The Bronco Sport is the Rugged Daily Driver You Didn’t Know You Needed
Yes, the Bronco Sport. Baby Bronco. Foal. Whatever you want to call it—it’s the crossover SUV that most of us rolled our eyes at during the initial Bronco unveiling.
It was obvious from the beginning that Ford wasn’t going to put all the residual hype to waste after the Bronco reveal. The place of a smaller, less capable crossover that retained the Bronco nameplate seemed to make sense from a business perspective, especially since it meant Ford could draw a crowd of buyers beyond just enthusiasts.
I doubt Ford considered how confusing the Bronco lineup’s naming scheme would be. What makes matters worse is the fact that the “big Bronco” we’ve been patiently waiting for has yet to hit the streets (and won’t for a good while), while the Bronco Sport has enjoyed sales since Q1 this year. The Sport also shares quite a few design elements with its big brother, which has caused even more confusion among the general public.
You would be forgiven for thinking the Bronco Sport is nothing more than a Ford Escape wearing some war paint (both are built on the exact-same C2 crossover-SUV platform). While there may be validity in that claim when talking about lower trims, I promise you: the top-trim Bronco Sport Badlands is nothing to scoff over.
Admittedly, the standard Bronco Sport is a bit meek. The base engine is a turbocharged inline 3-cylinder which produces a lackluster 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. It’s enough for around town, but by no means fit for traveling the beaten path.
However, the top trim of the Bronco Sport changes all of that. Called the Badlands trim after the National Park in South Dakota, it brings many major upgrades over the standard model. Even though all wheel drive is standard, the Badlands gets the whole nine yards for increased off-road performance: it has an upgraded motor in the form of Ford’s 2.0L 250-hp, 277 lb-ft Ecoboost inline 4-cylinder, a 4×4 rear drive unit pulled right out of the Focus RS, optional Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires, an upgraded off-road suspension, and 7 standard drive modes.
The drive modes are pretty interesting actually– Ford calls them “GOAT” modes, meaning “goes over any terrain”, and each setting adjusts power delivery, max torque at individual wheels, and more depending on the environment. Apart from your regular Sport, Eco and Normal modes, the Bronco Sport has modes for Mud/Ruts, Rock Crawling, Sand, and Wet terrain.
For added off-road adroitness, there is also a locking rear differential, Trail Control (cruise control for off-road), and a 4WD lock that keeps all four wheels turning at the same rotational speed no matter the drive condition.
Based on the way Ford is advertising the Bronco Sport Badlands, you’d be led to believe it performs similarly to the normal Bronco off the beaten path. As such, I wanted to get a feel for the performance and handling of the Badlands to see for myself whether or not Ford was bluffing a bit.
So, I took the Badlands to an off-road path in central-Connecticut and put it through its paces. With minimal discomfort the Bronco Sport takes uneven gravel like a champ, but I was even more surprised to see just how well it handled on legitimate rock paths. The car only has about 9 inches of ground clearance, but with the undercarriage completely protected by skid plates you don’t have to worry too much about knocking anything loose. Although the steering is a touch floaty, the Bronco Sport feels confident and planted at all times and for the most part—I feel like I was able to push way beyond the thresholds I thought it had before my drive.
So the Bronco Sport is a capable off-road crossover… Fine. But what about on the road? Surely a majority of Bronco Sports will spend most of their life on asphalt, so are the knobby all-terrains and off-road suspension tune a sacrifice worth making for on-road travel? I don’t think so at all. The tire noise on the highway is my biggest complaint, but it’s definitely not a dealbreaker in my book. Meanwhile, the suspension tune in normal mode is extremely comfortable, better even than the Chevy Trailblazer RS I reviewed a few months ago (a car that is specialized for road use).
This smooth engine has plenty of zip for city and highway driving and also works with a responsive 8-speed automatic transmission. I would say one of the Bronco Sport’s downfalls is its fuel-economy: Official figures for the 2.0-liter-equipped Badlands are as low as 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway (23 mpg combined). I can attest to those numbers’ accuracy.
Inside the Bronco Sport, a slight step-up is needed to enter the quiet, nicely designed interior. Right off the bat you’ll notice there’s no Ford logo on the steering wheel—instead there is a bucking Bronco. In fact, the only blue oval on the whole car is on the rear hatch. The front seats offer good side and thigh support and there’s decent room for four or five adults, legroom gets a little bit tight in the back. My favorite detail about the interior is the abundance of storage space: Attached to the backs of the front seats are padded pouches and customizable MOLLE webbing, and the bottom cushions of the backseats actually lift up to reveal a decently sized watertight storage cubby.
My test Ford Bronco Badlands had a solid, long-lasting sort of character. I got plenty of looks driving around, which I think is due in part to the Bronco’s media presence but also given the car’s rough-and-ready, adventurous attitude over a more ordinary crossover. In short, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport delivers big time on what it promises, and though it can get into the mid-30s for a highly-optioned Badlands model, I think you get what you pay for and then some.
Special thanks to Dante DiMauro (@oh7_eleven) for taking all photographs featured in this article.