BThe compact SUV and crossover class is booming and Ford recently added the Bronco Sport as another offering to join the Escape. Let's begin with the nomenclature of Bronco Sport... this is a completely different model than the much-anticipated Bronco. Bronco Sport is the full model name and not just a trim level of a Bronco. The Bronco Sport is a five-passenger small SUV that is offered in five trim levels known as the base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands, and First Edition. Prices start at $27,215 for base models and have a range up to $38,160 for First Editions; the rest fall somewhere in between. All models are equipped with an 8-speed transmission and four-wheel drive paired to one of two engine options. Competition includes vehicles such as the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee & Renegade, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4 just to highlight a few.
The Bronco Sport is an easy SUV to hop in and drive. Despite its Bronco name and rugged looks, this is a compact SUV better intended for an urban environment. Two engine options are available, the base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks come with a 1.5L Ecoboost engine and 181 horsepower along with 190 lb.-ft. of torque. Badlands and First Edition models are powered by a 2.0L EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that produces 250 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. The 2.0L offers a smooth ride with a little pep of acceleration. The transmission shifts through gears with ease and it has enough passing power to navigate rush hour traffic. On the road, the steering is quick and it feels grounded.
As expected with an SUV marketed as an off-roader, the suspension is strong and minimizes road imperfections. The Bronco Sport comes standard with a terrain management system with up to seven different G.O.A.T. modes (standing for Go Over Any Type of Terrain) that include normal, eco, sport, sand and slippery on base models. Badlands trims get two additional modes called mud/ruts and rock crawl along with additional ground clearance, monotube shocks, and softer springs. All models come with an independent front and rear suspension which will keep it grounded on uneven terrain. Also available is trail control technology which enables a cruise control type of setting up to 20 mph so the driver can focus on the trails. To add to its capabilities, the Badlands models come with 235/65R17 All-terrain tires that grip all kinds of terrain.
The Bronco Sport and full-size Bronco share some exterior design cues, most notably the front which prominently spells out B-R-O-N-C-O across the grille flanked by circular LEDs housed in a casing with a horizontal LED and turn signals. The overall styling is inspired by the first generation of the Bronco that ran from 1966-1977 with a modern twist. The overall length of the Bronco Sport is 172.7" with a 105.1" wheel base which makes it slightly smaller than a Ford Escape. Comparatively, the Bronco 4-door is nearly 17" longer overall with an extra 10+ inches of wheelbase as well.
One unique feature is its safari style roof that steps up about an inch higher for the second row and rear cargo area, thus creating additional head room and interior cargo space. Stylistically, it's further amplified by a black, angled c-pillar and rise in the rear quarter-panels. Around back, the ruggedness continues with stamped tailgate to create dimension and Bronco Sport spelled out across the center. The hatch glass opens separately from the liftgate which is not often seen in current models but I nice throwback to the originals... and look for a nod to that first generation in the form of a small Bronco icon on the rear glass.
Wheel sizes vary in style across trims from 17" silver wheels on base models, 18" machine-faced aluminum ebony black painted wheels on the Outer Banks to 17" carbonized gray-painted low gloss aluminum on Badlands models. The styles all vary but tie in to the rugged looks of the SUV. The carbonized gray ones on my Badlands test vehicle looked like base steelies at first, but the aluminum wheels are quite tough and capable on the Bronco Sport, especially when paired with 29" 235/65R17 Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires like mine had.
Inside, drivers face either a standard twin dial set-up or a 6.5-inch digital instrument cluster (Outer Banks and up trim level) that displays a variety of information. At the center of the dash is a standard 8-inch LCD touchscreen that is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Upon opening the doors, the Bronco Sport features some graphics on both of its screens that show rolling boulders that ultimately come together to become the Bronco horse. It's a simple, but engaging graphic that captures attention.
The interior space is designed for function with extra compartments for storage, easy to access knobs, and a generally simple layout. The materials are a step above and certainly have a different vibe than the Escape. Everything inside the Bronco Sport is easy to understand and straightforward, drivers will be able to operate the vehicle without needing a technology tour. Ford implements its rotary dial for gear selection in the center console and directly below that is a second dial for the GOAT modes. Stepping up to the Badlands+ trim levels will also add rubberized flooring which is easy to clean after some off-road adventures or just a short trip with the kids.
The seats are sufficiently comfortable but not overly impressive. Power adjustable heated seats are available for front passengers. Interior space for the front passengers is impressive. Base models come a standard cloth upholstery but leather is available on higher trim models. Rear seats are tighter but comparable to others in the same class. All three of my kids were fairly comfortable in the back with plenty of headroom thanks to the tall roofline, however there wasn't much legroom or space for additional backpacks on the floor. Door openings are ok for rear passenger, but other vehicles such as the Nissan Rogue offer something much wider that provides easier access.
Cargo capacity is average for the class with 32.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 65.2 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. Load-in and out is easy with a low load floor and a boxy shape. A nice bonus in the Bronco Sport is the rear glass (within the hatch) opens separately from the hatch. This is a throwback element to older Broncos that is welcome return for when you want to drop in smaller items or have limited space behind you.
Safety and technology continue to be of importance to the Ford team. Standard on all models is Ford's Co-Pilot 360 suite of advanced driver-assist technologies. Included in this suite of tech are pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking featuring pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, auto high beam headlamps and a rearview camera. Optional additions include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane-centering, steering assist and voice-activated touch screen navigation.
With a retro-rugged style, the Bronco Sport stands out among the sea of compact SUVs and crossovers. It is an easy to drive SUV with updated technology inside that doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out. It works well for urban commuters, but comes with off-road capabilities that will allow owners to take it down some trails for an adventure. While it's easy to confuse in naming with the bigger and more capable Bronco, the Bronco Sport is a credible contender.
First Impression Summary
Test Vehicle: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
Exterior Color: Carbonized Gray
Interior Color: Ebony Area 51 Unique Cloth
Notable Options: Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist + ($795) and 17" Carbonized Gray Aluminum Wheels ($795)MSRP as tested: $35,745