A new report speculates that the upcoming, much-anticipated Ford Bronco will get a seven-speed manual gearbox. Getrag is developing a manual transmission that can be built in either six- or seven-speed configurations, according to an article by Jalopnik, and it could be Bronco-bound. Could a seven-speed really work in an off-road SUV?
Even if the Bronco is a smash hit (which it could be given all this pent-up demand), its premium product positioning could mean higher prices and potentially less volume. We certainly don’t expect it to sell at Wrangler levels, but if it sells half as many copies as Jeep’s open-top wheeler, (on pace for a record 250,000 copies in 2018), volume for manual-equipped cars would still be small.
Even if the Bronco gets a manual, it’ll almost certainly be shared with the only remaining car in Ford’s U.S. lineup to offer one—the Mustang. And even if Mustang gets a seven-speed variant, that’s no guarantee that Bronco will follow suit. The global-market Ford Ranger currently offers a six-speed manual.
For now, seven-speed manuals can be found in the seventh-generation Corvette and Porsche 911, but the rest of the three-pedal crowd is still using six-speeds and it doesn’t seem like there’s much of a groundswell in the enthusiast community demanding another branch in the shift pattern tree.
In the Corvette, seventh gear makes at least some sense. Even though cruising at part-throttle with the Corvette’s 6.2-liter LT1 V-8 operating as a V-4, it doesn’t take much power to push a Corvette’s lithe body along at freeway speeds. But with nearly double the frontal area, and a much more upright profile, the Bronco will require much more wheel torque to maintain speed with a steep overdrive. Off boost at just off idle, a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 that we’re likely to see in the Bronco might not have what it takes to maintain cruising speeds with a steep overdrive like the one found in today’s seven-speed manuals, at least not when paired with your typical final drive ratio.
There is a way that Ford could use a potential seven-speed to its advantage, though. Rumors are swirling that Ford isn’t going full rock-crawler with the Bronco to take on the Wrangler Rubicon, but a low crawl ratio is nevertheless very useful off-road, especially with a manual transmission. If the Bronco picks a low set of gears for the axles, first gear could be a dedicated crawling gear, just like old truck four-speeds had a “granny” gear that wasn’t used in normal street driving. The current Jeep Renegade Trailhawk takes a similar approach with its automatic, reserving first gear for a makeshift 4WD low range.
Admittedly we’re just spitballing here, but wouldn’t this shift pattern be a welcome sight in a 2020 Ford Bronco?