The redesigned Ford Bronco is a significant addition to the Blue Oval’s line-up — after more than two decades, Ford aficionados will finally see the return of a body-on-frame off-roader intent on beating the Jeep Wrangler at its own game. But what if you want Bronco styling and abilities in a more road-friendly and affordable package?
Enter the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. Based on the Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport aims to marry the look and feel of the Bronco with traditional crossover strengths including a more refined road-going experience. The Bronco Sport should still hold its own when venturing off the beaten path thanks to standard four-wheel drive, multiple traction settings, and a wealth of optional off-road upgrades.
Standard on the base, Big Bend and Outer Banks trim levels is a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. You also get four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Upgrade to the off-road-oriented Badlands or First Edition, and you’ll be rewarded with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 245 hp and 275 lb-ft, plus a more off-road-capable 4WD system.
We haven’t had the chance to drive the Bronco Sport yet, In the Badlands trim level with the 2.0-liter engine, the Bronco Sport is far more capable off-road than a regular Ford Escape.
Whether deep sand, steep inclines or awkward offset obstacles, the Sport conquers the terrain with surprising ease. And its compact size allows you to easily manoeuvre when trails get narrow. Our initial impression is that a properly equipped Bronco Sport could keep up with a lower-trimmed Jeep Wrangler and certainly outperform any Subaru over rough terrain.
Aside from its more unique and expressive styling, the available off-road goodies might be the reason you choose the Bronco Sport over the Escape. With standard 4WD, along with Slippery and Sand traction control modes, every Bronco Sport model should prove to be quite capable at navigating tricky terrain.
The Badlands and First Edition raise the ante with an upgraded 4WD system that incorporates a clutch at each rear axle, allowing it to shunt almost all torque to either rear wheel when the situation calls for it. They also add Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl traction modes, extra powertrain coolers, unique suspension upgrades and all-terrain tires.
Available features include Trail Control. This is a kind of off-road cruise control you can use to have the Bronco Sport accelerate (up to 20 mph) and brake automatically while you just worry about steering. There’s also a front-facing camera to help you watch for objects and other obstructions while off-roading, and even comes with a washing system to keep mud from obscuring the lens. You can further spec front tow hooks in case you run into a jam.
The Bronco Sport’s interior is very similar to the redesigned Ford Escape’s. Front and center are an upright 8-inch touchscreen, chunky infotainment knobs and buttons, and straightforward climate controls. The center console features a rotary transmission selector, plus assorted buttons governing the drive modes, parking brake and other controls.
The one major difference is that the Bronco Sport’s air vents flank the touchscreen, freeing up space immediately below for a small storage tray. Ford says the Bronco Sport affords best-in-class headroom for both rows; we have several too-tall sales guys willing to put these claims to the test.
Just because the Bronco Sport is geared toward active lifestyles doesn’t mean the tech offerings suffer. All trims will come with Ford’s Co-Pilot360 suite of active safety features, which consists of forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot monitor and lane keeping assist. The Co-Pilot360 Assist+ option adds lane centering, adaptive cruise control and navigation to the mix, while Co-Pilot360 2.0 adds traffic sign recognition, allowing the adaptive cruise system to alter speed based on the observed speed limit.
The only quibble we have is that the touchscreen features the Sync 3 operating system. It’s not bad, mind you — we actually think it’s one of the better systems out there. But the bigger Bronco comes with Sync 4, which introduces the ability for over-the-air updates and even includes trail maps.