I tested an all-new 2021 Bronco Sport, a roughly $32,000 crossover SUV.
The Bronco Sport is the least robust member of Ford’s new Bronco brand, but it should be up to the task of suburban family-hauling duty.
My Outer Banks review Bronco Sport had a three-cylinder, 181-horsepower turbocharged engine under the hood.
The Bronco Sport is a great combination of a legacy nameplate that Ford has rebooted with tremendous success and a versatile crossover platform.
Jeep has something to worry about!
Ford has been busy in 2020. Apart from dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and shifting some of its production to making masks, protective gear, respirators, and ventilators, the 117-automaker has launched the 14th generation of its Ford F-150 pickup truck and the all-new, all-electric Mustang Mach-E crossover.
You might think that would be enough for the Blue Oval. But the vehicle that’s really set the pace is the revived Bronco, announced earlier this year as a family of SUVs: two hardcore offroaders and, to start, the Bronco Sport, a more domesticated crossover.
Ford loaned me the 2021 Bronco Sport, in “Outer Banks” trim, for a few days and I did my level best to take it in, tooling around the New Jersey suburbs. Sadly, I wasn’t able to sample the Sport’s virtues off the paved path, nor did we face any heavy weather together. But I did manage to test out the Sport by doing what many owners are likely to do: drive around their families, make grocery runs, and tote around some light gear.
The little engine that could
My little Bronc packed a small motor under the hood: a 1.5-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder engine, making 181 horsepower with 190 pound-feet of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and the four-wheel-drive setup. The Base Bronco Sport is $26,660, then there’s the $28,160 Big Bend, followed by the $32,160 Outer Banks trim. Above that are the top-level offroader, the $32,660 Badlands and a First Edition, limited-run option, for $38,160.
Folks are going to scoff at the three-banger, duly noting that it reminds everybody that the Bronco Sport shares a platform and specs with the less rugged Escape crossover.
But the little engine that could achieves 28mpg on the highway and 26 in combined city-highway driving, according to the EPA, and once you overcome the fairly sluggish acceleration, the powerplant gets the job done (the 0-60mph sprint passes in a leisurely nine-ish seconds, in my unofficial testing).
One can purchase more pop on higher trims; a 245-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder, making 275 pound-feet of torque, is available. On balance, perhaps a better choice if you intended to push your luck in mud and dirt with the Sport. But again, the 1.5L three-cylinder was impressive in my testing. Power on paper and power in practice are different things, after all.
Nothing fancy on the design front, but a well-executed package
The Sport can be had in a nice range of exteriors colors. My tester came in “Kodiak Brown,” which read as near-black under cloudy skies, but would’ve looked fetching in full sun. The wheels were 18-inchers, and they presented well, given the overall dimensions of the Bronco Sport.
Design-wise, the Bronco Sport is less of a rounded box than the two- or four-door Bronco proper, but it’s still a box. And that’s a successful aesthetic here, where form is supposed to follow function. Bronco Sport is intended to compete directly with less rowdy Jeeps, as well as the host of five-passenger compact crossovers that now crowd the market.
But it’s also supposed to live up to the Bronco reputation, and that means keeping the fancy to a minimum. There are therefore no big swoops or curves, just a well-detailed, blocky execution that’s attractive, but that could also handle getting really dirty.
The main event, of course, is the fascia, with its bold, Bronco nameplate stretching across the grille, framed by round/bisected LED headlights. The Bronco Sport designation appears across the rear end. There are almost no Ford Blue Ovals anywhere in sight, befitting Bronco Sport’s status as the baby of the Bronco sub-brand.
Get used to some serious earth tones
Instead, as with the Mustang, there’s an equine icon, the rearing horse that should be familiar to any Bronco enthusiast. (The Bronco was introduced in the mid-1960s, but the nameplate was retired in 1996 before being revived in dramatic fashion this year.)
The interior was an “Ebony Roast,” but with a bit of tea-brown two-tone thrown in. Lotsa earth tones, to be sure. But I liked ’em just fine. My tester also had rugged all-weather floor mats and a liftgate equipped with a backlight that could also be opened. The seats were comfy without being plush, and the overall level of fit and finish was about right for the Bronco Sport’s target audience: not premium, but not bare-bones, either. Versatile.
Cargo capacity was excellent, about 32 cubic feet, going up to 65 with the rear seats dropped. Towing capacity with the small motor is a mere 2,000 pounds, but for light-duty trailering, that should suffice. The larger engine raises that to 2,400 pounds.
Industry-leading infotainment technology
The Bronco Sport Outer Banks had an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, running Ford’s superb SYNC 3 system (SYNC 4 should be available later). SYNC 3 checks off all the required boxes, managing GPS navigation, Bluetooth device pairing, USB integration, and wifi connectivity.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, and my test vehicle was equipped with a pleasing Bang & Olufsen 10-speaker premium audio system. Wireless charging and a regular old AC power outlet were also on board.
I didn’t get to put the Bronco Sport through serious paces, a shame because Ford had also loaned me both a new F-150 and a Mach-E to test, and of the three vehicles, I found the Bronco to be the likely best fit with my family’s lifestyle. The ride is definitely not supple, but it isn’t jarring, and a “Goes Over Any Terrain” rotary drive-mode selector allows one to shuffle through various traction and throttling options, but I worked mainly with the normal and sport modes.
That said, the Bronco Sport could be taken offroad and while Ford isn’t pretending it’s going to give the big-brother Broncs a run for their money, the Sport would make a good pick for car camping and light outdoorsiness.
Doesn’t drive like a truck – but it does drive like an SUV
Ford generally does a nice job of making its crossovers drive like SUVs: You wouldn’t mistake the Bronco Sport’s road manners for those of a passenger car, but you don’t feel like you’re at the wheel of a domesticated midsize pickup truck with a leaf-spring rear suspension.
Jeep also does this with its smaller crossovers, but they come off as more aggressively offroad-y, while the Bronco Sports is happy to add some robustness to the Escape’s relatively compliant demeanor.
After a couple of days, I had happily bonded with the Bronco and figured that the $32,000-ish price tag (Ford didn’t provide all-in pricing for my tester, but it was obviously a tad richer than MSRP, thanks to some options) was a fair deal for this much SUV. While the Bronco itself has racked up over 150,000 pre-orders and has eager customers waiting patiently for their SUVs to start arriving next year, the Sport is for sale now.
I expect it to fly off the lots. That’s because it’s just beefy enough to match up with, say, the Jeep Compass or Patriot, but not at all crude. The choice of engines provides customers with the opportunity to max their MPGs or go for a little more oomph and towing capacity, and the technology suite represents much bang for the buck.
My tester had Ford’s Co-Pilot360 semi-self-driving tech installed, and although I didn’t take an extended journey in the two days I had the SUV, it performed well on the highway. I’d like to put the Bronco Sport through a full week’s worth of reviewing, with a longer trip thrown in, so stay tuned for an update this coming summer.
The bottom line is that the Sport is a strong first strike in the Bronco battle. Apart from pokey acceleration, it’s hard to find a weakness. A lot of fans are going to treat the “Baby Bronco” as an appetizer, with the main event Broncs to follow, but they shouldn’t be too quick to give the Sport a brief gander and move along. They might like what they seem, and like what they drive even more.
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