2021 Ford Bronco Sport Review: Full of Bucking Character

It’s after the tenth or so explanation that this is not the new Ford Bronco that I start saying sorry before the spiel.

The vehicle that multiple people have stopped to ask me about during the week is a new Ford Bronco—just not the new Ford Bronco. The Sport is the softer, friendlier little brother, I tell them, a sub-Escape crossover with a generous sprinkling of off-road ability. The full-fat Bronco experience arrives this summer, to battle the Jeep Wrangler. My near-Pavlovian response is starting to sound too rehearsed; thus, the apologies. 

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is unapologetic about what it is, however. Ford could have phoned this one in, slapping a Bronco name on a nondescript smaller crossover and laughing all the way to the bank. Instead, the Blue Oval has crafted a very likeable little trucklet, brimming with personality and practicality.

Chunky yet cute styling

You can’t blame people for thinking this is the larger Bronco. After all, Ford’s plastered those six letters at either end in big, contrasting white forms. Only the tailgate features the (smaller) “Sport” badging. The squared-off styling carries plenty of family DNA however, especially in this top-level Badlands trim. Opt for it and the whole package rides about an inch higher, for a total of 8.8 inches (223 mm) of ground clearance. Paired with short overhangs, the Bronco Sport certainly looks ready to tackle a trail or three.

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Sturdy roof rails and a safari-style stepped roof give the BroSpo more off-road cred than the rest of the class. Depending on configuration, the Bronco Sport can handle up to 600 lb (272 kg) of static weight on its roof.

With the wide-eyed headlights and chunky-sidewall tires, the Bronco Sport bucks the trend of angry-looking, aggressive design. Instead, it’s friendly and approachable.

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Practical, inviting interior

That welcoming feeling extends inside the Bronco Sport cabin as well. A quartet of air vents punctuate the dash, all in a similar shape to the taillights. Every dial is rubberized for ease of use, from the climate controls to the G.O.A.T. drive mode selector. The brown-and-black color scheme of our tester is courtesy of the confusingly-named Badlands Package ($2,595 / $3,000 CAD).  Rubberized flooring makes it easier to clean out post-adventure.

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Nothing on the options list will replace the smallish SYNC 3 infotainment system, unfortunately. It does what it needs to, but it’s the one area the Bronco Sport already feels behind the competition—a feeling compounded by the fact Ford has SYNC 4 in other models. At least the available 180-degree front camera offers a clear view of what might be lurking beyond the bumper.

The Bronco Sport may ride on a shortened Escape platform, but from up front, you wouldn’t know it. The view out over the flat hood is expansive, as is the head- and legroom. Those seats are mega-comfy, too.

When you crack open the rear doors and see how narrow the opening is, things become clearer. This 5’10” author has short legs, so I’d call the space for them “fine,” but lankier folks may feel cramped. Headroom is great though, on account of that stepped roofline. From the rear seats, passengers can reach three separate storage slots on the back and side of each front seat. Lifting the rear seats reveals small cubbies, while folding them flat allows for 65 cubic feet (1,840 liters) of storage. Thus configured, Ford says the Bronco Sport will swallow two mountain bikes. The all-up cargo capacity is 32.4 cubes (917 L).

The glass on the rear hatch can open independently, allowing for easy access to coolers and gear. Pop the whole thing open and you’ll find built-in tailgate spotlights, and even a bottle opener.

Smart driving manners

While I’d love to regale you with a story of the BroSpo conquering some gnarly mountain, it wasn’t meant to be. Truth be told, the worst the little Ford and I dealt with during our week together was a light trail. The Bronco Sport defeated it with a level of ease reserved for 12-year-olds playing Fortnite.

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All Bronco Sports feature standard AWD, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and one of two engines shared with the Escape. Lower trims use a 1.5-liter EcoBoost triple-cylinder, good for 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. Badlands models such as this add another cylinder, for a 2.0-liter worth 245 hp and 275 lb-ft. Those are very healthy figures for something this size, meaning the Bronco Sport easily handles highway overtakes and merging. The barn-door profile does make it thirsty, however, averaging 23 mpg according to the EPA. (Natural Resources Canada says 10.1 L/100 km.)

Just as important is how the Bronco handles going slowly, however. Badlands trims get a unique twin-clutch rear differential, allowing for torque vectoring and a locking differential. Combined with the G.O.A.T. terrain selection system, a 4WD locking button, and Trail Control (which limits speeds off-road), the Badlands offers a lot of tools for the off-road job. The terrain modes have noticeable differences between them, but again, I’ll need to get more thorough test with them another time.

On the road—where most buyers will still spend most of their time—the BroSpo takes advantage of its crossover roots. The soft suspension tuning and high-profile tires team up to soak up bumps big and small. There’s more wind and tire noise than an equivalent Escape, but it’s by no means uncouth. The steering is light, and on-tarmac handling limits are low; the Bronco Sport feels more at home in the dirt.

This much cool will cost you

Claiming all of this sub-compact capability doesn’t come cheap. The Badlands trim starts at $34,315 ($42,099 CAD), including destination. Adding on the Badlands Package brings in leather seating surfaces, powered front-row adjustments, a B&O sound system, dual-zone auto climate control, a wireless charger, and a few more goodies. With the Class II trailer package and Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ boxes ticked too, our tester rings up at $38,595 ($47,249 CAD). That’s a fat stack of cash for something this size, though to the BroSpo’s credit, there’s nothing else like it.

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The opening bid is a much easier pill to swallow. $28,315 ($34,099 CAD) nets the Bronco Sport Base; more than an Escape, but the standard AWD accounts for much of the difference. The Base—and every Bronco—includes automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and auto high-beams. Ford’s advanced driver assist suite (including adaptive cruise control) is unavailable on the Base, and optional on the rest. If you want the larger engine, only the Badlands will do.

Verdict: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Review

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is so much more than a slightly butched-up Escape. It has a real personality, with a driving feel that shines in the muddy stuff, but never punishes the driver for that preference when on clear roads. Inside, the Bronco Sport has a bunch of clever, practical touches, resulting in an SUV as happy to shuttle the family during the week as it is taking the crew camping on the weekend. It might be pricey, but the Bronco Sport proves a sub-compact crossover can be equal parts cute and ute. No apologies necessary.

Discuss this story at our Ford Bronco Sport forum.

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