The Ford Bronco II was a compact SUV sold between 1984 and 1990. It was commissioned as a smaller complement to the full-size Bronco as well as to offer a Ford alternative to the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, Jeep Cherokee (XJ), and Toyota 4Runner. The Bronco II was Ford's first compact SUV since the original Bronco sold from 1966 to 1977. It is mechanically and (except in detail) structurally identical to the Ford Ranger. It had a 94-inch (2,388 mm) wheelbase and was enclosed in the rear. All 1984 and 1985 Bronco IIs were 4wd. Starting in 1986 the Bronco II offered four wheel drive as an option, whereas the full size Bronco was always 4wd. The Bronco II did not have a removable roof, except for a low production run of Sherrod modified Bronco IIs. These had a soft top and custom fiberglass to finished off the cut roof.
The 1984 and 1985 models were equipped with the 115 hp (86 kW) carbureted Cologne 2.8 L V6 engine which was also used in the Ranger from 1984 to 1985. The 1986 model year introduced the 140 hp (104 kW) fuel injected 2.9 L Cologne V6. Overheating the engine usually leads to cracks in the cylinder head between the valve springs or at the base of the rocker shaft pedestals. This results in internal coolant leaks causing contamination of the oil which, if not caught in time, causes severe internal engine damage. Although there were slight improvements to the head castings in late-1989, these heads were not installed on production engines before the production of the Bronco II ceased. Bronco IIs that were still under warranty or at the owner’s desire were retrofitted with the improved heads.
A small 86 hp (64 kW) 2.3 L Diesel I4 engine was also offered through 1987, but this engine was rarely used as it offered poor performance.
The first Bronco II was developed in parallel with the Ranger from 1984 to 1988. The restyling of the Bronco II and Ranger started in 1989, but ended for the Bronco II with the end of production in February 1990, replaced by the larger Explorer. The restyling is marked not only by difference in physical appearance, but also improved structural support. The 1990 models produced after November 1989 with four-wheel drive came equipped with the Dana 35 front axle, as opposed to the Dana 28 front axle used in earlier production.
The Explorer started where the Bronco II left off with a similar Ranger-based platform, sharing essentially the same front end, but with Ford's new 4.0 L OHV Cologne 155 hp (116 kW) V6 and a four-door model with a two-door Sport option. The Explorer retained the Ranger-based platform until 1995, when the model was overhauled with a major exterior restyling and chassis modifications to allow the addition of Ford's 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8 engine.
Ford would not market another compact SUV until the release of the Escape in 2001.
The Bronco II was dogged by targeted reports that it was prone to rollovers. Some of the headlines in 1989-90 included "NHTSA Investigates Bronco II Rollovers," Automotive News (March 20, 1989) "Magazine Gives Ford's Bronco II 'Avoid' Rating," The Wall Street Journal (May 8, 1989), and "Consumer Reports Criticizes Ford Bronco II's Handling," The Washington Post (May 18, 1989).
After analysis of SUV crashes of the Suzuki Samurai, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal study of the Ford Bronco II in 1989. There were 43 Bronco II rollover fatalities in 1987, compared with eight for the Samurai, but accident data in four states showed the Bronco II’s rollover rate was similar to that of other SUVs, so the investigation was closed. NHTSA declined to reopen the investigation in 1997 after more Bronco II crashes.
Ford settled a lawsuit by Famed jockey Bill Shoemaker, awarding him one million dollars. Shoemaker was paralyzed from the neck down after rolling his Bronco II in California 1991. Thereafter, he was confined to a wheelchair.
There were, however, reports that the Bronco II's suspension contained a design flaw that, when turning, forced the side of the vehicle on the outside of the turn upwards, opposite of what a safe suspension should do. The Bronco II was not only top heavy, but it forced itself over. "[I]n a hard turn, this suspension will cause the front end of the vehicle to rise and the track width to decrease, making the vehicle taller and narrower and elevating the center of gravity." Ford engineers "suggested various changes that would have reduced the chance of rollovers, but these recommendations were ignored by the company." Documented evidence showed that Ford knew about this problem, but found it less expensive to hire a team of lawyers to prepare for the oncoming lawsuits before the vehicle was even released, than to make the investment for a costly redesign.
The successor vehicle, the Ford Explorer, would suffer a similar fate with the Firestone and Ford tire controversy.