BRONCO VS. BLAZER – A Tale Of Two Rivals That Have Taken Very Different Paths
Dating back to the ’60s, the trajectories of Ford’s Bronco and Chevy’s Blazer have been intertwined to an extent matched by very few other model rivalries. And with the pending return of the Ford Bronco just a short ways off now, it’s a good time to have a look at how these hallowed nameplates have fared over the years, as well as the decidedly different paths on which they now find themselves.
Bronco: First to the Market
When the Bronco was first introduced in 1965 as a 1966 model, it was so distinctive from anything else on the market that Ford’s early commercials showed an obvious clumsiness in labeling it, referring to the Bronco as “the first 4-wheel drive sports car”. Its category-defying newness certainly didn’t hurt sales and, with only fairly primitive, military-based rivals like the CJ5 Jeep around to provide competition — and not very keen competition at that — the Ford Bronco would go on to enjoy virtually unencumbered success for a number of years.
Chevy Eventually Counterpunches
Chevy seemed cautious at first in its bid to compete with Ford’s revolutionary nameplate, waiting until 1969 to unveil its Blazer. For a half decade, the two SUV forefathers would dominate its segment so if you were to have glimpsed a rugged SUV on or off the asphalt back then, it would have had to have been one of these two, as a third competitor — the Dodge Ramcharger — wouldn’t debut until 1974.
Just as was the case with the parallel muscle car war between Ford’s Mustang and Chevy’s Camaro, the Bronco and Blazer would trade figurative blows over the years. Because the Bronco arrived first, it had a decided market advantage and, as it would turn out, the introduction of the Blazer hardly seemed to make a dent in its popularity — Ford sold more than 20,000 units the very year the Blazer was introduced.
Going Big to Keep Up With The Competition
But nothing lasts forever — and this holds especially true in the automotive world — and the Bronco’s popularity would begin to wane in the final years of its first generation. By the time its second generation was introduced in 1978, the landscape had shifted a bit, so Ford opted to lengthen the Bronco while perching it on top of a shortened Ford F-series chassis so that it could properly wage war with its larger rival — the K5 Blazer, which had been sporting a truck chassis ever since its debut.
This back and forth would continue for quite some time, with each manufacturer attempting to gain a sales advantage through a combination of ingenuity and marketing. Meanwhile, there was no clear winner in the area of power output, as both models remained pretty weak in this regard, largely due to emission standards.
The (Temporary) End of the Line
Throughout the remainder of the ’80s and into the ’90s there would be a substantial change in the segment that was dominated for so long by the Bronco and Blazer. The American car buying public began to see the SUV as the logical successor to the nearly extinct station wagon and, as the result of faltering sales, Chevy would take the K5 Blazer out of commission in 1995, to be replaced by the still robust, but more refined and citified Chevy Tahoe. Ford would deal its Bronco the same fate the very next year, putting it on the blocks to make room for its successor, the Ford Expedition, which would take its place in the Ford lineup in 1997 alongside the already successful Explorer.
Chevy would go on to release the Trailblazer, based on the relatively compact S10 Blazer, in 1999. It would embody the shift to softer, more civilized SUVs, as it was undeniably stylish and well-equipped, but not particularly geared toward off-road pursuits. This would leave the Jeep Wrangler as the sole torch bearer for its segment for quite some time, and the model would enjoy robust sales as the result of this lack of proper competition.
The Bronco Re-Enters the Market
When Ford announced the return of the Bronco to quite a bit of fanfare at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show, it seemed to almost immediately reinvigorate the Rugged SUV segment that had been dormant for so long. Many were sure that not only was Ford really on to something with the rekindling of its iconic nameplate, but that Chevy would soon re-enter the fray with worthy competition — this competition was logically assumed to be in the form of a similarly nostalgia-inducing but updated Blazer.
Those prognosticators got part of it right. Chevy would, in fact, announce the return of the Blazer more than a year after Ford’s news riveted the automotive press in Detroit and they would even beat Ford back to market with its reintroduction by getting the Blazer into showrooms by 2019. But its new offering provided clear evidence that the decades-long competition between the Bronco and the Blazer was effectively over. Chevy’s once respected and rugged off-roader now bore no resemblance whatsoever to its predecessors — instead sporting a new crossover form that wasn’t even particularly stout. This was a reimagining that ruffled plenty of feathers among legions of Chevy K5 and S10 Blazer loyalists.
There was no question that the SUV segment had grown softer and more citified over the years, but this was a new benchmark in the process. One look at the crossover Blazer would tell you that there would be no way it was going to join its onetime rival in conquering rugged terrain. With only slightly better ground clearance than a passenger car, it would not be able to extricate itself from a pothole, let alone have the ability to navigate off-road obstacles. And while the Blazer’s top tier engine option provided more than sufficient power, its base level engine carried a skimpy 193 horsepower to propel a vehicle weighing in the neighborhood of two tons.
The Bronco’s return to market couldn’t have taken a more divergent path. Sporting retro-futuristic styling that’s drawn rave reviews from even hard to please designers like automotive visionary Frank Stephenson it will be reemerging to join the already popular Bronco Sport very soon – and it would have been much sooner if not for Covid-related delays.
The Ford Bronco returns with huge advantages over its one-time Chevy counterpart in all the areas that could matter to off-roaders — engine options that range from a robust 270 to 310 horsepower, ample ground clearance to take on all-terrain obstacles, an interior created specially to withstand the rigors of enthusiastic off-roading and much more. And yet the Bronco is also equipped to be a capable choice in more civilized surroundings, sporting an appreciable number of creature comforts and cabin dimensions that will make weekday commutes comfortable for multiple occupants.
Meanwhile Chevy seems to have raised the proverbial white flag for now as far as returning to the Rugged SUV segment, leaving it to its Chevy Colorado — a pickup truck by trade — to be its only current viable option for any potential heavy lifting off the asphalt. This sets the stage for what will likely be years of competition between the new Ford Bronco and the long time “keeper of the flame” in this segment — the Jeep Wrangler — along with the possible inclusion of a few other more expensive and esoteric entries.
It will be really interesting to see how it goes.