Bronco Vs. Wrangler - The Front Suspension Battle
Right from the start of the 2021 Bronco's development process, Ford had only one goal – to make it better than the Jeep Wrangler.
It's no secret that the Wrangler had established itself as the benchmark vehicle in this segment. After all, it's been around for ages, and it's produced by a company specializing in all-terrain, off-road, and SUV vehicles. Besides that, Wrangler has been the only true off-roader still on the market and the keeper of the flame amongst hordes of soulless SUVs all manufacturers have been turning out.
However, making an exact copy of Wrangler and calling it a Bronco was out of the question, and Ford needed to go a different direction, putting an emphasis on determining what the Wrangler's strengths and weaknesses were and making their Bronco better in critical areas.
Most of all, Ford needed to make Bronco more capable overall, which was an honestly challenging task. In order to do so, the Blue Oval guys decided to let their engineers do their thing and not let "bean counters" from their business administration department limit the development process.
In the modern car industry, that's a very bold move, since most car companies are more concerned about costs than about the engineering excellence of their vehicles.
Live Front Axle vs. Independent Front Axle
As you probably know, the Jeep Wrangler is one of the very few vehicles in today's market still equipped with a live front axle. Most present-day trucks and serious SUV models have a live rear axle, which is suitable for towing or carrying, but a live front axle is rare. Jeep's engineers stayed true to this archaic but very tough concept in order to provide their customers with optimum traction, regardless of condition.
However, is live axle really superior? Ford's engineers concluded otherwise and decided to equip the new 2021 Bronco with a specially-designed independent front suspension instead, configured to offer more off-road traction and on-road comfort drivability. There's very interesting and thorough research behind this decision.
What is VCI?
Have you ever heard of VCI? If not, here's the explanation. The VCI is a specific set of measurements developed by the US Military for accurately testing the traction of off-road vehicles. It stands for "Vehicle Cone Index" and determines the amount of pressure and grip a vehicle has on loose surfaces like mud, snow, sand, or gravel.
Military experts use a physical 30-degree cone with a base of about 10 inches, which is pressed into the ground to determine the required pressure from 1 to 6 inches of depth. This test provides them with values vehicles are measured by.
Of course, the essential component of a vehicle's grip is its tires, but tires are easily changeable, and a true off-roader needs to have competent hardware, not just a set of all-terrain rubber. That's why the VCI is a real test of construction and vehicle off-road dynamics.
Although in the modern car industry, the VCI standard had not been relevant in the soft SUV market, Jeep still used it in the development process for the Wrangler. So, in its preparation to top the Wrangler's off-road ability, Ford adopted the VCI standard as well during the engineering of the 2021 Bronco.
The key to achieving high a VCI result and attaining the most traction on the trail is suspension articulation -- a suspension's ability to place the wheels at the correct angle, apply the pressure to the ground and provide maximum grip for the vehicle.
When testing the live front axle against the independent front suspension -- both of which have the same suspension travel in 99% of the cases -- the winner is actually the independent front suspension.
Simply put, with the same amount of travel, an independent suspension can provide better articulation, which results in better off-road performance. However, in 1% of most extreme cases, the live front axle will have a slight advantage over the IFS system.
The weakness of the live front axle is that, while articulating, this suspension system changes each tire's weight distribution. At the same time, an independent front suspension manages to keep the weight equally delivered over a wide range of articulation movements. This makes a world of difference in real-life conditions.
Less weight on the tires means losing grip, but just the right amount of weight means sufficient grip and optimum control of the vehicle.
This is especially important on loose surfaces like mud, snow, sand, or gravel. However, in that previously mentioned 1% of extreme situations (rock crawling), the live front axle will perform better, unless the vehicle equipped with IFS has more extended suspension travel.
Bronco vs. Wrangler - The Winner Is?
So, what does all of this mean in terms of the Bronco vs. Wrangler match? Well, the differences between engineering approaches show the direction in which Ford is heading.
By accepting the same measurement standard that Jeep's engineers use in the development of the Wrangler, Ford acknowledges its abilities, especially in that 1% of cases.
However, by introducing its own front-end setup, Ford manages to beat the Wrangler in the other 99% of the situations, which is far more important for buyers and people who use their vehicles daily.
That's why we can safely say that the new Bronco will prove superior against the Wrangler in most tests performed by magazines, as well as in most of the situations customers will encounter in real-life conditions.
And let's not forget that the independent front suspension is far more comfortable on the road than the live front axle, which is known for its bumpy ride and vibration. Of course, we're concentrating on stock vehicles here, and modified ones are totally different ball game.
Although we talked about the 2021 Bronco in two and four-door configurations, the same approach was taken with the 2021 Bronco Sport, which managed to very convincingly beat the Jeep Compass. We can expect the 2021 Bronco will do the same when it clashes with the 2021 Jeep Wrangler later this year.