Return of Bronco
After years of anticipation by Bronco enthusiasts — fueled by a Bronco concept that appeared at the 2004 North American International Auto Show — the wait is finally over. Earlier this year Ford announced it would be producing a whole family of Bronco vehicles. The first vehicle now arriving at dealerships is the smallest member of that family — the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. The Bronco Sport compact SUV shares styling cues and off-road capability with a larger Bronco that should be rolling into showrooms during the second quarter of 2021.
Ford invited a select group of auto journalists to be one the first to drive the all-new Bronco Sport, but since there have been no auto shows or in-person vehicle reveals since March, it was also the first time journos have actually seen the Bronco Sport. At the small, socially-distanced event, Ford prominently showcased the new Bronco Sport in Badlands, Outer Banks and Big Bend trim levels. Classic Bronco styling cues, a stepped-up roofline and upright body panels give the Bronco Sport a bolder look compared to many of today’s compact SUVs.
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is offered in five trim levels: Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition. Starting Price for Bronco Sport is $26,660, with the Big Bend starting at $28,160. Outer Banks starts at $32,160, Badlands at $32,660, and First Edition at $38,160. Prices do not include a destination charge of $1,495. Bronco Sport features all-wheel drive, 17-inch wheels, adjustable liftgate flood lights, Ford Co-Pilot360 and FordPass Connect with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.
Bronco Sport Big Bend adds 17-inch Carbonized Gray painted high-gloss aluminum wheels, a rubberized cargo floor and second-row seatback protection, easy-to-clean cloth seats, zippered pockets with MOLLE straps on front-row seatbacks, Carbonized Gray grille with BRONCO molded in white, second row / cargo area privacy glass and heated side mirrors.
Bronco Sport Outer Banks builds on Big Bend with an upgraded interior that includes heated, leather-trimmed front seats; a heated, leather-trimmed steering wheel, a 6.5-inch digital instrument panel, ambient lighting and carpeted floormats. The Outer Banks also adds 18-inch machine-faced Ebony Black-painted wheels, a Shadow Black roof and 225/60R18 all-season tires.
Bronco Sport Badlands also builds on Big Bend, but with additional equipment to improve off-road capability. The Badlands adds Ford’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, an off-road-tuned suspension, Advanced 4 x 4 with a twin-clutch rear axle, 28.5-inch all-terrain tires, Trail Control, a 180-degree camera up front, rubberized flooring, front tow hooks and 17-inch Carbonized Gray-painted aluminum wheels. A $2,595 Badlands Package also adds leather front seats, an 8-way power driver’s seat, a 6-way power passenger seat, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, body-color door handles, dual-zone automatic temperature control, a power moonroof, remote start, a reverse sensing system, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and a wireless charging pad.
The Bronco Sport First Edition builds on the Badlands with 17-inch Ebony Black-painted aluminum wheels, a grille with BRONCO molded in black, Shadow Black decals, 29-inch Falken Wild Peak all-terrain tires, Navy Pier leather front seats, an 8-way power driver’s seat, a 6-way power passenger seat, a power moonroof and a 10 speaker B&O Sound System. The Bronco Sport First Edition is only offered in four colors: Area 51, Cactus Gray, Cyber Orange Tri-Coat and Rapid Red Tinted Clearcoat.
The Bronco Sport exterior design takes inspiration from the original Bronco SUV, and the rugged exterior design also echoes the new 2021 Bronco. Design attributes include the grille, round headlights, flat bodysides and short front and rear overhangs. Unpainted finishes add to the tough off-road look. The profile reveals a stepped-up roofline and standard roof rack. Bronco Sport Badlands includes standard 28.5-inch all-terrain tires, and the First Edition features standard 29-inch all-terrain off-road tires with a more aggressive, deeper tread.
Under the Hood
Bronco Sport Badlands and First Edition are powered by a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine producing 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, combined with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Bronco Sport Base, Big Bend and Outer Banks are powered by a 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine producing 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm — also paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Bronco Sport Badlands and First Edition feature an advanced 4-wheel-drive system incorporating a twin-clutch rear-drive unit with a differential lock that can transfer torque to either rear wheel depending on conditions. Bronco Sport features independent front and rear suspension; Badlands and First Edition add uniquely tuned front struts, monotube rear shocks, softer springs and softer anti-roll bars for improved off-road performance.
According to Ford, the original Bronco became known as G.O.A.T. because of its ability to “go over any type of terrain,” so Bronco Sport’s Terrain Management System features driver selectable drive setups named G.O.A.T. Modes to help both novice and expert drivers navigate difficult situations. Five modes are standard on all trim levels: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand. Badlands and First Edition add Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl to the G.O.A.T. Mode menu.
Bronco Sport includes unique features such as a configurable cargo management system with a slideout working table as well as a 400-watt inverter and liftgate LED floodlights to light the area under the liftgate. A flip-up glass rear window allows access to the cargo area when the liftgate is closed. With the rear seat folded and an available dealer-installed Yakima interior bike rack, Bronco Sport can transport two mountain bikes standing up in its cargo area.
The Bronco Sport interior features a digital instrument panel on upper trim levels in addition to the center infotainment screen. The center console includes a rotary gear selector, cupholders and a wireless phone-charging tray. The lower seat cushions are a little too short and thus lack much upper leg support; even top-level trims do not offer height adjustment at the front edge of the cushion to change seat angle. And when following other vehicles off-road in dusty conditions, the Bronco Sport’s climate control system would not stay in recirculation mode, instead switching back to outside air allowing dust to enter the cabin.
On the Road
Most of our driving during the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport press event occurred off-road, navigating a series of trails in the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area north of Los Angeles. We did drive a short 20-minute stint each way to the off-road area, which provided first impressions of Bronco Sport in everyday driving conditions. Initially we drove the Bronco Sport First Edition with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, and then switched to the Bronco Sport Outer Banks powered by the 1.5-liter EcoBoost.
Bronco Sport First Edition
Thanks to the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, The Bronco Sport First Edition possesses plenty of power in Normal mode, and Sport mode makes the throttle much more responsive. On the sandy trails — such as the ones at Hungry Valley — the First Edition all-terrain tires and dual-clutch rear axle are a real advantage, affording more grip on sand to provide a stable, positive stance.
Bronco Sport First Edition
During our time in the First Edition we also employed Trail Control — essentially a low-speed cruise control that will climb or descend hills. The driver sets the speed (up to 10 mph) and then focuses on steering and the correct line through the terrain as the vehicle automatically adjusts braking and acceleration to maintain the selected speed. On the road, the First Edition is not as smooth as other competitor compact SUVs — the all-terrain tires and off-road suspension convey their presence through to the cabin.
Bronco Sport Outer Banks
Switching over to the Bronco Sport Outer Banks, we completed the off-road course without the advantage of the suspension and advanced all-wheel drive of the Badlands / First Edition. The most noticeable difference on the sandy trails became the all-season tires compared to the all-terrain tires. The all-wheel-drive system worked admirably to keep Bronco Sport planted high on tight corners with high berms, allowing the vehicle to track well without sliding down toward the center of the corner.
Bronco Sport Outer Banks
Out on the road, the Outer Banks with its 1.5-liter EcoBoost has enough power for normal driving conditions, although switching to Sport mode creates a big difference in throttle response. For long busts of acceleration — such as merging onto freeways— all available power is required to blend quickly into traffic. The 1.5-liter EcoBoost is adequate in Normal mode, but there is no power to spare in this application.
Right for You?
The all-new 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is an eye-catching SUV with classic Bronco design elements and a more traditional SUV look than most of the competition. The compact SUV segment remains extremely competitive, but the Bronco Sport offers a fresh, new look and the Badlands delivers strong off-road capability when needed.
Pros: Bold design; classic Bronco design elements; Badlands has serious off-road capability.
Cons: Standard 1.5-liter EcoBoost works hard; dodgy recirculation mode in dusty conditions.
Bottom Line: Great-looking compact SUV will be strong competition against established players.