HOLLY, Mich. — We came to the Holly Oaks ORV park to get a taste of the off-road chops of the new and revised 2021 Ford Bronco.
For the record, ORV stands for “off-road vehicle.” This park was about 50 miles northwest of Detroit and, on at least the part we saw, there wasn’t a paved road on it.
The Bronco has generated an awful lot of ink since it debuted. The SUV has a storied and infamous history, ranging from James Garner, star of the TV show “Maverick,” racing the Bronco on the Baja Peninsula in the late ‘60s and early ’70s to the slow-motion police chase of O.J. Simpson in 1994.
There was an exhibit here recounting both as well as other parts of its history. But this was where the rubber hit the road, or sand. There are enough trim lines of the Bronco and engine choices to rival the choices given to pickup truck buyers. Thus, will stick what we drove or, in this case, rode in as a passenger.
Impressive was our experience.
We went up and down steep inclines angled at 15 degrees to 25 degrees. There was some creepy crawling down these slopes but most of this test drive was at speeds far quicker than any we have witnessed or driven on off-road courses of any type.
The first Bronco we were in was the Sport, it is a smaller version of the regular Bronco. We had the Badlands trim package. But we must stipulate that these were pre-production Broncos, thus, the interiors in no way resembled what the inside of a finished product would look like.
Anyway, our Bronco Sport was powered by a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that made 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque for high-speed off-road performance. Ford says it has the most oomph in this class.
Some areas of the course had been wetted down and the driver put the Sport through its paces, speeding and sliding along the way. We went up at angles so high that we were looking at the sky and could not see the road or path in front of us until the hood came down and we were back on four wheels. But that didn’t last long. It was up and down around sharp curves and up again.
The Badlands series comes standard with 28.5-inch all-terrain tires. First Edition comes standard with 29-inch all-terrain off-road tires with more aggressive, deeper treads that stretch on to the sidewalls for improved off-road traction.
The new Bronco rides on a fully boxed, high-strength steel frame that will be shared with and adapted for the next-generation Ford Ranger. It has an independent front suspension with twin alloy A-arms and coil-over springs, while the rear is a solid axle with five links and coil-overs. So said Ford in a blizzard of press materials. But nothing beats on-road or, in this case, off-road driving or riding.
Our next experience was in a full-size two-door Bronco. It had a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 that made 310 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. It too was a Badlands trim and got around the course even faster.
We thought this model was exciting because it had a seven-speed manual transmission. The driver took the course even faster; so fast that at one point we traversed a serious of tall slopes that while on the way down we seemed to have left our stomach at the top of the hill. It felt like we were on a roller coaster.
They had taken the roof off this Bronco, which meant that we were one with the elements. There was a bunch of dust and the particulates of dirt that came along with it.
Still, that was not enough to make us not notice the front wide-angle camera. There was a split setting that broke the screen into three parts — front, left side, and right side. That is beyond words for assisting in real-world off-road conditions where you can see what the vehicle is doing and where is going on the sides. A lot of times it is easy to forget that off-road also means no road. The front camera is revolutionary.
Ford said clearances depend on trim level, number of doors and, crucially, whether you outfit the Bronco in question with the segment-exclusive 35-inch tire option. There’s at least 8.3 inches (Four-Door) or 8.4 inches (Two-Door) to start, but the big wheels bump it up to 11.5 and 11.6 inches, respectively.
The approach angle is 35.5 degrees for both body styles (43.2 with the big tires). The breakover angles are 21.1 degrees (29.0 with big tires) for the two-door and 20.0 (26.3) for the four-door. The departure angles are 29.8 degrees (37.2) for the two-door and 29.7 (37.0) for the four-door.
Although our prototypes had no pricing, the Sport starts at $28,155 and the larger two-door starts at $29,995. But pricing does not end the Bronco conversation.
Because of COVID-19, a traditional launch has yet to be scheduled. There are still a couple of more driving traits that must be tested. The first is off-road involving lots of rocks, big ones, with a bit more water fording.
The second is on-road performance. Most owners are not going to take their Broncos seriously off-road. It is the ruggedness they will be after when the Sport goes on sale at the end of the year, followed by the two-door and four-door models early next year.
The 2021 Ford Bronco has created a lot of excitement in the automotive world. For us, it has performed impressively in one test and there are two more to go. We’ll see what the pavement holds.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com