First Edition model that has already sold out.

Optional packages include:

  • Mid – keyless entry, AC power outlet, ambient lighting, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, remote start, reversing camera, driver aids including collision assist, blind-spot alert, lane keeping aid, auto high-beam,
  • High – 12-inch touchscreen, 360-degree cameras, puddle lights, additional sound deadening,
  • Lux – adaptive cruise control, 10-speaker B&O hi-fi, evasive steering assist, heated steering wheel, garage door opener, additional USB charging ports, voice-activated navigation, wireless smartphone charging,
  • Sasquatch – 17-inch beadlock-capable alloy wheels, 35-inch Mud-Terrain tyres, electronic locking front and rear axles with 4.70:1 ratios, high-clearance suspension and fender flares, Bilstein position-sensitive dampers.

Two-door models are expected to be priced from $29,995, with the four-door available from $34,695.  At the moment, there are no plans to bring Bronco to Europe or any right-hand-drive markets.