Pale Michigan dust swirls through the open roof of the 2021 Bronco as we jostle down the 18-degree incline and surf up a 19-degree hill. Around a bend, a placid basin of water appears and the Ford engineer hardly lifts the throttle as we splash through it, producing giant fluid arcs on either side. Amazingly, none of it invades the doorless sides of the 4×4.
We’re at an off-road park in Holly, Michigan, riding along in the long-awaited 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport (head over here for our impression of the more accessible, commuter-friendly/family friendly five-seater.) The park, barely a mile off I-75, isn’t yet open to the public, so Ford had plenty of time to sink wood poles, rig safari-style canvas tents and signs, and corral (sorry) Broncos old and new, street- and race-spec to an outdoor, socially-distanced bash. To help things along, Hagerty provided a light blue, 1971 Bronco pickup, which we rumbled around a very short, mildly-graded loop of the sprawling park.
“How dirty do you want to get?” our guide had said, gesturing toward a pair of black two-door Broncos wearing Sasquatch-spec 35-inch rubber, one of which had the doors and top removed. Naturally, we opted for the plein-air experience.
The compact two-door Bronco equipped with the Sasquatch’s trail-tackling hardware is the most capable configuration of the family, whose membership currently sits at three. Its wheelbase is over two feet shorter than that of its four-door sibling, and 35-inch rubber grants it the most boastworthy numbers: 11.6-inch ground clearance and 43-degree approach, 29.0-degree breakover, and 37.2-degree departure angles. Maximum water fording sits at 33.5 inches. Along with the biggest and beefiest rubber on the options list (Goodyear 315/70R17) and 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels, the Sasquatch package provides front and rear locking differentials, a 4.7 final drive ration, and an electromagnetic transfer case. You also get heavy-duty Bilstein monotube shocks. To allow for maximum off-road fun fender flares complement the additional ground clearance.
It’s not about comfort, we can tell you that—it’s about fun. With left elbow planted on the center console and right hand hooked around the top of the frame, we place our faith in the masked Ford engineer. The Bronco crawls, surfs, and shimmies its way around the loose, often sandy trails of the park, clawing its way up steep grades and using its trail brake to pivot into the tighter trails. (Sadly, this feature—and the entire Sasquatch package—is only available with the 10-speed automatic.) Even in the “normal” drive mode, the automatic seems well-tuned for the sudden grade changes and loose ground; the park doesn’t include any boulder-strewn sections, however, so we are unable to evaluate the transmission’s rock-crawling temperament.
Vintage purists who decry the automatic won’t be charmed by the presence of a Trail Control system, which is essentially cruise-control for low-speed trail driving. Why you’d want to hand the reins (sorry again) to the Bronco when it’s already shifting for you seems a bit odd.
Mechanically, the Sasquatch-equipped two-door seems unflappable. Should a driver prefer the comforting touch of technology, however, they can activate the front-mounted camera, whose feed appears via the 8-inch LCD screen mounted in the center of the dash. When all you can see is sky, the camera peeks over the crest of the hill to the descent, informing you of unexpected rocks, potholes, or other off-roaders. (We’d include a picture for you, but Ford requested we refrain from photographing the Broncos’ interiors; since the ride-along vehicles were pre-production models—the roofless one wasn’t even built at a factory—their interior equipment won’t accurately reflect what you’ll see in showrooms.)
What we do know, when it comes to interior appointments, is that production versions of the Big Bend, Sasquatch-equipped model we experienced won’t have these eminently practical rubberized floor mats. That depends more on the trim level, however, than on the presence or absence of the Sasquatch package. (We’d hoped Ford would bundle the washable mats, along with a manual, to complement all the heavy-duty off-road goodies. Are we looking for a reason to kvetch? No … but one can dream.) Big Bend is the next trim up from base, and is the only model to get the (particularly slick) six-slotted grille. MSRP starts at $33,385 and, based on the Bronco Sport’s $1495 destination fee, is realistically just shy of $35K.
Billed by Ford as the “mainstream off-roading” model, Big Bend models are available with the more posh Mid package but come standard with adjustable cloth seats, a six-speaker system, and—what bliss—no obnoxious lane-keeping aids. The package also includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated seats, remote start, lane-keeping nannies, and voice-activated navigation.
Ford hasn’t released pricing for the Mid package or, more importantly, for the Sasquatch add-ons. Estimates for the latter veer wildly from $5K to $10K, and our best guess is on the lower end of that spectrum. Our Big Bend, Sasquatch- and Mid-package equipped two-door probably equates to a $40K production model.
It’s not first-car money for most of us, unless a generous relative helps foot the bill. However, it’s no secret that the off-roading community is a passionate one, and that many customers will shell out for a vehicle that’s as livable and stylish on city streets as it is highly capable on the trails. Our take on the 2021 Bronco two-door? Ford’s serious about this truck’s off-road chops. As handsome as these 4x4s are, they’re no beauty queens. They’re meant to be thrashed, and we can’t wait to get behind the wheel and test their mettle ourselves.