2021 Ford Bronco R Race Truck: First Ride!

We ride in the new Baja 1000 race Bronco—it's wild, but not wooly.

Nelson IresonWriterThe ManufacturerPhotographerBrandon LimPhotographer

Fresh off its unveiling in the desert south of Las Vegas, the new Ford Bronco R race truck prototype began taking quick spins with journalists in the right seat for the closest thing we could get to a first-hand driving impression. The Bronco R impresses.

Floating on its Fox shocks and delivering 14 inches of front-end suspension travel and up to 18 inches of rear travel—and supported by 37-inch BFGoodrich tires on 17-inch beadlock wheels—the Bronco R feels like it's barely trying at 90 mph down a whoop-laden desert trail. Rough natural drainage ruts, irregularly spaced ridges piled high by public use, large gravel, loose sand—none of it fazed the Bronco R. The Bronco R's great rough-road ride and grip portend good things for the production Bronco, which will use the same independent front and five-link solid axle rear suspension designs.

The Bronco R shares more than just the suspension with the production truck, too. The T6 architecture all those other parts attach to is also shared with the production 2021 Bronco, and it will receive a serious stress test when Ford puts the Bronco R into action in this year's SCORE International Baja 1000 race. The Bronco R also gives more than a strong hint as to what at least one of the upcoming 2021 Bronco production variants will look like.

"Like the original Bronco, we kept Bronco R's design authentic and simple, with a roll cage on a production-style frame, and a five-piece lightweight body on top," said Ford Performance off-road racing supervisor, Brian Novak. "For the endurance needs of Baja's 1,000 grueling miles, we built in a limited number of race-focused parts. But even the twin turbos of the EcoBoost engine are representative of what the production Bronco will offer."

Parts not shared with the street version of the new Bronco are too numerous to count, but include the unique aerodynamics, its ultra-wide stance, it's huge wheel/tire package, and its lightweight composite body with clamshell hood and roof. Curiously, the twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 engine never felt particularly powerful, but that's probably because we rarely had to accelerate, instead just bombing right over or through whatever lay before us. The experience is probably closest to the fantasies that run through an F-150 Raptor owner's head, except without the big repair bill afterward.

Throwing the Bronco R in stark contrast was Rod Hall's 1969 overall race-winning 1968 Bronco. Still fully prepped (and even updated a bit with Fox shocks), and piloted by Rod's granddaughter Shelby, the mighty little classic Bronco felt approximately twice as fast as the Bronco R despite probably only going a fraction of the newer Bronco's speed. Part of that difference comes down to the tremendously short wheelbase of the old Bronco, but more of it comes down to the 50 years of technological advancement in chassis and suspension design that separate these two fast desert Broncos.

Related Articles