It suits the adventurous needs of most buyers.
While hardcore off-road enthusiasts patiently wait for the big Bronco to arrive later this year, we don't think Ford releasing the smaller, more mainstream Bronco Sport first was done by mistake. Ford had a strategy here, and it paid off big time. The Bronco Sport is already bringing new customers to Ford, stealing sales from Jeep and Subaru, two companies with notoriously loyal owners.
After spending some time with the Bronco Sport, where we must have told a dozen people: "No, it's not the Bronco; this is the smaller model," we were left convinced that this is the right SUV released at the perfect time. Many buyers love the concept of a capable utility vehicle. Still, most aren't willing to live with the concessions of a dedicated off-roader like the Jeep Wrangler or the upcoming Bronco. Here's why we think the Bronco Sport is the perfect SUV for active individuals who are self-aware enough to realize what they need out of a vehicle.
The Bronco Sport shares a platform with the Ford Escape, but you can't tell by looking at it. It's shorter and boxier than the Escape with far more aggressive styling. We think it looks more distinctive than a Jeep Compass, with its bold "BRONCO" lettering on the front grille. Ford offers the Bronco Sport in five trim levels. We tested the rugged Badlands model that sits near the top, just one below the First Edition, which is distinguished by its safari-style roof that's raised in the rear to improve headroom.
Available optionally, the Badlands comes with 17-inch Carbonized Gray alloys styled to look like steelies, giving a more industrial aesthetic. Ford offers several bold color choices, including Cyber Orange, Rapid Red, Area 51, and Kodiak Brown. Buyers who like a gutsy, squared-off vehicle will find a lot to like with the Bronco Sport.
Aside from the Hyundai Kona N, there are very few performance vehicles in the subcompact crossover segment. The Bronco Sport is among the most powerful in its class with the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. It produces 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, outclassing many crossovers in the larger compact segment. This powerhouse engine rockets the baby Bronco to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds, which is rarified territory for this class. The base 1.5-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder is less impressive, with 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque yielding an 8.6-second 0-60 mph time. Most people will find the three-cylinder reasonably quick, but we suggest the gutsier four-cylinder engine.
Buyers that say they want a capable SUV to go off-road will rarely challenge their car with anything more than a dusty dirt road. Something the Bronco Sport is more than capable of. It offers up to 8.8 inches of ground clearance with approach and departure angles of 30.4 and 33.1 inches. It will ford up to 23.6 inches of water, and we've even seen it conquer the infamous Hell's Gate in Moab. We didn't have any mountains to challenge the Bronco Sport in Florida, but we put the car through its paces in the Ocala National Forest.
The Bronco Sport includes Ford's G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Terrain) modes, with Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand settings. That last one came in handy for the Ocala National Forest, which is filled with soft sand. The Bronco Sport drifted around sandpits with ease, even crawling its way through a big mistake we made going into a deep area. For 90% of buyers, the Bronco Sport has sufficient off-road nous.
It's far from the most premium crossover on the market, but that wasn't Ford's target with the Bronco Sport. This vehicle is designed for an active lifestyle, and it has several cool features in that pursuit. Underneath the carpets, the floors are rubber, making them easier to wash when they get muddy. This thinking continues into the cargo area, where the entire trunk is rubberized for durability and easy cleaning. Taking some nods from the F-150, the Bronco Sport's rear liftgate includes some neat additions like a bottle opener, cargo hooks, and built-in lights. Like an old-school SUV, the rear glass opens independently of the main liftgate, making it easy to grab small items on the fly.
There will always be haters who can't get over seeing the Bronco name affixed to such a small, humble crossover, but those detractors may not remember the Bronco II, and they probably haven't peeked at Jeep's sales numbers for the Compass. We think the Bronco Sport is a great option for young families who like camping, fishing, kayaking, or any other outdoor activity. Oh, and it can take on the challenging stuff if you decide to go further than the grass parking lot next to your kid's soccer practice.