Since you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume that you have access to the interwebz and therefore probably have caught wind that our questionably-quaffed president-elect has been leaning on Ford, among others, to expand US-based production capacities. Aside from a bright future for the UAW Local 900, this will also mark the triumphant return of the Ford Ranger and Ford Bronco nameplates for 2019 and 2020 respectively. So we’re told, at least; Ford has been teasing us with Bronco concepts for over a decade now and it never actually quit building Rangers, it just stopped selling them here.
2019 Ford Ranger
According to a FoMoCo PR flack, the 2019 US-spec Ranger will be largely a facelifted version of the one sold overseas, which is very close in size to the current Toyota Tacoma and Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon. This move probably makes sense since the mid-sized pickup market is on the rise and there still seem to be, for whatever reason, die-hard Ranger fans out there. Judging by the global Ranger’s Wikipedia page, ours is likely to have wheels, a frame, optional four wheel drive, and a variety of cab/bed combos, just like literally every other truck in its class.
Potential powertrains still remain a bit of a mystery, as us Yanks tend to like a little more grunt to our utility vehicles than our homies from across the pond. The only mill on the Euro-spec menu that may be of interest to us is a 3.2L five-banger turbodiesel that probably sounds pretty cool and likely makes a lot of torque. Ford is monitoring the sales of diesel Colorados/Canyons as a benchmark for whether or not their engine is viable here. I wouldn’t hold your breath, however, since the already-negligible market for small oil burners has been dwindling in this fine union of ours. Thanks, Volkswagen. To hazard a guess, I’d expect to find versions of the Cyclone V6 and EcoBoost four-cylinder that Ford’s been putting into pretty much everything lately.
Gone is the tiny, flimsy Ranger that soldiered on for years as the last cheap pickup available in North America, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although cheapness was such a selling point on the original Ranger, it was also its Achilles heel. They rusted like it was their job, they went through ball joints almost as quickly as oil filters, their power plants were milquetoast at best, and let’s not even get into what happens if you wreck one. Also, as full-sized trucks have been growing lately (current ¾ ton offerings dwarf even the original H1 Hummer), casual pickup users have been flocking to the mid-sized units as they’re big enough to carry a reasonable amount of stuff and small enough to do things like park. There are still a lot of questions to be answered about the 2019 Ford Ranger (IS THERE GOING TO BE A MANUAL TRANSMISSION!!!???) but all in all, it’s probably about time for Ford to go after a bit of that Tacoma pie.
2020 Ford Bronco
In case you live under a rock, the Bronco name carries quite a bit of clout amongst old truck junkies. When it debuted in 1966, it was an innovative little rig. Tough as nails, it rode on solid axles and sported a short wheelbase to take on Jeeps and International Scouts for the king of the hill in the off-roader marketplace. Decades later, you still find them running around with impeccable restorations and fetching some solid coin at collector auctions. Of course, the ones that still actually work are sporting approximately 0% of their original drivetrain and suspension gear, but who’s keeping track? We last saw a production Bronco in 1996 but, by then, it had morphed into an obsolete, bloated derivative of the F150 as well as the official car of low-speed police pursuits. There was also a curious little Bronco II back in the ’80s but it was based on the OG Ranger and suffered from all the same nuances of cheapness, including the remarkably dull performance.
Fast forward to 2016 and the rumor mills began picking up that Ford was in talks with the UAW to re-start Bronco production at one of its Michigan plants. Considering the Bronco concepts that have been popping up over the last decade, looking all blocky and tough like the original, I actually got excited when Ford announced a production version on Monday. Promising to ride on the Ranger’s ladder frame, I had visions of a great little retro off-roader, a la Toyota’s FJ Cruiser. That, however, is not the case. Although it hasn’t been confirmed by the head honchos at Ford, it seems that the 2020 Ford Bronco will likely be a lightly-restyled version of the Australian market Ford Everest, which is a four-door (or do we say five?) SUV that rides on the European Ranger’s platform and shares its drivetrains. It’ll be more 4Runner-ish than FJ Cruiser. So, in classic Detroit fashion, the production car is going to look nothing like the concept but at least it’s going to sport what should be some robust running gear.
UPDATE: Rumors from Ford state that the Bronco will, in fact, be a unique model from the Everest while still featuring a body-on-frame design. No word yet on the number of doors or exactly how unique the Bronco will be from the Everest but the folks over at Bronco6g.com heard that there will be a trick removable roof system available. Something to note is that while the Euro-spec Ranger utilizes conventional leaf springs in the rear, the Everest features coil springs and a Watt’s linkage which offers a smoother ride and better off-road articulation. Let’s hope the Bronco gets that setup.
I actually expect that the Ranger to do well as that particular segment is hot right now and there are plenty of Ford loyalists that can use a sensibly sized truck. Tacomas have always been strong sellers and now that GM has figured out how to make a small(er) truck that actually stays screwed together, the Colorado/Canyon twins are pulling some sales momentum as well.
I’m not sure what to make of the Bronco, however. For starters, the mid-sized body-on-frame SUV seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. Everyone is out of the game, except for the Toyota 4Runner and (to an extent) the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, which kind of has its own thing going on. Additionally, Ford already has a bunch of medium-sized SUVs and crossover thingies built on unibodies that are generally preferred by contemporary consumers. There could be a small market for this car, though, as it will be a lot more rugged than its stablemates and it could fill a gap left when the Explorer went crossover.
Personally, I think it’s overly aggressive to conjure the Bronco nameplate for what is effectively the spiritual successor to the 90s Explorer. What’s wrong with continuing to call it the Everest, a plenty burly word in its own right? Or what if they named it the Explorer and started calling the current Explorer a Taurus Wagon because that’s pretty much what it is? I’m sure the 2020 Bronco will be a fine enough vehicle but I don’t think Ford should bust out the Bronco name until they lop off two doors and go full retro on the styling.