With styling cues and some of off-road ruggedness of its bigger brother Bronco, Bronco Sport debuts for 2021. Based on the Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport is a compact crossover that seats 5 and is only available as a 4-door wagon. Unique to the segment is a tailgate with separate opening rear window. Bronco Sport competes with vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Nissan Rogue Sport and Toyota RAV4.
Bronco Sport is offered in Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition trim. Four-wheel drive is standard on all models, though unlike its big brother, Bronco Sport's 4WD system does not have a low range. Engine offerings include a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder that makes 181 horsepower and a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 250 horsepower. Both engines mate to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Every Bronco Sport also comes standard with the Ford Co-Pilot360 suite of advanced safety features. Co-Pilot360 includes forward-collision warning with brake intervention, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. Additional standard features LED headlights, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play and roof rails. The all-wheel-drive system can be upgraded with a specific off-road suspension and all-terrain tires, skid plates, tow hooks, and special rear differential. Prices start at $28,000 and climb to $40,000.
A lot of Bronco Sports will be powered by the turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder. It provides enough power for day-to-day living but comes up short in highway passing situations and with a full load of passengers. Lead foot types will want the hotter 2.0-liter turbo with 250 horsepower. Not only is it more powerful in all driving situations, but its also smoother when you stomp the go pedal. Power builds quickly as the turbo spools up to deliver full torque at about 1,600 RPM.
With either engine, the transmission shifts smoothly and is quick enough to downshift in passing situations. Four-cylinder models get steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, while buyers of the base engine can't row the transmission manually. All models come with single-speed all-wheel drive, but Badlands get a trick rear differential that can apportion power to the rear wheel with the most traction and gain an additional inch of ground clearance.
Bronco Sport isn't exactly frugal despite sharing engines with the popular Escape. That turbo-4 is EPA rated at 21 MPG city and 26 MPG highway, both near the bottom of the class. The 3-cylinder isn't all that more efficient either. In routine suburban commuting, expect to average close to 24 MPG. Not bad, but not great.
Compared to other compact crossovers, Bronco Sport strikes a more comfortable, if sometimes spongy ride. Compared to the Mazda CX-3, or even the similar Ford Escape, Bronco Sport feels softer and has more body roll. on the soft shocks to create body roll. The soft suspension is quite comfortable in most situations, but its "floatiness" might surprise buyers coming out of street-oriented crossover SUVs. Badlands models feature monotube rear shocks, softer springs, and additional ground clearance. Because of this, they ride softer and suffer from weight shifts in quick transitions. Thankfully, the steering and brakes are nicely dialed in to the overall ride quality, creating a competent and comfortable package that is sure to please most buyers.
Interior noise levels are higher than expected thanks to a more wind noise than is typical in the class and that gruff 3-cylinder base engine. Though most might never notice the additional drone until they get on a long highway trip.
Open the doors and it is apparent that Bronco Sport is designed for active lifestyles. Its utilitarian design, available rubber floors, snap-in rubber liner for the rear cargo area, hooks in the rear cargo area, adjustable LED lighting in the tailgate and even zippered pockets on the front seatbacks all shout, "I want to go play." Heck, there's even a bottle opener integrated into the rear tail-gate opening. Materials are more rugged than luxurious and there's a lot of plastic, rather than soft-touch leather and aluminum.
With a traditional instrument cluster and high-mounted touch screen, the control layout is very user friendly. There are traditional buttons and knobs for the audio and climate system. In all the package is modern, but takes only seconds to master. Kudos to Ford designers for not playing games and designing an interior in keeping with the mission of the Bronco Sport.
Front seats are only modestly bolstered and feel a bit on the small side. Head room is great and there's enough leg room for large adults. The rear seats are flat and don't offer a lot of support. In addition, they offer nearly 4 inches less leg room than the similar-size Ford Escape, meaning taller adults won't like sitting in back much.
In fact, the Bronco Sport is more about carrying stuff than it is about carrying people. It offers 30 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 60 cubic feet overall. Both are impressive given Bronco Sport's dimensions. Another nice plus is the separate opening rear window that allows for a quick grab of items in back. Interior storage is great with lots of open and covered bins throughout.
Bottom Line -- Bronco Sport might not be the mudder people expect, but it is more than competent off road -- especially in Badlands trim. The problem is most urban buyers won't likely ever venture off road with this rough-and-ready compact crossover. So, if you are looking for a car-like ride and impressive fuel efficiency, there are better options including the Escape sitting right next to Bronco Sport in the showroom. No Bronco Sport is more about capturing a bit of its big brother Bronco's hype. Still, it's a great mix of utility, capability and attitude in a tidy and affordable package.