The 2021 Ford Bronco is more than another SUV. It’s a lifestyle vehicle that Ford expects buyers to take off the beaten path. To make sure it fulfilled that mission, Ford didn’t design it like any other vehicle.

Bronco’s chief designer Paul Wraith told Motor Authority the design process for the typical Ford, or any vehicle really, starts with sketches in a design studio that are then turned into scaled-down clay models. The designs are refined and then full-size clay models are made. From there, the options get whittled down to the final proposal.

Not the Bronco.

“Our first model was an interior and exterior thing made out of packing material that we could stand on, jump in, climb over, put over at a funny angle, use in a different ways entirely,” Wraith said. “That was a very different approach.”

2021 Ford Bronco

2021 Ford Bronco

Before that full-size model came sketches, but instead of sketching the outside and inside of the Bronco, the designers focused on identifying issues with day-to-day use, be they on the trail, in the mountains, on the beach, or in the parking lot.

“When you look at the sketch(es), you will see that there are things that don't look remotely like a Bronco at all,” Wraith said. The design process didn’t start with Bronco heritage constraints. It started by creating solutions for real-life issues owners might encounter.

“Then you’ve got a collection of cool ideas floating around and you want to try them out,” Wraith said. Thus, Ford built a full-size buck that looked a bit like a Bronco.

From there, designers focused on working with the Ranger’s body-on-frame T6 platform to create a vehicle with modularity, functionality, and an open-air experience.

2021 Ford Bronco

2021 Ford Bronco

Robert Gelardi, the Bronco’s interior design manager, told Motor Authority that the buck made out of packing material was cut apart with a utility knife, glued together, jumped in, sat in, and stood on. Pieces and bits were taken off and swapped with new pieces.

Designers climbed all over the buck to help them find, demonstrate, discover, and investigate the design needed to provide the open-air experience and modularity desired.

“I remember a number of times we put different volumes inside the Bronco to be able to see how that made you feel, in terms of being able to see out or how open the interior space was,” Gelardi said.

2021 Ford Bronco

2021 Ford Bronco

Volume is design speak for the space available up in an area. Gelardi noted they would sit in the buck put on virtual reality goggles and go, “Oh yeah, this is good.”

“It would have been wonderful to have taken it (the Bronco buck) out onto the trails, into the landscape, and done things with it. But the work that we do is so secretive, that wasn’t an option,” Wraith noted.

Heat lamps and fans were brought into the studio to simulate the wind and sun. The team then put on VR goggles and placed the buck in forests, deserts, or dusty trails to experience those environments and their climates.

It wasn’t until later in the design process that the design team committed to making clay models.

As a result of Ford’s unique design process, the Bronco should work well on the trails, both in terms of how the vehicle fits in physical space and how drivers interact with it. We look forward to driving it to see the fruits of the design team's efforts.