After many, many years of decline and neglect, as the third decade of the 21st Century spawned, Ford revived the Bronco lineage as a new sub-brand. We’ve sampled the Bronco Sport crossover — which is great. We just drove the big boy Bronco SUV, which is outstanding. But those strong debuts beg the question: what comes next for the Bronco brand?
The Ford Motor Company seldom comments on future products (unless the CEO decides to chime in on Twitter), and it can be difficult to project too far forward in an automotive future that could include Level 4 autonomous driving, EVs powered by solid-state batteries and actual flying cars by the end of this decade. But with reason and previous reporting, we can offer some conjecture on how the Bronco brand will move forward in three main areas: fuel economy, performance and body styles.
The Ford Bronco should go electric soon
Pretty much every reviewer has loved driving the 2021 Bronco...but we all drove it with the backdrop of climate change-fueled record heat waves engulfing much of the country. And Ford did not put its green foot forward with its new SUV; you can get 21 mpg combined with a Ford Bronco, with a 2.3-liter and no off-road mods , but start dabbling with the Badlands trim and Sasquatch packages, and you’re looking at a dip to 17 or 18 mpg combined. The Bronco is less efficient than the Jeep Wrangler, and only slightly better than the Toyota 4Runner, which went into production in 2009.
Expect Ford to rectify Bronco fuel economy soon with a hybrid powertrain. Ford CEOs have referenced building a hybrid Bronco. Bronco leaks have shown both an EV coaching mode in the Bronco OS and a section about treating hybrid batteries in the Bronco owner’s manual. A hybrid is a competitive necessity, with Jeep already having a 4xe PHEV at dealerships and Toyota committed to building a hybrid 4Runner. Ford doesn’t have major technical hurdles to take the Bronco hybrid; those components are already present in other vehicles. Indeed, some form of hybrid Bronco could arrive as soon as next year.
An electric Bronco will likely happen as well, but it will take a bit longer. Ford has said it will create a dedicated EV platform that can support off-road SUVs, with the announcement all but confirming it will be used for a Bronco. And Ford CEO Jim Farley all but confirmed a Bronco EV was coming on Twitter. But a dedicated EV platform will take years to develop, and, as of right now, there isn’t much incentive to rush one to market. Toyota has lagged behind on EV development; meanwhile, Jeep’s Magneto concept — literally a two-door Rubicon stuffed with batteries instead of a gas engine — showed how far off an EV Wrangler is from production.
Expect a Ford Bronco Raptor to arrive soon...ish
Jeep knew the Ford Bronco was coming and planned accordingly — and deviously. In the interim since Ford debuted the Bronco, Jeep has dropped both the Hemi V8-powered Wrangler Rubicon 392 and the plug-in hybrid 4xe. Both have more power and torque than any Bronco, and both arrived in dealerships before the Bronco.
Jeep also announced the Xtreme Recon package for the Wrangler, which nudges it just above every Bronco “best-in-class” spec. Seriously: the Bronco can ford 33.5 inches of water; Xtreme Recon brings the Wrangler rating up to 33.6 inches. You never know when that extra 0.1 inch of water-fording capability will prove critical, right?
Ford, presumably, should produce a Bronco-branded retort. Ford itself released a testing photo from last September showing an airborne Bronco with more articulation than the current spec; that vehicle will likely be called the Bronco Raptor, rather than the Warthog as originally planned (and as Halo fans hoped). And with the Bronco's history of winning the Baja 1000, a desert-racer version could not be a more natural fit. A Ford engineer fleshing out his LinkedIn profile with his projects noted that the Bronco Raptor would arrive for 2023.
Rumors have focused on Ford’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 for the Bronco powertrain. This engine puts out 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque in the Explorer ST and 494 hp and 630 lb-ft in the hybrid Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring. Judging from Ford’s F-150 Raptor and the Ranger Raptor sold abroad, some high-performance racing shocks are a good bet for the Bronco Raptor as well.
Expect More Bronco Vehicles
Ford has explicitly marked the Bronco as a family of vehicles. That naturally implies that, with the success of the Bronco and Bronco Sport, Ford is not finished adding more Bronco-branded vehicles. The natural route to go is a Bronco-branded adventure pickup to go after the Jeep Gladiator. The first-gen Bronco had a pickup variant. Bronco capability plus the added utility of a truck bed should be a no-brainer.
According to Automobile, a Bronco pickup truck is happening in mid-2024 for the 2025 model year (but coming potentially sooner). It will be four-door only with the same powertrain and transmission options as the current Bronco, as well as the same G.O.A.T. modes and the Sasquatch package.
Another option down the road — and this is speculation on our part — could be a Bronco-branded three-row SUV. Jeep has opted not to go for three rows so far with the Wrangler —but they are going all-in on three-row SUVs elsewhere. Land Rover reportedly has a three-row Defender 130 in the works. Toyota, meanwhile, could have a new and more affordable three-row off-roader replacement for the Land Cruiser coming based on the Tundra.
A strong majority — around 75 percent — of Bronco buyers are new to Ford. Winning over buyers is great. But it also means those buyers may be Bronco buyers, not necessarily loyal Ford buyers. Families who outgrow their four-door Bronco aren't automatically jumping to a three-row Explorer or an Expedition. A three-row Bronco may become necessary to keep buyers from straying.