There’s no hiding the fact that the 2021 Ford Bronco is truly only aimed at taking on one vehicle in the off-road segment: the Jeep Wrangler. Historical precedent aside, the new Bronco has come to market with features that have long been associated with the Jeep brand. Items like a removable roof and doors were inspired by the Jeep offerings, but Ford wanted to take the concepts and improve them. MC&T recently chatted with Ford’s Global Program Manager Jeff Seamen to discuss the team’s take on these features.
The ability to remove the doors or roof from your off-roading SUV is as much a practical move as it is about open-air fun. Being able to see exactly where you are placing a wheel on the trails is a huge benefit, and one that the Blue Oval figured Ford Bronco buyers would demand. A lot of effort went into the design and functionality of these features, mostly as a result of the Ford Engineer’s distaste for FCA’s solutions.
“My favorite one is the roof system,” said Seaman. “ We did a lot of human-centered design work… If I were a certain competitor (Jeep), you remove the roof cap off the vehicle. It is the most awkward, awful experience of my entire life. I cracked one the first time I did it. It’s awkward, it’s horrible, and you need two strong people to take it off.”
While we’re sure that there will be plenty of Wrangler owners quick to disavow Seaman’s struggles with the Jeep’s top, it does weigh in at a hefty 140 lbs. As if that weight wasn’t already enough to deal with, the awkward shape of the roof section makes things more difficult. In fact, it was this shape that Seaman blamed as part of the reasons for his expensive error.
“The way I cracked it is it’s this big panel lever design and it falls over,” said Seaman. “So picture, you’re a customer and you want to take the roof off and go drive. And you take the top off with your big, beefy buddy because you can’t do it yourself. And you carefully set it on the garage floor, and go off and have a day of off roading. But you come back and what you didn’t realize is that it tipped over and you cracked it. And now you’ve got a $2,000 bill… our design on the Bronco 4-Door has an intermediate panel that eliminates that panel lever situation, so you’ve got a shorter rear panel. And it’s lighter. But it also prevents the dang thing from falling over. So it’s pretty much a thought through good design.”
This attention to detail carries over in other aspects of the Ford Bronco as well. Such as the decision to go with an Independent Front Suspension setup (IFS) instead of the live front axle that’s found on the JL Jeep Wrangler. The result is improved on-road manners, as well as improved handling off road at higher speeds.
Or, take the rear quarter windows for example, which can be easily removed alongside the optional hardtop. Or perhaps the fixed side mirrors, which are a contentious issue among doorless Jeep drivers.
“Here’s another example – you wanna take your doors off… on a certain competitor you don’t have mirrors anymore, “ said Seaman. “But, ‘oh don’t worry you can buy some other parts’. No. We mounted our mirrors right to the cowl. It was a very early decision to keep the mirrors on when people take the doors off.”
However you want to look at it, the Ford Bronco has copied the Wrangler’s homework a bit. That said, it appears that along the way they might have found some of the right answers.