2021 Ford Bronco Suspension Speculative Deep Dive | Rubicon meets Ranger Raptor

Ford hasn’t released all of the new Bronco suspension details I’d like to see, but I did learn enough to come away impressed. OK, I’ll admit it. They can have my $100 deposit right now. I’m saying this because they seem to have hit a target that lies smack in the middle of the off-roader’s conundrum. Well, my personal conundrum, at least. Should I buy a Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota 4Runner? I punted and somehow ended up with one of each. If Bronco had been available earlier, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.

What Ford has come up with is what would have been my sweet spot: an open-air capable off-roader, but with a full-width cabin and independent front suspension to make it more livable on road and presumably (because I haven’t driven it) less bone-jarring on the sorts of washboarded overland-type trails I tend to explore. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a double black-diamond thrillist. That said, useful Rubicon-esque off-road tools are available. But I also see more than a little of the fabled and forbidden Ranger Raptor in the new Bronco as well.

2021 Ford Bronco

The suspension footprint is really wide

The first thing that jumped out at me was the track width of the suspension. It’s much wider than the Ford Ranger (61.4 inches) that we know. The Bronco Wildtrak has a track width of 66.9 inches, which is a scant 0.4 inches narrower than the Ranger Raptor we don’t get here. But track width numbers don’t tell the whole story because they are measured at the middle of the tread. The 35” tires that come on Wildtrak are 315 mm wide instead of the small Raptor’s 285 mm, so the Bronco Wildtrak is in fact slightly broader than a Ranger Raptor from tire sidewall to tire sidewall.

If this talk makes you worry about narrow trails, know that the Badlands (and all the rest) have a track width of 65 inches. That’s 1.8 inches broader than a 4Runner, but the Bronc’s tighter body sculpting makes the Badlands just a half-inch wider overall than the Toyota. The new Ford’s tires simply fill out its wheel wells better, is all. You get the on-road benefits and good looks of a wider track without much increase in trail damage peril.

2021 Ford Bronco

The front suspension is new

Fleeting images of the Bronco’s bare chassis hint at why it has such a wide stance. The shots clearly show aluminum upper and lower control arms, but they also show a more robust structure where the upper shock mount meets the inner pivot of the upper control arm. Comparing that to similar images taken at the Ranger Raptor introduction, I could easily believe the frame-side suspension mounting points are the same. It’s certainly not lifted from our normal Ranger.

The control arms don’t look to be a direct carryover, but here it’s hard to be certain. The upper one might be. But the stabilizer bar positioning and link routing looks very different in a way that suggests that the Bronco’s knuckle and lower control arm will be unique. This is probably due to the space needed to package the new disconnectable front stabilizer bar, but that’s a guess.

2021 Ford Bronco

The disconnecting front stabilizer bar is pretty rad 

Ford says its stabilizer bar can be connected and disconnected under load, and that should make it faster-acting than the one that’s fitted to a Jeep Rubicon. We’ve all seen the Sway Bar status light flash in a Jeep as it waits until the truck is on a flat-enough surface before the operation can be completed, but what Ford is saying suggests that such delays will be short-lived to non-existent in a Bronco.

That said, the Badlands four-door’s estimated maximum RTI (ramp travel index) score of 620 points with the bar disconnected is quite a bit better than the last KDSS-equipped 4Runner I measured on my own ramp. I have a feeling that a Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited will score better, but the estimated Bronco Badlands number is still quite solid.

2021 Ford Bronco

More front and rear locking differential options

The Wildtrak and Badlands come with front and rear lockable differentials, and they’re easy to add to any other trim by adding the Sasquatch package. But there’s more to them than their seemingly wide availability. Ford tells me that a driver can choose to lock the rear one in 2-Hi mode, and that the front one can be locked by itself in 4-Lo mode. Normally, factory-installed front differentials are lockable only after the rear one is locked first, but the Bronco is set up to offer more driver control.

2021 Ford Bronco

HOSS Bilsteins look promising

The High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension (HOSS) comes on the Wildtrak and Badlands, and these are also available on any other trim if you buy the Sasquatch package. The use of Bilstein shocks is a departure from the Fox shocks used on the Range Raptor, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. 

Bronco’s Bilsteins have remote reservoirs that increase oil volume for cooler running, and they also have internal hydraulic end stops that give them position-sensitive damping. They’ll be soft in the middle of their travel and firm up to the ends to soak up big hits with less chance of bottoming or topping out. The end-stop concept is similar to what you’d find on an early TRD Pro Tundra, but that truck’s Bilsteins didn’t have the additional benefit of remote reservoirs.

2021 Ford Bronco

More Ranger Raptor at the rear

If anything, the rear half of the Bronco’s suspension looks more like a Ranger Raptor than the front. The RR differs from all other Rangers because it uses coil spring rear suspension, and that truck seems to be piloting a new rear configuration that will appear elsewhere. The Bronco seems to be the first use of that suspension layout on these shores. 

Both have a solid rear axle that’s located by four trailing links, and they both use a coil-over rear spring/damper configuration. I’m not seeing any appreciable difference where the upper end of the spring/shock mounts to the frame, and the lower trailing link looks mighty similar, too. The difference comes down to lateral control, and it’s a clear departure. The Ranger Raptor uses a Watts linkage, while the Bronco uses the more familiar (and undoubtedly less costly) lateral panhard rod.

2021 Ford Bronco

There are lots of tire sizes and axle ratios

The Bronco will be offered with tires of four diameters: 30, 32, 33 and 35 inches. Within that, the 32-inch tire is available in three distinctly different sizes. That adds up to six different tire sizes in all. Along with that, there are four axle ratios: 3.73, 4.27, 4.46 and 4.70-to-1. Generally speaking, axle ratios will be matched up with tire diameter to keep the effective overall gearing similar, but the presence of both an automatic and a manual transmission means it’s not quite as simple as that.

If those ratios sound generally high, these tire diameters are generally large and this vehicle will have a 10-speed automatic with a highly overdriven 0.646-to-1 top gear. The new seven-speed manual is right in the same ballpark with a 0.636-to-1 cruiser gear. Of course seventh gear is really sixth because second is really first. That’s because they’re calling first gear Crawler, a name it truly deserves because its 6.588-to-1 ratio won’t be useful in daily driving.

Because of that creepy crawly gear, Ford is touting a mighty 94.75-to-1 crawl ratio when the manual transmission is paired with the 4.7-to-1 axle ratio. That combination seems to be available on a Badlands with 33-inch tires, which in my mind adds up to an uncommonly low trail walking speed at idle.

2021 Ford Bronco

Badlands is to Rubicon as Wildtrak is to Mojave

Looking at the equipment, it seems to me that the Badlands is the one to get if you’re a Rubicon person, and the Wildtrak is more akin to what a Jeep Wrangler Mojave would be if they ever got around to building one. There’s also the First Edition, of course, but let’s set aside that limited launch model that’s a bit of both.

I’ve got my eye on the Badlands. It’s the only one with a disconnectable front stabilizer bar, but it also has the front and rear locking differentials. It has the most suspension travel by far, and it will absolutely be the one that travels farthest up my Flex Index ramp. I also like the fact that the Badlands has the HOSS Bilstein suspension. It comes with the higher-grade electromechanical transfer case that has a lower 3.06-to-1 low-range ratio, but I wouldn’t have lost sleep over that even if it didn’t because the base electronic shift-on-the-fly (ESOF) transfer case has a 2.72-to-1 that isn’t terribly far off. It’s nothing like the 4-to-1 versus 2.72-to-1 situation over at Jeep.

The Wildtrak was described to me by a Ford representative as a desert runner, and a lot of that has to do with its bonkers 35-inch tires. But I’m not convinced I’d want the biggest tire because their very size made it necessary to limit suspension travel and forgo the disconnectable stabilizer bar so the 35-inchers won’t rub. This version will not be the RTI standout of the bunch, but it will be able to get itself out of most trouble because of its front and rear lockers.

Still, I’m a suspension flex snob, so I’ll stick with the Badlands and its longer suspension travel, disconnectable front stabilizer bar and the 33-inch tires that makes those bits workable. Ford hasn’t released approach, departure and ground clearance that specifically apply to the Badlands, but they’ll be closer to the Wildtrak end of the spectrum. I estimated 10.5 inches of Badlands ground clearance by considering its smaller tire radius and hacking one inch off the Wildtrak’s ground clearance figure. That puts it smack in the ballpark with Rubicon and much better than 4Runner.

And that’s exactly what I’m seeing up and down the preliminary Bronco spec sheet. This is a vehicle that combines attributes of both the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota 4Runner into one vehicle. And I’m all in before factoring in the superior EcoBoost engines and the new Sync 4 infotainment system. Take my $100 right now. I’m getting in line.

Related Video: