Here's what we know about the just-confirmed 2018 Ford Bronco: pretty much nothing, since Ford is keeping it under extremely tight wraps. But we do know what the Bronco needs to be, and Ford knows many of the same things.
When Ford teased fans with a concept Bronco in 2004, the company outlined the rationale for reviving the truck in terms that still apply.
"Ford has always been the clear leader in SÚVs," said Steve Lyons, then-president of Ford in 2004. "But we will keep looking at new ways to extend our SÚV leadership. The Bronco concept shows how a small, rugged and extremely capable off-road machine could complement our SUV lineup."
With that in mind, here's what Maxim believes the new Bronco must be to avoid the fate of Toyota's failed FJ Cruisers's attempted revival of the classic Land Cruiser.
The Wrangler has been a license to print money for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Jeep division, and Ford understandably wants a piece of that pie. Shoot, Ford was an original manufacturer of World War II Army Jeeps, and the old Bronco earned plenty of off-road credibility for the Blue Oval. Ford belongs in the open-topped 4x4 market.
1. Square-edged styling
The original 1966-'77 classic Bronco boasted fantastically rectilinear box-it-came-in styling. People love that. Word is that the 2018 Jeep Wrangler is going to lean back its iconic seven-slot grille a bit. Bronco needs to stay rectangular as a box of Nike Mag self-lacing sneakers.
Toyota's FJ Cruiser flopped because it didn't deliver the things fans loved about the old Land Cruisers, noted Jeff Trapp, owner of BroncoGraveyard.com, a parts supply company for Broncos. "You have to learn from that. The FJ Cruiser was a total miss."
Ford has expertise in building tribute models that refer to the company's heritage, especially cars such as the 2002 Thunderbird, 2005 Mustang and 2005 GT, which appeared around the same time as the Bronco concept.
Today, Ford's thinking is more sophisticated than a straight modern interpretation of the old model, as illustrated by the futuristic-looking 2017 GT that nevertheless retains familiar cues from the original GT40 of the 1960s.
That's the approach to expect from Ford on the new Bronco, and Trapp says he believes that it can work. "I think they’d take some of the older stuff and incorporate that into new one."
And it should say F-O-R-D across the tailgate in foot-tall lettering, with no Euro-sedan wannabe badge in the middle that car makers around the world have slavishly copied from BMW and Mercedes. The Blue Oval has its place, and it isn't on the tailgate of the Bronco.
2. Compact size
A successful Bronco needs to have manageable dimensions, like the first-generation Bronco, and not be a huge boulevard cruiser like the 1978-'96 second-gen machine made infamous by O.J. Simpson's televised flight from police.
A target for the Bronco's scale should be the Wrangler, which even in this age of super-sized vehicles, remains notably smaller than the hulking 1978 Bronco.
3. Removable doors and roof
The Bronco needs to be able to strip naked, just like, yep, the Wrangler. This is a key factor in the Wrangler's appeal and that of the classic Bronco. This is a must-have ingredient, as we found in our recent wide-open testing of a 2016 Wrangler Unlimited.
4. EcoBoost engines
The Bronco will advance Ford's move into advanced powertrains, using turbocharged EcoBoost engines, just as other specialty models like the Mustang and the GT do. Especially look for the 310-horsepower 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder or the 325-horsepower 2.7-liter V6 engines in the Bronco for its combination of small size and prodigious power output.
5. Built on Ranger pickup frame
Ford sells the Ranger mid-size pickup truck in 130 countries and builds it in three countries. It has not come to the U.S. yet, but the rumor around Detroit, according to Trapp, is that the Ranger (which could be badged the F-100 in the U.S.) and the Bronco will both be built in Ford's Wayne, Mich. factory where the Focus small car is built today.
Sharing a foundation and an assembly plant with a high-volume model like the Ranger makes a specialty model like the Bronco more financially viable. Enthusiasts may deride accountants as bean counters, but unless the beans add up, there will be no fun models like the Bronco for us to appreciate.
Incidentally, a look at the Ranger's specifications shows that it is within a fraction of an inch of the width of the Jeep Wrangler and is within about an inch of the same height. The Ranger is longer, but as an SUV, the Bronco will use a shortened version of the Ranger's frame to be more nimble on the Rubicon Trail.
6. Solid front axle
What the Bronco won't share with the Ranger is the suspension. The Ranger's leaf-sprung rear suspension could carry over, though the Wrangler's coil-sprung rear axle may force an upgrade in that area from Ford.
But the front suspension will have to be entirely replaced, as the Ranger's more car-like independent front suspension will have to go. Off-roaders insist on a rugged solid front axle, and Jeep has shown that the ancient design can be made to work tolerably well in everyday driving. This is a big item for off-road fans, so it needs to be there.
7. Four doors
The Jeep Wrangler sells 70 percent the four-door Unlimited version, according to Jeep spokesman Todd Goyer. The classic Bronco had two doors, and that is the styling buyers will expect. But Wrangler buyers clearly favor the more practical design, and even traditionalists like Trapp think Ford should offer a 4-door version.
"Most people have one or two kids, so they should offer either (two or four doors) like Jeep does," he said. "That’s what my customers tell me."
Vote in Bronco6G.com's poll on whether the new Bronco should come with two doors, four doors or both here.
Now that you know what to expect, head down to your Ford dealer to stake out your place in line. If Ford follows these guidelines, there will be quite a backlog of orders for the 2018 Bronco.