The Ford Bronco is launching with one target firmly in its sights: the Jeep Wrangler. Because of that, they end up in about the same place: an SUV with extreme off-road capability, great style, and everyday usability. But they go about that end goal with some pretty significant differences. One of the biggest is the front suspension and axle design. The Wrangler has kept its solid front axle since its introduction, while the Bronco will have independent front suspension when it’s launched next spring. Each setup has its benefits and drawbacks, and thanks to Road and Track, we now know why Ford chose independent.
The Wrangler has stuck with it’s solid axle setup mainly because it allows for more wheel articulation when off-roading. With more articulation, you can keep all four wheels on the ground over uneven terrain, increasing stability and grip. But that’s at the cost of imprecise steering controls, a choppy ride, and worsened on road handling. This is because both wheels are connected: anything that adjusts the suspension on one side will have an effect on the opposite wheel.
An independent setup, on the other hand, doesn’t allow for quite as much wheel articulation, but has significant improvements in on road feel. The Bronco will have better handling, a better ride, and won’t be as upset by mid-corner bumps. It’ll also be better at high speed off-road driving, something the Bronco Wildtrak and eventual Bronco Raptor are focused on.
In an interview with Ford, Road and Track found that Ford actually considered a solid front axle setup in the beginning. But the on-road handling characteristics and off-road high speed driving dynamics caused them to ultimately go for the independent setup. Another popular off-road SUV, the Toyota 4Runner, uses a similar setup with an independent front end and solid rear axle.
They’ve also gone to great lengths to mitigate the drawbacks the independent setup with inevitably have off-road. The available stabilizer bar disconnect improves wheel articulation and travel dramatically during low-speed off-roading. The Ford Bronco also boasts 17 percent more suspension travel than the Jeep Wrangler, although it’s unclear which two suspension setups that calculation is drawn from.
Overall, the choice of independent front suspension will probably have enough benefits that it outweighs the slight drawback, hence Ford’s decision.