We compare the 2021 Ford Bronco to its 55-year-old grandfather

Ford revived the Bronco for the 2021 model year and brought the iconic nameplate back on the market after 25 years. And even though it had five generations to consider, four of which competed in the full-size segment, Ford opted to design the 2021 Bronco as a spiritual successor to the original compact SUV.

The sixth-gen hauler is clearly inspired by the first Bronco that was unveiled in 1965, with the most notable difference being a four-door version for the modern SUV. Granted, these vehicles arrived 55 years apart so they’re radically different when it comes to interior features, technology, and powerplants, but the 2021 Bronco is a cool tribute to the original SUV on the surface. So let’s find out what makes them similar and what sets them apart.

Two-door vs two-door

2021 Ford Bronco vs The Original Bronco
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Before we proceed, we need to establish why this comparison will only include the 2021 model and the first-generation Bronco. Although the Bronco’s first stint on the market lasted from 1965 to 1996 over five generations, the SUV went through massive changes over the years. And by far the most important is that it has become increasingly bigger.

While the first-gen Bronco was aimed at compact SUVs such as the Jeep CJ and the International Harvester Scout, Ford decided to throw it in a battle against the much bigger Chevrolet K5 Blazer and Dodge Ramcharger starting with the second generation.

So the Bronco went from a compact to a full-size SUV in 1978. To put this into perspective, the original Bronco was 151.5 inches long and 68.5 inches wide, while the fifth-gen SUV, introduced in 1992, was 183.6 inches long and 79.1 inches wide. The 2021 Bronco is obviously bigger than the original hauler, but it’s classified as a midsize SUV.

We also need to compare two-door models only. That’s because the first five generations of the Bronco were two-door (some call them three-door) models only. Four-door models are obviously larger, to the point where the 2021 four-door is longer and wider than the fifth-generation Bronco.

Exterior

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One quick glance at the 2021 Bronco you can see that it's based on the first-generation model.

The new SUV is indeed boxy, but it retains the slightly rounded edges of the original design. By contrast, the subsequent second- to fifth-generation versions looked decidedly blocky and lost the light appearance of the Bronco that started it all.

The 2021 Bronco’s front fascia is a fine example of how you should modernize a 1960s design. The new Bronco retains all the key features. It features round headlamps, a big grille that stretches between the tip of the hood and the bumper, as well as big "Bronco" lettering in the center. On the original Bronco the badging was set on a horizontal trim that stretched between the headlamps and also included thin, horizontal turn signals. Ford moved the turn signals to the sides because it’s mandatory under current safety regulations, but added daytime running lights in the center of the fascia. They’re shaped like the old turn signals and flank the "Bronco" badge, simulating the trim on the old model. The LED DRLs extend into the headlamps for a crisp, modern look.

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Even the bumper is similar to the original Bronco, featuring a trapezoidal shape. It is thicker and the protection plate underneath cover more surface, but the design is decidedly vintage. But that’s also because this bumper shape didn’t need a big update over the years. Finally, we can see a similar engine hood. The front section extends over the nose to meet the grille, while the lateral cutouts do not extend over the fenders, as seen on many modern SUVs.

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Ford integrated more classic Bronco cues onto the sides, starting with the character line that runs just below the beltline. There is a difference here, however. On the original Bronco, this character line was the point from where the upper side body panels grew wider. On the modern Bronco, the panels are slightly rounded as they progress toward the upper front fenders and the side windows. But the effect is similar.

The door occupies most of the area above the side skirt, but like on the original Bronco, but the modern SUV features a proper side skirts that extends to the side. The wheel arches have a similar round shape on the new Bronco, but they’re obviously beefier. A big difference here is that the rear wheel arch is just as tall as the one in the front. On the old Bronco, it sits lower, almost making contact with the rear wheel. The window design is simple and straight forward. The door windows are a bit taller than the rear ones, which are completely rectangular.

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The 2021 Bronco’s rear end is equally familiar. The rear fascia looks like a box, but the area below the window becomes a bit wider. Ford retained the design of the taillights. They’re rectangular and attached to the body, just like on the original Bronco. But the company made them look a bit more modern by increasing their size and dropping the chrome surrounds. The spare wheel is set to the right, leaving room for a tailgate handle to the left. The tailgate opens to the side, just like on the old Bronco. The license plate is no longer on the lid, but it has been moved to the bumper, which is again similar in shape to the original element, but taller and thicker for that modern rugged look.

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Just like its predecessor, the new Bronco is available with either a soft-top or a panelled, removable hard-top.

There are various configurations to play with and just like the first-gen model, the 2021 Bronco comes with removable doors.

Overall, the new Bronco looks very similar to the original SUV and has very little in common with other generations outside the boxy appearance.

But how big is the 2021 Bronco compared to its ancestor?

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As a midsize SUV, the 2021 Bronco is notably bigger than the original model.

The two-door model is 174.8 inches long, while the original Bronco comes in at 151.5 inches. This means that the new Bronco is a solid 21.3 inches longer. At 75.9 inches wide, the 2021 Bronco is 7.4 inches wider than the old SUV, which measures 68.5 inches. The new SUV also features a much longer wheelbase at 100.4 inches, exactly 8.4 inches longer than the old Bronco. However, the 2021 Bronco is a bit lower in Base spec. At 70.2 inches, it sits 1.4 inches lower than the 1966 Bronco.

New Ford Bronco vs Original Ford Bronco
New Ford Bronco Original Ford Bronco
Length 174.8 151.5
Width 75.9 68.5
Wheelbase 100.4 92.0
Height 70.2 71.6

Interior

While the exterior of the new Bronco is a tribute to the original SUV, things are radically different when it comes to the cabin.

The 2021 Bronco has nothing in common with its ancestor, but this makes sense since modern technology and safety features play a key role into how interiors look.

What’s more, while the original Bronco was a no-frills, no-nonsense SUV, the 2021 Bronco become a premium-oriented vehicle in some trims.

There’s not much to talk about when looking inside an old Bronco. The dashboard is a simple panel that houses a couple of clocks behind the steering wheel and a glove box on the passenger side. The original SUV doesn’t even have a center stack and center tunnel, so it’s devoid of the buttons and knobs you find in a modern SUV. The seats were rather basic and needless say probably did not provide optimum support during off-roading. But hey, it was a basic SUV, like most hauler from the era.

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The 2021 Bronco tries to capture some of that vintage vibe. It does feature a sizable infotainment display and a digital screen in the instrument cluster, but Ford kept most of the upper dashboard clean.

There are some controls in the lower center stack, while the steering wheel is as modern as they get and includes multi-function controls on the spokes. The door panels feature a more complex design and offer storage room, while the seats, albeit inspired by the old Bronco in terms of looks, offer proper lateral support.

It doesn’t make sense to start listing all the tech that’s available with the 2021 Bronco, since it would be a very long sheet compared to one that includes a handful of things for the old Bronco. The main thing to understand here is that the cabin is where the Bronco stands out as a modern vehicle.

2021 Ford Bronco vs The Original Bronco Interior High Resolution
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2021 Ford Bronco vs The Original Bronco
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Drivetrain

2021 Ford Bronco vs The Original Bronco
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The first-generation and the 2021 Bronco model were introduced a whopping 55 years apart, so they’re entirely different animals when it comes to power and performance.

The original Bronco debuted with a 2.8-liter inline-six engine that Ford borrowed from the Falcon.

Modified with solid valve lifters, a bigger oil pan, heavy-duty fuel pump, and carburetor with a float bowl compensated against tilting, the six-cylinder pumped 105 horsepower. A few months later Ford added an optional 4.7-liter small-block V-8. This mill was significantly more powerful at 200 horsepower.

In 1969, the V-8 was enlarged to 4.9 liters and power increased to 205 horses. In 1973, Ford replaced the base 2.8-liter with a 3.3-liter straight-six rated at 120 horsepower. Torque topped at 190 pound-feet for the six-cylinder and 243 pound-feet for the V-8.

Original Ford Bronco engine lineup
Engine Horsepower Torque
2.8-liter inline-six 105 HP 190 LB-FT
4.7-liter small-block V-8 200 HP 243 LB-FT
4.9-liter small-block V-8 205 HP 243 LB-FT
3.3-liter straight-six 120 HP 190 LB-FT
The Bronco was offered with a three-speed manual only from 1966 to 1972. In response to buyer demand, Ford introduced a three-speed automatic in 1973.
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Unlike the original Bronco, the 2021 model isn’t available with a V-8. However, the four-cylinder and V-6 units on offer pump out notably more oomph than their ancestors. The base engine is a turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder rated at 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. That’s already more than what the original Bronco had at its disposal, no matter the engine. Things become more powerful with the optional 2.7-liter V-6. Also a turbocharged mill, it pumps out an impressive 325 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of twist.

2021 Ford Bronco engine lineup
Engine Horsepower Torque
2.3-liter four-cylinder 270 HP 310 LB-FT
2.7-liter V-6 325 HP 400 LB-FT
2021 Ford Bronco vs The Original Bronco Interior High Resolution
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The 2021 Bronco was launched with both a manual and an automatic. There’s a seven-speed manual with a crawler gear offered with the four-cylinder engine and a 10-speed automatic that’s optional on the 2.3-liter engine and standard on the V-6.

Off-road gear

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The original Bronco used a box-section, body-on-frame construction and all models were sold with four-wheel drive. A shift-on-the-fly Dana 20 transfer case and locking hubs were standard. The rear axle was a Ford nine-inch axle with Hotchkiss drive and leaf springs. The front axle was a Dana 30, replaced by a Dana 44 in 1971. Although large Ford trucks from the era featured twin I-Beams, the Bronco came with radius arms for the coil-spring front axle and a lateral track bar. These allowed for a 34-foot turning circle, long wheel travel, and anti-dive geometry. Options include a heavier-duty suspension system and air front springs.

While all these features might not sound like much compared to off-road ready SUVs from the modern era, the original Bronco hit the trails as one of the most capable vehicles out there. The radius arm design enhanced durability and strength, while the wider-than-usual track improved stability on any surface.

The ground clearance, departure and breakover angles were slightly better than the competition. The Bronco was also unusually comfortable for daily driving thanks to the coil sprint front suspension that provided a smooth ride.
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The 2021 Bronco is obviously a much more advanced SUV. A fully boxed, high-strength steel frame design, it features an independent front suspension with coil-over springs that’s said to offer 17-percent more travel that the competition. Unlike its predecessor, the 2021 Bronco features a range of smart driving modes that were created for specific terrain conditions. Depending on trim level and gear, it can feature up to eight driving modes, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Baja, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl. These modes are packed under the GOAT name, which stands for Go Over Any Terrain, a term that Ford originally coined for the first-generation Bronco.

The 2021 Ford Bronco is also available with a handful of options that will turn it into a rock-climbing vehicle. One notable option is the hydraulically controlled stabilizer than can be disconnected when on an angle and under load. There’s also Trail One-Pedal Drive, which which improves precision while rock crawling. It also includes Trail Control, a low-speed cruise control system for off-roading borrowed from the Ford Ranger. Finally, there’s a Trail Turn Assist feature that uses four-wheel-drive torque vectoring to tighten turning radii for improved maneuverability.

2021 Ford Bronco vs The Original Bronco
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Now let’s have a look at the approach, breakover, and departure angles for both Broncos. It might not be a fair comparison given the 55-year difference between them, but it’s worth taking a look. These numbers are crucial in a vehicle’s off-road capability. The bigger the angle, the more obstacles the vehicle can climb over. This depends on the size of the tires, the length of the overhangs, and the suspension setup.

In its most off-road-ready spec, the first-generation Bronco came with a 13.3-inch ground clearance. That’s actually a bit higher than the 2021 model, which can sit 11.6 inches above the ground. When it comes to approach angles, a first-gen Bronco fitted with all the off-road goodies boasted a 45-degree angle. Add 35-inch tires to the 2021 Bronco and it comes with a 43.2-degree angle. The old Bronco also features a slightly better breakover angle at 31.2 degrees, versus the 2021 Bronco’s 29-degree rating. However, the new Bronco boasts a better departure angle at 37.2 degrees, while the original Bronco’s is limited to 34 degrees due to the longer rear overhang.

2021 Ford Bronco vs The Original Bronco Exterior High Resolution
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New Ford Bronco Original Ford Bronco
Ground Clearance 11.6 Inches 13.3 Inches
Approach Angle 43.2 Degrees 45.0 Degrees
Breakover Angle 29.0 Degrees 31.2 Degrees
Departure Angle 37.2 Degrees 34.0 Degrees

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the first-generation Bronco is better on the unbeaten path. A proper comparison will probably reveal that the 2021 Bronco wins because it feature more and better technology. However, this comparison reveals that the old Bronco was a damn good off-roader.

Body styles

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The first-generation Ford Bronco was sold in three different body styles.

The two-door SUV versions were so familiar that it was called a two-door wagon back then. The second version was the open-body roadster. While it sound a tad fancy, it’s actually a Bronco without a roof and doors. It’s pretty much what you can get today if you remove the roof panels and doors of a 2021 Bronco, but the original model didn’t have any bars where the B- and C-pillars are. It was a completely stripped-down Bronco to use in American states with longer and hotter summers. The original Bronco was also sold as a two-door, half-cab pickup. It was essentially a regular Bronco without the rear half of its roof and with the rear passenger compartment converted into a small bed. The Bronco truck was discontinued in 1973 due to slow sales and Ford’s introduction of the slightly larger Courier compact truck.

2021 Ford Bronco vs The Original Bronco
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The 2021 Bronco is available in two body styles, two-door or four-door SUV

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But since they come with either a soft-top or a removable, panelled hard-top, we could say that it’s a convertible as well. The doors are also removable on both variants, so the Bronco would qualify as a "roadster" similar to the original offering. Ford doesn’t offer a truck version of the Bronco, but who knows, it might happen in the future. Jeep is now selling a truck version of the Wrangler, called the Gladiator, so maybe Ford will jump on the pickup wagon with the Bronco soon.

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Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
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