Why doesn’t every car come with this?
“Woah, woah, stop right there!” one of Ford’s guides yelled excitedly.
The rear passenger-side tire of the Ford Bronco in front of me had come off the ground and was hanging four or five feet in the air. Amy “Ace” Clouds, one of our driving instructors and ground guides, scampered across the rocky trail after calling the vehicle to a stop. With a big grin on her face, she jumped up to grab the top of the tire and started bouncing the 5,000-pound Bronco like a see-saw.
With the demonstration complete, the driver casually drove away and it was my turn. The obstacle did a great job of illustrating the importance of the optional electronically disconnecting stabilizer bar. With extra articulation, the Bronco I was driving cruised over the same obstacle without missing a beat.
That thrilling display was one of the hundreds that came courtesy of Ford’s Bronco Off-Roadeo. The driving experience provides new Bronco owners with an invaluable opportunity to put the vehicle through its paces under the watchful eyes of professional off-road drivers. While new owners have to pay a reservation fee and refundable deposit, the experience is included with the purchase of a Bronco, Bronco Sport Badlands, or Bronco Sport First Edition. Ford plans to make it available to the public for a fee, as well. There are four locations: Moab, Utah; Gunstock Mountain, New Hampshire; Grey Wolf Ranch, Texas; and Mount Potosi, Nevada.
If you ask me, it’s a model other manufacturers need to jump on sooner rather than later.
Ground School and the ORX Training Course
Our day began with five drivers from all over the country coming together at an old Boy Scout camp in the Nevada desert. Included among us were journalists, social media influencers, and a few Ford employees. Our off-road driving experience ranged from limited to none. One by one, we volunteered to drive a Bronco around, over, and through various obstacles.
My first challenge was to navigate a series of hairpin turns around a stand of trees. On the first, I swung wide, went as far as I could, and executed a three-point turn to get the rest of the way. Nothing new there. For the second turn, trail guide Jon Van Wagoner instructed me to press a button on the Bronco’s dash, cut the wheel all the way to the left, and apply steady throttle.
The rear left tire locked up and became an anchor while the rest of the bronco pivoted around it in total control. The idea came from the competitive rock-crawling community, where drivers will decouple their center differential, apply the brakes to the rear wheels, and use the front end to pull the vehicle around a tight radius. It’s very clever and much more considerate to other trail users than the alternative technique of ripping half a donut at redline with a bombardment of rocks and dirt flying every which way.
Other demonstrations showed how to manage approach, break-over, and departure angles, explained how to safely cross standing water, and got us to work together as drivers and spotters. By lunchtime, we were ready to jump in separate Broncos and hit the trail.
Over the course of the trail drive, we got to experience the features that make the Bronco such a formidable off-roader. Anyone who’s shopped Land Cruisers knows that front and rear locking differentials are desirable, but some of the obstacles we encountered showed precisely why that’s the case. At various points in the drive, each vehicle came to a stop as the four-wheel-drive system became overwhelmed and failed to get traction on slippery rocks or loose sand. With the press of a button, either or both differentials could be locked and the Bronco would simply roll forward with no problem. One thing that’s unique about the Bronco is the ability to lock the front without locking the rear. In most vehicles with similar capabilities, drivers can lock neither, only the rear, or both.
The electronically disconnecting stabilizer bar was one of my favorite tricks–and one I didn’t know I needed in my life. With it swinging free, the Bronco could twist itself over all kinds of terrain like a bonafide rock crawler. With it connected, I could lift a wheel into the air for fun. It’s another way to express yourself and it makes the Bronco more capable and fun at the same time.
As our confidence grew, the trail devolved into a jumbled mess of rocks and ruts. Amy and Jon–or, as they’re known on the trail, Ace and J-Dub–hopped out and guided us on foot, using hand and arm signals we had practiced in that morning’s ground school to talk us through one gnarly obstacle after another. At times there was only blue sky and a pair of hands over the hood of my Bronco, but by working as a team we moved the Bronco across terrain I couldn’t even see.
Toward the end of our drive, we encountered an intersection and I watched the driver in front of me activate the trail turn assist to pivot tightly around a fencepost. Only a few hours before, I don’t think she had ever engaged four-wheel drive, but there she was choosing features and drive modes like the Bronco was an extension of herself. It was awesome to see, and it made me realize how valuable the training had been.
As we circled the Broncos around a pond to relax and watch the sun sink behind Mount Potosi, I reflected on how valuable the Bronco Off-Roadeo is for new owners. As much as I like the new Bronco, I could see someone getting a year into ownership and wondering why they had paid so much for pretty styling and chunky tires. Most people never venture out of the daily grind, and the features that make the Bronco great never become relevant in normal driving. If someone did take their new Bronco off-road, they’d probably be afraid of damaging it and lack the knowledge to put it to use.
This driving experience illustrates exactly why the Bronco costs as much as it does and imparts the knowledge necessary to drive it as intended. More importantly, it gives new owners permission and encouragement to get outside their comfort zone and push further into the blank parts of the map than they ever thought possible.
By the time we walked our tired bodies to the shuttle back to the hotel, the group of strangers felt more like friends. On top of that, we had all been given nicknames just like our trail guides. Email addresses and Instagram handles had been exchanged, inside jokes were tossed back and forth, and invitations to off-road rallies were shared. The “Bronco family” stickers we received at the beginning of the day started to make a lot more sense.
Like the delicious campfire dessert, the Bronco Off-Roadeo had left us all hungry for some more. It’s not hard to imagine an event like that turning people into brand-loyal fanatics. It was so effective that I think every manufacturer should offer something similar for all kinds of enthusiast cars. The Miata should come with a voucher for a track day, all Hellcat variations should come with drift lessons and a few passes on the drag strip, and the Corvette should come with an afternoon with the golf pro at your local course. Experiences like that would make new owners love their cars even more and drive them even harder. That’s a trend I could get behind.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.