Following the debut of the 2021 Ford Bronco, the internet has exploded with renewed debates surrounding the 4×4 and its biggest rival: the Jeep Wrangler. One of the areas that has been rather contentious between serious off-roaders is the presence of the Bronco’s independent front suspension layout. You see, the Jeep Wrangler employs a solid front axle, which fans believe play a key role in the SUVs capability on the trails. However, MC&T sat down with some folks who worked on the Bronco to find out why Ford went another direction.
“For IFS we make (the Bronco’s) manners much better on-road,” said Bronco Chief Engineer Eric Loeffler in a one-on-one interview with MC&T. “Therefore we get the best of both worlds… in Bronco we’ve been able to balance the performance, especially at higher speeds where our competitors don’t. And yet on-road the vehicle is just so much more enjoyable to drive.”
The solid front axle found in the Jeep products is great for when you’re moving slow on the trails, but the antiquated set-up does make its presence felt on the road. Uneven surfaces at speed can upset a solid front axle, just like what happens at the rear of a solid axle muscle car. This is why we’ve seen trucks and SUVs with this setup, including the Wrangler, suffer from the phenomenon known as a death wobble. The issues related to suspension travel and articulation that once made the IFS obsolete have been much improved in recent years as well, leaving the strongest arguments against the layout in the past.
“There’s a fundamental architectural tradeoff between a live axle and IFS,” said Global Program Manager Jeff Seaman. “It reminds me of the Mustang analogy between solid rears and IRS. It’s like living that over again.”
Ford were quick to prove the benefits of the IRS layout in the S550 Mustang. Fans were quick to buy in too, and the debate surrounding the IRS quieted down as fast as they began. We think off-roading fans may find themselves in this scenario soon as well, as Ford gave us a little hint as to the main reasons a solid front axle wasn’t on the table.
“If you want to be a high speed off road desert runner, you definitely want an IFS… there is an element to the suspension technology that we selected is the right one for what we’re targeting,” said Seaman.
Ford has experience when it comes to building something fast in the sand. The F-150 Raptor reshaped the truck segment, and it appears it’s success influenced the Bronco’s design. However, the words “high speed off-road desert runner” are very specific. Perhaps the presence of a Bronco Raptor down the line has necessitated the use of an IFS across the lineup. For now though, Ford has no interest in sharing information about such a project.
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What they should really worry about are the low hanging rear shock mounts which can be a problem in most off-road situations .