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My white-knuckle ride in the new SUV



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Wisps of dust blew over the trail as we rounded a bend.

The angle of the cabin made the road ahead and below hard to see, but I knew we were about to head down another intimidating hill.

“That’s a steep one,” I said to the driver, Nathan Musleh.

He paused the Bronco just long enough to launch Trail Control, and we eased down the 28-degree grade at 2 mph, no slipping, just a slow, steady descent on a track with deep ruts.

Musleh, a vehicle dynamics engineer at Ford, explained that with that extra assistance, he wasn’t worried about what was happening below us. Trail Control had been described to me as a low-speed off road cruise control, able to manage a pre-set speed up to 20 mph.

Before setting Trail Control, “I was constantly trying to modulate my throttle and brake,” Musleh said.

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Instead, he was focused on steering and talking to me as the Bronco eased itself down a hill that might have been the slowest part of this strange and dusty roller-coaster ride. 

It was a sunny, hot Tuesday afternoon a week ago, and journalists were getting their first rides in the new 2021 Ford Bronco (the Bronco Sport, being built in Hermosillo, Mexico, will be available later this year, while the 2- and 4-door versions, being built at Michigan Assembly in Wayne, are to be available next year), at an off-road vehicle course near Holly, Michigan, right off Interstate I-75.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t an opportunity to drive Ford’s resurrected nameplate, so my riding impressions of the new Bronco are all from the passenger seat. I did, however, drive a classic Bronco for a brief spin on part of the same course, a 1972 first-generation 302 V8, three-speed automatic in blue. Jonathan Klinger, vice president of car culture at Hagerty, was my guide, and that was fun, drum brakes and all.  

But about the new Bronco.

It handled everything on this particular course, jarring only on the roughest stretches, otherwise fairly smooth considering the terrain. Sandy soil, a plunge down and through a water crossing and up and down hills, climbing at least one that seemed like it was straight up in the air. 

That ascent was not too far from the giant white letters spelling out “BRONCO,” at the top of a hill, reminiscent of another white-lettered sign in California.

Rounding one particular tight, weedy corner where the trail dropped away quickly allowed my driver to show off the three-panel view of the front camera, a standard feature on Badlands trims. It’s something that you won’t realize is so handy until you realize what you’d miss going around blind corners where you don’t see the road and its hazards ahead.

These were pre-production versions, including a Bronco Sport, and Ford didn’t let us take photos and videos of the inside of the vehicles. It’s also one reason I was so focused on the trail, which at times was whizzing by at what felt like breakneck speeds.

When I asked my driver about a speed limit here, he mentioned something about whatever qualifies as “safe and prudent.” Another driver said there was a spot where 60 mph was possible, but on this course, seeing 47 mph on the speedometer was high enough to know that that’s practically flying.

And when off-roading in a 4×4, that’s probably fast enough.

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2020/08/18/first-ride-2021-ford-bronco/3389493001/



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