I recently read an article expounding on the virtues of the recently announced Ford Bronco, a vehicle that is currently scheduled to be released in the year 2020, which is eons of time in terms of automotive technology, and how it might possibly compare to and compete with the Jeep Wrangler. While I readily admit, the prototypes and artists renderings I have seen of the new Bronco look pretty impressive; so rarely does the actual production version of the vehicle even closely resemble the prototype in real life. You can reference those 1960’s images of glitter-covered winged spacecraft they predicted we would be driving, come the year 2000, and how little they resemble an actual Pontiac Aztek . It’s kind of like saying “This is what we’re shooting for and then this is what we’ve settled for”. Hopefully consumers will ‘buy-in’ to the concept and, with any luck, see enough of that original concept present in the final production car to warrant making a purchase. It’s a bit of a gamble to be overly-aggressive visually only to have significant compromises made to the design before it comes to market. With each redesign, styling advances in steps and technology in bounds to the point where we are literally at the cusp of having cars that will do the driving for us and look pretty incredible doing it.
So, how is it that we can even begin to determine if a new vehicle that is not even in production yet will have the street cred to compete with another vehicle, one that is complete with a storied past, that is likely to undergo vast changes in that same time frame. I think the basis for such a question is best answered by saying that the new Bronco is not likely to compete with a new Wrangler, or any Wrangler for that matter, if it is not able to compare to it.
The Jeep Wrangler is a relatively new nameplate, with its origins dating back a mere thirty years to a time when the first Jeep YJ, equipped (or, better yet, plagued) with square headlights, rolled off the Ontario assembly line in 1986. Gone was the age-old “CJ” moniker, short for ‘civilian jeep’, giving a strong suggestion to its military roots. The new ‘Wrangler’ name was deemed as a more relatable term, intended to appeal to a wider consumer audience as AMC strived to make the YJ a more comfortable option, lower slung and suitable for average drivers. The unmistakable boxy styling, off-road lineage and removable top remained intact as did the legendary four wheel drive capability and solid front axle that has always been at the core of every Jeep CJ and Wrangler model. The interior and exterior have surely become vastly more civilized over the decades but never at the expense of detracting from its legendary past, a history that dates back some 75 years.
The Ford Broncos history, on the other hand, only dates back to the mid-60’s to a time when there was very little to compete with the venerable Jeep CJ, outside of the International Scout. The fact that the Bronco’s styling lends strongly to that of the popular Scout may be no coincidence, with its relatively flat sides and broad grille. Ford built the slight and nimble Bronco on an all new conventional ladder-style frame but chose to mount the front differential using trailing radius arms and a track bar so that coil springs could be used in the front suspension. This decision gave the Bronco considerable articulation and a pleasant road manner, unlike its leaf-sprung SUV counterparts. The Bronco was revamped in the late 1970’s where it essentially adopted the persona of its Ford truck sibling, sharing all of its front end trim and sheet metal- a trend that the Bronco maintained until its eventual demise in 1996, giving way to more family friendly platforms where the focus is on-road capacity rather than off-road capability. The Broncos legacy, in many people minds, is the ever-popular and much-publicized appearance made by a white ’93 model Bronco that was viewed by countless millions of spectators as former NFL running back O.J. Simpson, driven by his associate A.C. Cowlings, attempted to elude the LAPD in what might be the most televised and arguably the most boring car chase in history, even preempting the NBA playoffs primetime coverage. The car chase ended very anticlimactically without any fireworks or explosions, as did the reign of the Ford Bronco.
So, while the 2020 Ford Bronco may very well end up being a vision to behold, a thrill to drive and compete valiantly for the dollars of prospective off-road capable SUV buyers, it will never compare to the only true American icon- the one & only Jeep. I do hope Ford offers an O.J. Simpson Special Edition Bronco, maybe with some retro-themed graphics that say “Go, Juice, Go!” OIIIIIIIO