High Road – 2021+ Ford Bronco 2.3L/2.7L Performance Intercooler R&D, Part 1 – Stock Review and Design Plans

Ford’s latest iteration of the Bronco is designed for the high road. Ford sidelined its purpose-built off-road machine for quite some time but wanted to ensure that the return of such a legendary model would tackle the wilderness with ease and better than the stiff competition. Ford put mountains of thought and engineering into the modern Broncos to earn the true meaning of G.O.A.T. mode. Even after the extended time spent engineering the Bronco’s return, a few aspects could leave the Bronco in the dust, precisely when it comes to the intercooling system. Lucky for you, though, we’re already on the case to ensure that your 2.3L or 2.7L’s charged air temperatures are properly managed for true off-road domination.

Before we dive into our grand intercooler scheme, though, it’s always a vital part of our R&D process to fully examine the OEM components. This process allows us to hone in on the aspects that need to carry over to our design and determine what desperately requires an upgrade. 

Ford utilized the same intercooler for both the 2.7L and the 2.3L engine options. While the 2.3L is a heavy-hitting engine, two turbos are going to push more air through the system. This intercooler design splits the difference between the cooling needs of each engine.

Once we extracted the stock unit from our Bronco, we noted that this intercooler suffers from the same drawbacks that plague most other OEM intercooler units. While the core does have sufficient thickness, the rest of the dimensions still leave more to be desired. Ford also opted for a lightweight, tube-and-fin core construction, ideal for mass production, and provides adequate cooling for the daily commute but soaks with heat under heavy driving. Both available EcoBoost options under the Bronco’s hood are potential powerhouses, but an inefficient intercooler will only hold the 2.3L and 2.7L from those extra ponies. 

The core might be small, but Ford had some tricks up their sleeves. Like most modern vehicles, this intercooler core uses louvered fins, forcing fresh air through the core diagonally. This increases fresh air contact with the internal fins, theoretically increasing core thickness and promoting heat dissipation.

 

Crimped to either side of the core are a pair of plastic end tanks, again, ideal for limiting mass production costs. Plastic technology has advanced leaps and bounds over the years, but it’s still not perfect. Over years of use and abuse, especially on tuned vehicles, plastic degrades and could spring boost leaks, leaving you to limp your Bronco off the trail. 

The biggest mark against the Bronco’s intercooler is the mounting location. In theory, Ford’s placement is ideal for maximum performance since it’s located front and center on the vehicle with a dedicated port for airflow. However, given the rugged nature of this platform, winches and other off-roading necessities are also dancing through owners’ minds. The trouble is, most of these accessories would block much-needed airflow through the intercooler, so we’re going to move it.

Relocating the Bronco’s intercooler is easier said than done, of course, with the first of many hurdles to our design being the tightly packed front end. Layered under the Bronco’s futuristic fascia are levels of varying tech, which shrinks our build envelope even further. So, to clear some space for our new design, we’re opting to delete the active grille shutters and relocate the radar cruise control in the name of increased performance. 

Ford incorporated oodles of tech to bring the Bronco name into the 21st century, but that came at the expense of intercooling performance. Our new design will mean sacrificing Ford’s grille shutters, but we’d rather remove these than require you to modify your brand new Bronco permanently. 

With the grill shutters out of the way, our engineer, Dan, now had plenty of room to vastly increase the size of our design’s core while also clearing the way for necessary off-roading gear. Before we can physically manifest the design, Dan first virtually creates our vision. 

With the help of our Faro Design ScanArm, Dan can generate a precise digital workspace for added precision during the design process. 

We plan to bring the much more robust bar-and-plate core construction to our design for a much more effective intercooling system, not to mention the increased durability. We’re also spreading the use of aluminum from only the core to our unique end tanks as well. As mentioned previously, crimped plastic end tanks are less than ideal for those looking to push more boost through their EcoBoost engines, so we’re opting for a pair of cast aluminum tanks, TIG-welded to the heavier duty core. 

We’re opting to remain a bit mysterious with our full design for now. Make sure you stay tuned for future posts we’re we’ll delve deeper into the full end tank design.

Ford designed their active grille shutters as the main mounting point for most front-end components, such as the headlights and grille. Since we’re leaving the shutters out of our design process, Dan is devising a means to support the intercooler along with all of the bits that give your Bronco its distinct look with a fleet of sturdy brackets. 

Getting to the high road takes some time, and we’ve only just plotted the course. With the tools and skills at our disposal, though, the destination isn’t as far off as you’d think. So, make sure to stay tuned for the first look at our prototype kit coming soon. 

Thanks for Reading!

-Nick

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