First impressions of the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport

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Tail-out and churning through a sandy basin at Holly, Michigan’s off-road park, the Bronco Sport does an admirable job of disguising its Escape ancestry. This five-seater will likely strike most observers as a commuter-friendly alternative to its two larger cousins, but Ford’s determined to prove the Sport’s multitasking prowess. Schlep the kids on Thursday, aim for the mountain trails on Friday—that sort of thing.

From the passenger seat, buzzing over the harder-packed sections of the park, it’s surprisingly comfortable. Our Ford driver likes to encourage oversteer, so he leaves it in Sand mode, one of seven selectable terrain configurations on this Badlands model. With a quick flick of his wrist, however, he demonstrates how the driver can dial between modes on the go. With the windows rolled up, the experience is not as visceral as the open-top, doorless experience of the two-door Bronco, while the sound of the 2.0-liter, EcoBoost four is about as intimidating as that of a hair dryer; but the SUV tackles 19-degree inclines and nearly two feet of water with composure.

 

Apart from the kitted-out, limited-production First Edition, the Badlands trim is the only model to get the 245-hp, single-turbo four as standard; though it’s optional on most other trims, the default option is a 181-hp turbocharged three cylinder. (Yes, three.) Breathy tenor aside, the Badland’s EcoBoost churns out 275 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm and its eight-speed automatic comes with a manual shift mode via paddles on the steering wheel. Our truck wore $300 low-gloss aluminum wheels and optional 29-inch, 235/65R17 Falken all-terrain tires (a $495 option). Equipped with the beefier tires, our Bronco Sport maxxed out its off-road stats: 8.8 inches of ground clearance with approach, breakover, and departure angles of 30.4, 20.4, and 33.1 degrees respectively.

The Badlands also boasts a slightly upgraded suspension package. All Bronco Sports have independent MacPherson struts up front and a multilink system out back, with stabilizer bars at both ends, but the Badlands differentiates itself with hydraulic rebound stops in the front, unique coil springs on all for corners and, in the rear, a unique cast knuckle.

The starting price for the burliest Bronco Sport? $34,155, destination included … if you can resist the Yakima racks and Thule bike racks and rooftop tents Ford dangles in front of you in the accessories section.

Should you wish to toss it around, the Bronco Sport obliges. If you want a bit more supervision, however, it’s got your back. Faced with a fork in the trail, the left branch level and the right one heading down, our driver activates the front camera, which stitches together wide-angle and straight-ahead views into a three-panel display. The driver chooses the right fork, leading the Bronco Sport down an incline strewn with loose, sandy dirt. A brief vibration from the back of the vehicle marks the brakes munching down to control our descent. The Badlands trim also comes with Ford’s “off-road cruise control” system (Trail Control, in OEM lingo) that will monitor changes in trail surface and modulate the throttle accordingly while you sit back, relax your feet, and sip from your Yeti.

2021 Bronco Sport Badlands Holly Michigan off-road park
Ford

Many Bronco Sport customers will likely have a child or two, so it makes sense that the Bronco Sport is equipped to tow a pop-up camper or trailer with extra gear. Most trims can pull up to 2000 pounds, and the Badlands and First Edition models can handle another 200 pounds on top of that.

Though Badlands Broncos comes standard with cloth seats, Ford offers a redundantly-named Badlands Package ($2595) that slathers your truck’s interior with leather and packs in some luxe tech. You get the ability to start your Bronco Sport remotely and peer through a power moonroof, while the standard six-speaker system gives way to a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen setup. There’s a heated steering wheel and a wireless charging pad to top things off. Toss in another $200, and you get the much-lauded rubber floor liners front and rear.

(Disclosure: Ford requested that we not take any photos of either the Bronco Sport or Bronco two-door’s interior, since the examples available for rides were preproduction models and, as such, not necessarily representative of what you’ll see in showrooms.)

Denied the big-fender style and off-road focus of its two- and four-door Bronco siblings, the Bronco Sport will likely bring home the groceries—literally and figuratively—and only occasionally get tossed around away from the pavement. However, for a vehicle with a multitasking mission, the Bronco Sport seems to strike an admirable balance. Riding on the most capable rubber in the order sheet, the five-seater exceeded our expectations off-road; further on, we’ll report on its more mundane, around-town abilities. Stay tuned.

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