DETROIT - As I listened to the Bronco brain trust outline highlights of Ford's upcoming off-roader, I could practically hear Jeep Wrangler strategists slapping their heads: 'Why didn't we think of that?'

Because they didn't have to. The Wrangler, direct descendant of nearly 80 years of vehicles with great off-road ability, doesn't have anything to prove.

The 2021 Ford Bronco, due to go on sale next spring, does. It's heir to a modest tradition of quirky and customizable pickups and SUVs Ford built from 1966 to '96. Most drivers have never seen one on the road. The Wrangler, with image-building predecessors all the way back to the World War II Willys Jeep, is ubiquitous on American roads, trails and in film, TV and streaming around the world.

Wranglers have a loyal, built-in audience. The Bronco needs to create passion for a family of SUVs, inspiring buyers to choose a nameplate they may never have heard of.

It needs to be so head-slappingly innovative and good that owners will dedicate themselves to proving they're smarter and better than Jeep drivers they never gave much thought to before they became Bronco-nistas.

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That's why Ford's best and brightest pulled out all the stops, from a rail to mount GoPros and iPhones to onboard space to store the Bronco's removable doors.

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On paper, the results looks good. Here's some of what the Bronco team did.

Power, new ideas in running gear

  • Standard Bronco four-wheel drive, though a rear-drive model will probably follow in a few years
  • Torque vectoring to reduce turning radius by cutting power to the inside wheel in tight spots
  • Trail control to apply power, braking, etc. so the driver only needs to steer in challenging terrain
  • 11.6 inches of ground clearance
  • 33-inch water fording
  • Independent front suspension with nearly 10 inches of wheel travel
  • More than 10 inches of rear wheel travel
  • Electronic disconnecting front stabilizer bar that automatically reconnects at road speed
  • Available Bilstein position-sensitive shocks
  • A frame-based chassis that's the second generation of Ford's global midsize pickup architecture
  • Fully boxed frame
  • A seven-speed manual transmission that will have a "crawl" gear for ratios as high a 95:1 for the most extreme terrain
  • Standard 10-speed automatic transmission
  • Optional front and rear locking Dana differentials
  • Automatic differential lock and eight driving modes
  • Standard 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder producing 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque
  • Optional 2.7L twin-turbo V-6 with 310 hp and 400 pound-feet of torque

Features for fun on and off road

  • Removable doors and hard and soft tops
  • Four-door models have standard soft top, two-doors a hard top
  • Lightweight doors that are easy to remove and can be stowed in the vehicle
  • Side mirrors mounted on the body, so they're still available when the doors are off
  • No roof crossbeam between the B-pillars so rear passengers have a clear view when the top is removed
  • Removable bumper caps for narrow trails Removable front-passenger grab handles on the dash and center console
  • Power ports in the dash for easy connection to cameras and other gear on an auxiliary device rail
  • Rubberized flooring with drains and removable plugs
  • Optional marine-grade vinyl seats
  • A slide-out tailgate you can sit on
  • Built-in bottle opener
  • An available app with maps of off-road trails
  • 360-degree cameras, including spotters for each wheels

Off-roading dimensions vs Jeep Wrangler

The base two-door Bronco is 173.7 inches long on a 100.4-inch wheelbase. The two-door Wrangler measures 166.4 inches long on a 96.8-inch wheelbase.

Excluding optional roof racks, the tallest Bronco is 73.8 inches, 0.2-inches more than Wrangler.

Bronco widths run from 75.9 to 79.3 inches. The Wrangler is 73.8 inches wide.

Four-door Broncos are 189.4 to 190.5 inches long on a 116.1-inch wheelbase. The four-door Wrangler's length, including its rear-mounted spare tire, is 188.4 inches on a 118.4-inch wheelbase.

Width and length are key dimensions for off-roaders. The most challenging trails often include obstacles and hairpin turns that prohibit larger vehicles. That's one of the reasons full-size pickups are seldom used for rugged off-roading, despite their other capabilities.

Why buy a Bronco Sport?

The smaller Bronco Sport will go on sale late this year, months before the Bronco. Using the same platform as the Ford Escape and Lincoln Corsair, it has a unibody construction and less off-road capability than the truck-based Bronco. All-wheel drive is standard, though it wouldn't be shocking to see a front-drive model at some point.

The Bronco Sport shares key Bronco design elements, including round headlights and an upright windshield. It's success is likely to depend heavily on the larger Bronco's ability to create an aura of off-road capability.

Early Ford materials highlight the Sport's maneuverability in town and ability in deep sand and for "high-speed" off-roading as opposed to the Bronco' emphasis on rock crawling, fording water and the like. The base engine is a 181-hp 1.5L turbocharged three-cylinder. A 2.0L turbo four-cylinder producing 245-hp will be optional.

Key Bronco Sport features

  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • Standard eight-speed automatic transmission
  • Standard roof rack Second-row under-seat storage
  • Black roof on Outer Banks model B&O audio
  • Twin-clutch rear drive module on Badlands model
  • 8.8 inches of ground clearance
  • 23.6-inch water fording

2021 Ford Bronco at a glance

  • Four-door, five-passenger compact SUV
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • 181-hp three-cylinder of 245-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine
  • Eight-speed automatic transmission
  • Crawl ratio: 18:1
  • Length: 172.7 inches
  • Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
  • Height: 70.2-71.4 inches
  • Width, including mirrors: 82.2 inches
  • Max. towing: 2,200 pounds
  • On sale: Late 2020
  • Assembled in Wayne, Michigan

2021 Ford Bronco Sport at a glance

  • Two- or four-door, five-passenger compact SUV
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • 270-hp four-cylinder or 310-hp V6 turbocharged engine
  • 10-speed automatic transmission or seven-speed manual with first gear crawl ratio
  • Max crawl ratio: Automatic transmission: 67.8:1; manual: 94.75:1
  • Length: 189.4-190.5 inches
  • Wheelbase: 116.1 inches
  • Height, excluding roof racks: 71.9- 75.3 inches
  • Width, mirrors folded: 75.9-79.3 inches
  • Max. towing: 3,500 pounds
  • On sale: Spring 2021
  • Assembled in Hermosillo, Mexico

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