2021 Bronco Buyers Love The Manual Transmission Option
The new 2021 Bronco offers so many exciting features that it's really hard to pinpoint which one is most responsible for giving Ford's robust new off-roading SUV its undeniable coolness.
Whether it's the fantastic retro-futuristic styling, its dedicated off-road technology, or the inclusion of the already famous Sasquatch package, there's something for everybody. Ford really did a great job making it a bona fide lifestyle vehicle and, at the same time, a serious off-road tool for Overlanding fans.
However, the inclusion of one particular feature has surprised even industry experts and may possibly signal a new trend that will attract SUV buyers.
The feature in question is the unique, 7-speed manual transmission which is standard on a four-cylinder but optional on a V6 engine. While the majority of the SUVs are sold only with an automatic gearbox, which is generally considered to be far superior in on and off-road applications, Ford decided to offer the attractive manual option, which is now rarely seen on present-day vehicles in general.
But this is not your ordinary manual; this version is a “6+1” type, which means it has six regular gears and one super-low gear for crawling. Whether you're in high or low range, you can shift into “7th” (dogleg position on the shift pattern) and have an 11:1 gear ratio at your disposal, which is ideal for pulling heavy trailers uphill, rock crawling, or getting out of a muddy ditch.
In normal driving, you won't likely use that 7th gear, but it's sure to come in handy as soon as you find yourself in a challenging situation.
Modern automatic transmissions are so good and now shift much faster than their manual counterparts, making manuals obsolete in this regard. However, Ford paid attention to what the off-roading community was saying -- that there are still a lot of people who want that extra bit of control and driving feel that only a manual can provide. That's why Ford’s engineers created that state of the art, 7-speed gearbox and put it in the new Bronco.
But what effect has the availability of this cutting edge manual transmission had on sales thus far? As we now know, Ford is looking at about a 66% conversion rate (reservations vs. actual orders), which means it will need to deliver more 125,000 new Broncos in 2021 alone. Among those 125k Broncos, around 20,000 units will be equipped with manual, which is over 18% of all orders.
Compared to industry standards, this is a very high number and shows the importance Bronco buyers place on a "hands on" driving experience, as well proving some good thinking on Ford’s side.
While 18% of all orders might not seem like an incredibly high number, it's almost double the percentage of manual transmissions that Jeep Wrangler owners opt for. While the Bronco’s archenemy does offer manual, only about 10% of Wrangler buyers go for it, so even though the Wrangler is generally seen as a more “traditionalist” vehicle than the Bronco, its manual-buying rate is significantly lower.
The fact that the Wrangler’s 6-speed lacks that rock-crawling feature might have something to do with its fewer orders. Also, it's worth mentioning that competitors like the Toyota 4Runner and the new Land Rover Defender don’t offer manual transmissions at all.
Could this be a sign of a new trend among SUV buyers? Well, even though it's certainly an exciting finding, we feel that automatics will continue their domination in this segment, especially in the less capable vehicles designed for more on-road use.
However, like the Bronco itself, manuals will always have a dedicated following among the buyers of real off-road models, which makes the business case for Ford.
That's why we're happy that there will be three-pedal Broncos in the future. Who knows, maybe the upcoming Warthog will come with a manual, though likely it won't.