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2021 Ford Bronco Sport Test Drive Review
After a long buildup, Ford finally made the 2021 Bronco Sport available for the media to test drive. The spunky compact two-row crossover SUV proved to be a lively, capable, and attractive companion for on- and off-pavement adventures.
Look and Feel
Ford has been teasing us with the new Bronco for years now, and it recently revealed that the still-to-come resurrected off-roader would be preceded by a little brother: the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. The big Bronco calls back to the 1966 – 1996 Bronco and will be a rugged competitor to the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner. The Bronco Sport captures some of the same styling cues, but it’s a frameless (unibody) crossover with a more suburban, less rural, focus—an everyday driver that is ready for weekend adventures.
The Bronco Sport has a great look, a modern retro feel that wouldn’t be out of place in the Land Rover lineup (that’s a compliment). The front overhang is very short (an essential feature to deliver the best approach angle) and the rear overhang is almost as good. The tall fender wells and tucked-in body sides are designed for trail driving, with as little unnecessary adornment to catch on obstructions and brush as possible. The front end, which will echo the Bronco when it arrives, helps tie in the Sport with its big brother, as does the rear elevation. Bold white lettering on the front grille and tailgate announce the vehicle’s name as “BRONCO,” while a smaller postscript admits “SPORT.” The Ford blue oval appears only once on the exterior, a tastefully modest badge on the tailgate.
Wheels are an important part of an SUV’s look, and they play a big part in off-road and on-road ability. The Base model comes with 17-inch Sparkle Silver wheels, while the Big Bend model gets 17-inch Carbonized Gray-painted high-gloss aluminum wheels. Outer Banks steps up to 18-inch machined-face aluminum Ebony Black-painted wheel with all-season tires, while the Badlands model uses the same wheels but with 28.5-inch all-terrain tires. The First Edition model comes with 17-inch Ebony Black-painted wheels and 29-inch all-terrain tires. Of course, there are options to upgrade and upsize wheels and tires on lower trim levels, starting at $595.
The interior is tastefully rugged, with an uncluttered design that avoids overstatement. A unique shape repeats for the HVAC vents, lending unity to the cabin. The center stack has several convenient open storage cubbies, and it’s crowned by an 8-inch infotainment screen in exactly the right place. A rotary gear selector lives in the center console, along with two cupholders.
There’s a predictable step-up from model to model in interior trim, from cloth seats to leather-trimmed, heated sport-contour bucket seats to Navy Pier Leather power front seats on the First Edition, and a smart step from a rubberized cargo floor and second-row seat protector to carpeted floor mats to rubberized flooring, all with a purpose.
Ford set up a media drive at a Holly Oaks ORV Park, a new public facility in Holly, Michigan. We had a chance to drive several variants of the Bronco Sport on groomed trails and designed obstacles, as well as on public roads in the area. The Bronco Sport gets two engine choices, tied to trim levels. A 1.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged three-cylinder gasoline direct-injection engine producing 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque will be fitted in Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks trim models. A 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline direct-injection unit putting out 245 hp and 275 lb-ft will come in the Badlands and First Edition models. The First Edition is a launch run with production limited to 2,000 vehicles for the 2021 model year. All Bronco Sport models will feature an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive (AWD), along with a terrain management system with up to seven available G.O.A.T. modes (Go Over Any Type of Terrain).
The Bronco Sport was a pleasant surprise off-road, where its short wheelbase (105.1 inches), four-wheel independent suspension (MacPherson struts in the front and a double lateral link rear, with stabilizer bars at each end), generous suspension travel (7.4 inches front and 8.1 inches rear), and decent ground clearance (7.8 to 8.8 inches, depending on tire and wheel size) made for drama-free crawls around the ORV park.
Though the Bronco Sport is being marketed to adventurous souls, most examples will probably spend the vast majority of their lives on pavement, doing duty as commuters, family haulers, and all-around vehicles. As such, the crossover has good manners. The 2.0-liter engine in the Badlands and First Edition trim levels seems better mated to the Bronco Sport’s character, as the 1.5-liter can sound a little strained and thrashy when pressed hard.
Form and Function
The Bronco Sport does more than pay lip service to potential active buyers—it actually delivers some fun, clever features that go beyond the usual compact crossover mold. If you’re a bicyclist, you’ll be glad to know that the cargo space has been designed and engineered to be high enough to hold two 27.5-inch-wheel mountain bikes. Ford has already launched a catalog of over 100 factory and aftermarket accessories for the Bronco Sport to help transport kayaks, surfboards, skis, camping equipment, and the other gear active people accumulate. The roof is rated to hold up to 150 pounds (100 with moonroof). If you can’t fit all the junk inside or on top of your Bronco, the 2.0-liter will tow up 2,200 pounds and the 1.5-liter can drag 2,000 pounds.
The cargo hold reveals additional smart thinking. The smallish rear glass redeems itself by flipping up (a lost art). An optional cargo management package adds a slide-out work table, a 400-watt inverter, and liftgate floodlamps.
The front cabin’s storage compartments—including big door pockets, multiple cubbies, and covered storage—are ideal for sorting gadgets and tools.
A couple of minor complaints about the driving position involve outward visibility. When on-road, taller drivers may find it challenging to see past the roof overhang to spot traffic lights, especially when the Bronco Sport is first in line. When off-road, we wished for a taller seating position for a better view of the trail ahead, which is somewhat obscured by the bulges in the hood. Like all ergonomic observations, the only way to find out how well you’ll fit is to sit in the vehicle yourself.
Ford opened up the tech vault for the Bronco Sport, giving it the latest available versions of its infotainment systems. That means the 8-inch infotainment touchscreen connects you to SYNC 3. It is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and it has available Ford+Alexa and SiriusXM capability. FordConnect with 4G LTE WiFi hotspot is standard. The base audio system is an AM/FM stereo with six speakers. A Bang & Olufsen sound system is available on Outer Banks and above trim levels (ranging in cost from $1,595 to $2,595 as part of a package), as is a 360-degree camera with split view and a washer, all of which are great for off-road use).
A deeper dive into the G.O.A.T. modes reveals an impressive level of tech contained in the terrain management system on the Bronco Sport. Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks trims get five drive modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand. Badlands and First Edition models add Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl modes to the list. These modes set the appropriate steering, transmission, and throttle response settings for the driver-selected condition. Suspension settings are not electronically adjustable on the Bronco Sport. The available trail control technology adds additional help in off-roading, enabling a cruise-control-like feature that operates at up to 20 mph forward and 6 mph in reverse, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering and navigating the trail.
Intelligent access with push-button start is included with all trim levels except the Base model. Heated and leather-wrapped steering wheels are in Outer Banks and above, along with a 6.5-inch digital instrument panel that replaces the analog one on the Base and Big Bend.
Each trim level of the Bronco Sport comes standard with the Ford Co-Pilot360 suite of safety features. This suite includes pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, forward collision warning and dynamic brake support, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, auto high-beam headlamps, and a reversing camera.
Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ ($795) is available on all trim levels except Base, and it includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane centering, evasive steering assist, a voice-activated touchscreen navigation system with pinch-to-zoom capability, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, and road-sign recognition (not available on Big Bend). While Co-Pilot360 Assist+ is not autonomous driving, it does include some of the building blocks of that technology and is a sophisticated driver assist system.
Trailer sway control is included as part of the available ($495) tow package, an essential component of safe towing.
AWD can certainly be considered an enhancement to a vehicle’s safety, and all Bronco models have it, from Base to First Edition. Each is equipped with a terrain management system with G.O.A.T. modes, so they have traction control, anti-lock braking, and electronic stability control built-in.
Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has revealed ratings for the Ford Bronco Sport for crash-worthiness yet.
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport will be produced in five trim levels: Base (starting at $26,660); Big Bend (starting at $28,160); Outer Banks (starting at $32,160); Badlands (starting at $32,660); and First Edition (starting at $38,160). The big dividing line is between the 1.5-liter models (Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks) and the 2.0-liter models (Badlands and First Edition). The bigger engine comes bundled with an advanced 4x4 system with a twin-clutch rear-drive unit, all-terrain tires, seven G.O.A.T. modes, Trail Control, metal bash plates, and other features designed to make off-roading better, while also including the comfort and convenience features accrued in the step up to Outer Banks. The First Edition pretty much throws in every option but the kitchen sink to build the ultimate Bronco Sport—though enthusiasts will be able to find accessories to add to the package.
Jeep is the obvious target here, aiming at the Compass and Cherokee and opening a salvo for the big-brother Bronco when it arrives to clash with Wrangler. Don’t underestimate the Compass Trailhawk (starting a $31,060 ) or the Cherokee Trailhawk (starting at $35,595) when it’s time to hit the trails. Other vehicles to consider are the Subaru Forester (starting at $24,795), Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (starting at $35,780), and Land Rover Discovery Sport (starting at $37,800).
The 2021 Ford Bronco has proved one maxim: Good things come to those who wait.
Jason Fogelson has reviewed hundreds of cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles and ATVs for websites, magazines and newspapers. He is based in the Detroit area.
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