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Ford Bronco 2-door, 4-door and smaller Bronco Sport. Photo: Ford

Last week I got to ride shotgun in the hotly anticipated 2021 Ford Bronco at a thrilling off-road vehicle playground in Michigan.

The big picture: The original Ford Bronco SUV was introduced in 1966, inspired by the military vehicles Ford built during World War II, and later built a cult following for off-road racing after it won the brutal Baja 1000 in 1969.

  • Fun fact: There are two famous white Broncos. One carrying O.J. Simpson was chased by Los Angeles police in 1994. The other carried the Pope on his first visit to the U.S. in 1979.
  • Ford discontinued the Bronco in 1996 as vehicles like the Ford Explorer and Expedition took its place.

Now the Bronco is back, but as an entire family of SUVs, including two- and four-door Broncos plus a smaller Bronco Sport, all available with a dizzying array of personalized accessories.

  • It's part of Ford's broader strategy to focus on its strengths — iconic vehicles like the F-150, Mustang and Bronco — while pivoting toward new mobility services and electric vehicles for commercial fleets.

I rode in two different Broncos: the two-door "Outer Banks" version, outfitted with the extreme off-roading "Sasquatch" package, and the Bronco Sport with the higher-end "Badlands" trim. (Because these were pre-production models, I could only be a passenger.)

  • Each comes with up to seven driving modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl.
  • A variety of power train options, including a seven-speed manual transmission, is available.
  • There's a ton of available technology, including cameras that can see past blind spots, over hills or around tight corners and a trail-mapping system that lets users select one of hundreds of curated trail maps and then record their adventures to share with others.

Key takeaway: Jeep, the leading rugged SUV brand, should be worried.

  • Even the smallest Bronco Sport can handle challenging off-road terrain, making it a good choice for mountain bikers or other weekend thrill seekers.
  • With more than 200 factory-backed outdoor accessories, no two Broncos will be alike.

Where it stands: The smaller Bronco Sport goes on sales at the end of this year. The two- and four-door Broncos will arrive in dealerships next spring.

  • A lot more detail is yet to come, including pricing, but Ford has said the base two-door Bronco will start at $29,995. You can easily expect to pay twice that much for a fully equipped two- or four-door Bronco customized with accessories.
  • Ford says nearly 170,000 people have put down $100 deposits, and the company is already looking for ways to boost production to meet demand.

What to watch: There are rumors of future Broncos, including a potential pickup truck.

  • Retiring CEO Jim Hackett toyed with reporters, crediting his successor, Jim Farley, with the idea of creating a Bronco brand family, not just bringing back one iconic vehicle.
  • "Family means you can have more children," Hackett said.

Go deeper

Updated 57 mins ago - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

The new grifters: outrage profiteers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As Republicans lost the Senate and narrowly missed retaking the House, millions of dollars in grassroots donations were diverted to a handful of 2020 congressional campaigns challenging high-profile Democrats that, realistically, were never going to succeed.

Why it matters: Call it the outrage-industrial complex. Slick fundraising consultants market candidates contesting some of their party’s most reviled opponents. Well-meaning donors pour money into dead-end campaigns instead of competitive contests. The only winner is the consultants.