Day-To-Day Review Of The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Baby Off-Road SUV
It's fair to say that Ford has Bronco fever. Not only has the Blue Oval brought back the Bronco name for a rugged off-roader aimed squarely at the Jeep Wrangler crowd, but it's also birthed the baby Bronco Sport, a compact SUV that features similar styling cues on a less hardcore platform.
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport might not deliver the same kind of 4x4 thrills offered by its bigger brother, but it does provide a legitimate alternative to the humdrum crossover crowd, and it manages to do so at a price most sport-utility shoppers can afford. As long as you don't mind telling people that 'no, it's the OTHER Bronco' on a regular basis, the Sport is an intriguing way to inject a little adventure, and a whole lot of attitude, into your daily drive.
Reasonable Expectations Are Key
It's important to understand that the new Bronco's buff look is suggestive of far more expeditionary potential than what the small SUV can actually deliver. Sitting on the same unibody chassis as the sedate Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport isn't intended to bash dunes, crawl from boulder to boulder, or handle deep mud.
All of that is perfectly fine, because if that's what you're looking for Ford will happily sell you the more expensive full-size Bronco model. What the Bronco Sport does promise is reasonable ground clearance and good traction when traversing dirt, gravel, the mildest of moguls, and deeper snow, thanks to its standard 'Go Over AnyThing' (GOAT) drive modes that fine-tune the vehicle's traction control system and all-wheel drive to handle a variety of terrain-specific encounters.
If you opt for the Badlands trim (or the First Edition), you also benefit from a twin-clutch setup at the rear that acts like a locking differential and adds 'Rock Crawl' and 'Mud/Ruts' settings to the GOAT dial. The Bandlands also features skid plates, crawl control, 28.5-inch tires, and a somewhat more rugged suspension setup, along with tow hooks to get you out of the trouble the Bronco Sport can get definitely get you into.
A Tale Of Two Turbos
The Bronco Sport Badlands and the First Edition each benefit from Ford's turbocharged 2.0L, 250hp Ecoboost four-cylinder engine, married to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Every other trim level features a much more modest 1.5-liter, three-cylinder turbo that's good for 181hp and 190 lb-ft of torque.
This includes the Outer Banks version of the Bronco Sport that I drove, a model that concentrates Ford's comfort features in a stylish, LED-accented package. The interior of the Outer Banks comes with attractive leather upholstery (with a bucking bronco embossed on the seats), as well as a decent range of gear including Ford's latest infotainment touchscreen and an easy-to-use gauge cluster that can be configured to show all sorts of vehicle information.
At the rear, the model offers a somewhat fussy cargo management system that can serve as a table, a divider, and a cover for your gear. The hatch glass in the Bronco Sport opens independently of the liftgate itself, which is a nice touch, but the lack of a power option for the hatch feels like an oversight.
Looking out over the staunch Bronco Sport front fenders almost makes up for the three-cylinder engine's slow and steady, and distinctly 'adequate' driving experience. There's enough power here to get you through all of your errands—just keep in mind that highway passing requires planning, and that's before you load the vehicle up with friends, family, and their assorted gear. As a commuter the littlest Bronco is up to the task (with 26-mpg in combined driving available to those with a light foot), but if you want to really sample the 'Sport' in its name you'll need to pony up for the mightier Ecoboost mill.
Worth The Price Of Admission
I'd advise against that, however. The Bronco Sport isn't intended to excite with its straight-line speed or its handling prowess: corners in the Ford come and go in much the same muted manner as in any other compact SUV. Instead, the Sport experience is found in its details, not its drive. This is a trucklet you buy because of its visual personality, its deep bench of accessories, and its image as the undersized heir to the bigger Bronco's off-road acumen, and it's honestly fun to pilot something that stands out from the anonymous fleet of family vehicles that clog today's roads.
You can just as easily take advantage of all of the above with the modest three-cylinder engine under the hood as you can with the added torque of the 2.0-liter EcoBoost, so why spend more? The new Bronco Sport truly shines as a counterweight to the solid but distinctly un-sizzling Escape, and with a starting price of $27,215 for the base model it does so with only a $500 or so price premium in comparison.
By the time you get to the Outer Banks I drove you're forking over nearly $33,000, at which point a number of other crossovers and SUVs have crowded their way into the conversation (including the similarly almost-rugged Jeep Compass). Still, few of those models provide the same style-forward looks of the Bronco Sport, which means you'll have to decide whether you prize greater space, better fuel mileage, and potentially more power, or whether the Ford's off-road X-factor is enough to keep you content on the way to work in the morning.