2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport First Drive Review: The All-New Escape Vehicle

If common internet knowledge is to be believed, the ultimate off-roader is a body-on-frame vehicle with a big engine. However, the is no one size fits all solution, and some vehicle manufacturers have figured that out. The full-size body-on-frame Ford Bronco is coming, but before it does, its smaller unibody chassis crossover sibling is going on sale, and Ford believes it will be a bigger seller than the full-size SUV. The Bronco Sport comes with either an efficient 1.5-liter or 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, a small footprint but a roomy cabin, and serious off-road chops. That means the Bronco Sport should make for a great daily driver, family vehicle, and something that offers plenty of capability for those seeking adventure.

While the Bronco Sport shares a platform with the Ford Escape, it only comes with all-wheel drive, has a new suspension design, and can be equipped with a clever twin-clutch differential and terrain management system. To show us that the Bronco Sport has genuine off-road credibility, Ford sanitized some vehicles and led us through dusty, tight, and technical trails in the Hungry Valley Vehicular Recreation area, north of Los Angeles in California.

Is the 2021 Ford Bronco a good SUV?

  • Exterior Design 10 /10
  • Performance 7 /10
  • Fuel Economy 8 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 9 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 9 /10
  • Reliability 9 /10
  • Safety 9 /10
  • Value For Money 9 /10
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2021 Ford Bronco Sport Models

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Base
1.5L Turbo Inline-3 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Four-Wheel Drive
$26,660
Big Bend
1.5L Turbo Inline-3 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Four-Wheel Drive
$28,160
Badlands
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Four-Wheel Drive
$32,660
Outer Banks
1.5L Turbo Inline-3 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Four-Wheel Drive
$32,160
Badlands First Edition
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Four-Wheel Drive
$38,160

See all Trims and Specs

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Exterior Design: Pint Sized Bronco Style

Ford knows it's onto a winner with the Bronco's distinctive retro-themed front grille and lights design. The Bronco Sport is a condensed and cuter take on the overall styling, and the styling at the back is not as strong as the front. The boxy look is practical as well, meaning the cabin can make as much use of the small footprint as possible. Ground clearance is up to 8.8 inches, and the Bronco Sport's short overhangs allow a decent approach angle of up to 30.4 inches on Badlands and First Edition models with the optional 29-inch A/T tires and an excellent departure angle of up to 33.1 degrees in the same configuration. Lesser models are still impressive with around 7.9 inches of clearance and approach and departure angles of 21.7 and 30.4 degrees, respectively.

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Engine, Performance, & MPG: Small Engines, More Than Adequate Power

Old school off-road enthusiasts will balk at the idea of a three-cylinder engine, but Ford's base turbocharged 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine makes 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. It delivers its power through an eight-speed automatic transmission and doesn't feel underpowered at all. In fact, it's a peppy engine that propels the Bronco Sport around enthusiastically. On the road, it picks up speed quickly and cruises confidently. Off-road, the torque is useful and comes on tap early enough to get up steep hills or out of trouble spots, and consuming only 26 mpg combined is an impressive feat. The optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder offers 245 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, making it the more athletic choice for those tackling more rugged trails, while fuel economy only takes a minor knock at 23 mpg combined.

On higher trims, Trail Control, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl driving modes are added to Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand. All Bronco Sport models feature disconnecting driveshafts, but the Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks models use a single clutch rear differential unit. At the same time, the Badlands and First Edition trims feature the 4x4 locks and the torque vectoring dual-clutch system with a differential lock.

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Driving Impressions: Surprisingly Svelte

We spent little time on normal roads and freeways with the Bronco Sport, but enough to appreciate the willing engines and relaxing ride from the suspension. However, the main focus of the day was all about getting the Bronco Sport onto the trails, starting with a twisty and dusty medium-difficulty trail, then onto a black diamond challenge, and finishing off in a sandy bendy trail where we could pick up some speed.

When we hit the first trail, confidence quickly built as we realized how competent the Bronco Sport is. What surprised us is how cushy the suspension is when it hits the rough ground. It soaks up everything from curated tracks to deep ruts with little drama or tossing the occupants around. We also swapped from the 1.5-liter engined Outer Banks trimmed model to the top trimmed 2.0-liter powered Badlands model. At no point in our ride through the Californian outback did the 1.5-liter engine feel underpowered, and we got the feeling the 2.0-liter engine could handle a lot more than we experienced through the day.

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It wasn't long before we were negotiating steeply cambered bends with steep drops on one side and sheer walls on the other. The low center of gravity supple suspension gave us confidence, and in the challenging twists and sharp-pointed hills, we appreciated the amount of visibility available. Sand mode helped us get through the dusty and sandy parts of the trails without even flinching. The available Trail Control function works well as a low-speed cruise control, becoming particularly useful on steep downhill sections where it gently manipulates the brakes. Venturing into shallowly rutted areas, between 7.8 and 8.8 inches of ground clearance and similar suspension travel allowed us to have fun cutting across them in the exact way you shouldn't.

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The Bronco really showed its chops on a steep and slippery rock section requiring some delicate footwork on the brakes and a good spotter. With rocks twisting the suspension, and grit and stones that sat this writer on his backside trying to get into position to take photographs, it's a treacherous obstacle. Brake control is progressive and grippy, while throttle control is linear and easy to modulate. As a result, all the Bronco Sports on the trip made it down in sure-footed safety and with nobody sliding, catching a rock, and rolling over.

The final section involved Sand Mode and the opportunity to get a little lead-footed. The all-wheel-drive system and plentiful torque pop the Bronco off the line with gusto. On the twisting S turns on a mixture of hard, dusty track and deeper sand sections, the Bronco Sport acts with rear-wheel bias and works to keep the momentum going.

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Interior: Rugged Comfort

The Bronco Sport's interior balances itself between rugged utility and creature comfort. There's plenty of little storage spaces to keep items out of the way of bouncing around when the going gets rough. The dashboard is shallow, giving more breathing space in the cabin and housing an eight-inch SYNC 3 infotainment system that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. The base model is basic but comfortable. Moving up the trim levels opens up features such as heated leather seats, a 10-speaker B&O sound system, a 6.5-inch digital instrument screen, a power moonroof, and rubberized floors.

The seating is comfortable, and there's enough room for two adults to be relaxed in the back and use the 36.9 inches of legroom. The driving position is upright, and the forward view excellent for when terrain starts getting tricky. Upper trim levels get a front view camera, which helps even more in tight spots.

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Trunk & Cargo Space: Generous And Versatile

Being an adventure vehicle, the Bronco Sport needs to be versatile and capacious. Maximum cargo space is generous enough to drop in two mountain bikes with the rear seats down, or a weekend's camping gear for the well prepared. Standard models come with 32.5 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats, while models equipped with the 2.0-liter engine have 29.4 cubic feet. Drop those seats and you unlock 65.2/60.6 cubic feet, respectively, although equipping the sunroof diminishes this to 60.1 cubes on 2.0L models. Ford is also bragging that the Bronco Sport comes to market with over 100 factory-backed and aftermarket accessories, including four lifestyle accessory bundles for snow sports enthusiasts, water sport enthusiasts, cyclists, or dedicated campers. These include a Yakima roof-top tent and numerous racks and carriers to clip onto the standard roof rails.

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Verdict: An Adventurous Package

There are plenty of small crossovers around that boast all-wheel-drive and off-road ability on the market. But few can tackle much more than a dirt track or a mild hiking trail. The Bronco Sport is the real deal and knows its market. Off-road, its compact footprint and outright ability make for an agile and competent vehicle when things get rough. If all someone wants to do is go off-roading, the Bronco Sport is an option, but it will have limitations for the hardcore enthusiasts. For those that seek adventure and have a destination in mind, the Bronco sport will serve them admirably. It will reach that out-of-the-way hiking spot, bike trail, riverbank, or ski slope. What's more, it will do it with a level of comfort that means you won't reach far-flung destinations feeling like you've been beaten up.

The Bronco Sport manages to be off-road ready but comfortable where competitors can leave passengers feeling like they're being tossed around in a tin can. It's agile and rugged but has finesse and style to go with it. Most importantly, it can satisfy younger people who need their weekend escape vehicle to be a daily driver as well.

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Price & Trims

The Bronco Sport starts at a pocket friendly $26,660. It comes with 17-inch wheels, five drive modes, the 8-inch touchscreen with Ford Sync 3, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, WiFi hotspot availability, and Ford's CoPilot 360 safety system. The four additional trim levels are aimed at different demographics. Big Bend is advertised as adventure-ready and adds things like rubberized mats, zippered seat pockets and MOLLE straps on the rear setbacks, folding second-row seats, a carbonized front grille, Intelligent Access, and push-button start with a price of $28,160. The Outer Banks trim adds comfort and style to that with 18-inch aluminum wheels, a Shadow Black roof, ambient lighting, 6.5-inch digital instrument panel, heated sport bucket seats, a remote start, and more for a base MSRP of $32,160. The Badlands trim is the serious off-roader's choice. It upgrades to the 2.0-liter Ecoboost engine, twin-clutch rear diff, seven drive modes, paddle shifters, front camera, and front tow hooks, rubberized flooring, and more, but only adds $500 to the asking price.

Only 2,000 first edition models will be produced, each loaded with extras such as 24-inch all-terrain tires, leather seats, a heated steering wheel, moonroof, 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. It tops out the range at $38,160.

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