2021 Ford Bronco: What It Can Learn from the Toyota FJ Cruiser
Tips on how to succeed from one retro SUV to another.
Will retro ever go out of style? We think not—and based on the teaser image we've seen, the 2021 Ford Bronco will have a boxy body that pays tribute to its classic forebears. It won't be the first off-road SUV to take this design approach: Toyota's FJ Cruiser wore sheetmetal inspired by FJ40-series Land Cruisers from the '60s. And, like its muse, the FJ Cruiser had trail-ready hardware to back up its rugged looks. As Ford prepares the new Bronco, here are some lessons from the FJ Cruiser we hope the engineering and design teams have drawn on as they set out to rebuild an icon.
Build It Ford Tough—For Real
Many of today's tough-looking crossovers would get bogged down on any trail more technical than a gravel road. The FJ Cruiser wasn't among those, with two available four-wheel-drive systems, a beefy suspension, and off-road traction control. For the Bronco to be taken seriously, it will need the chops to take on Moab, the Rubicon, and beyond. Otherwise, it will face the same criticism as other SUV revivals that strayed from their off-roading roots—we're looking at you, Chevy Blazer and Honda Passport.
Bring on the Mods
For many enthusiasts, stock simply isn't enough. Lift kits, knobby tires, and burly bumpers are just a few popular upgrades, and they can help when attempting the hardest trails. The FJ Cruiser was built to accommodate all that and more. We often deride interiors with obvious blank-out plates for switches, but in the FJ Cruiser they were welcome: a dashboard switch panel was full of blanks, intended to be swapped with auxiliary controls for light bars, winches, air compressors, and other trail tools. It's likely Ford has anticipated an aftermarket that wants to take the Bronco further—just look at all the modded FJ Cruisers out there.
Make It Look Evocative . . .
Let's be real, though: For all the FJ Cruisers built into trail machines, there were at least as many that remained stock and never left the pavement. That's a result of the model's evocative looks, which are as much a statement of fashion as function. Purchasing a vehicle like this is often an emotional decision; it projects an outdoorsy inclination. Some buyers pore over approach angles and differential ratios, and choose an SUV accordingly. Others consider paint jobs and how it'll look rolling through downtown. For those buyers, the Bronco's styling needs to communicate as well on the boulevard as it does in the backwoods.
READ MORE: 2021 Ford Bronco: Everything We Know
. . . and Offer Options To Personalize Its Style
Even in period, J-Series Toyotas were chic. Their two-tone paint jobs and unmistakable grilles added personality to their purpose-oriented designs. Toyota maintained this with the FJ Cruiser, offering it in a bunch of cool colors with contrasting roofs, and special-edition trims like the Trail Teams and TRD. Ford arguably did this even better with its original Bronco. Case in point: the ultra-rad Freewheelin' edition from the late '70s, or any of the pastel paint choices from the SUV's five generations. Commuters and off-roaders alike would appreciate ways to add fun style to their car, and we hope Ford has some vintage-inspired packages in the plans, too.
Give It a Stick
There's a sect of off-roaders who maintain that manual transmissions are the only way to drive. On a trail, a little clutch pop might be all it takes to climb over some roots or out of deep mud. Toyota gave the FJ Cruiser an optional six-speed manual, and we think Ford would be wise if it did the same with the Bronco. It would add to the driving fun and throwback vibe. A seven-speed manual has been rumored, but even if that doesn't pan out, at least the 10-speed automatic as seen in the Ranger and F-150 Raptor is a decent enough transmission.
Spare Trying to Hide the Spare
Many crossovers hide a space-saver spare tire inside the cabin, or worse yet, ditch it for an inflator kit. That's not an option for true off-roaders like the FJ Cruiser, which proudly wore a full-size spare on the rear cargo door. After all, the driver never knows when they might get a flat driving over a sharp rock on the trail, or a nail pulling into the mall. The Bronco shared this functional style element with the FJ Cruiser and other SUVs over the years. That spare tire often wore a cover branded with the iconic bucking bronco, as successful of a vehicle badge as any. It's a must for Ford to include a rear-mounted spare on the new Bronco, and based on the lone teaser image Ford has shared, it looks like it's doing just that.
More Doors'll Do Fine
The Bronco has always been a two-door. Classic Toyota FJ40s, too, often had only two side doors to access the cabin. When Toyota designed the FJ Cruiser, it wanted to maintain that two-door look, but knew it wouldn't fly in terms of practicality. The small suicide half-doors they subsequently gave it made second-row access easier, but they were clunky to open or close. Even though it's a break from tradition, word is Ford took the FJ's partway solution to heart and plans both two- and four-door Bronco variants.