No, it’s not the hard-core Bronco,
but this Bronco Sport is all the Bronco most drivers will ever need.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Pricing: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport
Base price (Big Bend trim): $34,199
Options: $850 Ford CoPilot360 Assist+; $250 floor liners with carpeted mats; $150 cargo mat; $600 trailer tow package; $200 cargo management system; $1,300 Big Bend package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $39, 549
In case you’ve been living off the grid and haven’t seen the news, social media and TV ads, Ford has resurrected the Bronco name. There’s the Bronco, a true 4×4 brute that will hold Jeep Wrangler’s feet to the fire and give it some much-needed competition after a decades-long monopoly on the consumer off-roader category. And then there’s this Bronco Sport, a milder soft-roader that does a lot of things really well. And as you’ll see, it’s probably all the Bronco most people need.
Well, Ford has a winner on their hands in this department – in my humble opinion – and many others’ opinions it seems. The blocky, rugged design takes a few elements from the Land Rover playbook – with some of its angles and the raised “Safari” roofline – and the grille looks downright menacing with its parallel lines fused to the round headlights (in particular the super-cool LED signature lighting) and the giant embossed BRONCO badge. The rough-and-tough styled 17-inch wheels, squared-off rear end and LED tail lights complete the package.
The overall styling definitely manages to channel some Bronco spirit into this Ford Escape-based crossover and I really like it. It’s inoffensive, but it’s not bland – the Bronco Sport gets a ton of attention at rest and on the road. People were walking over to check it out and people would nod and give me the thumbs-up. Interestingly, it seems to appeal to all ages and both genders equally. That’s a good sign for future sales.
I often had to remind onlookers that this is not the “hard-core” Bronco, but the Bronco Sport – and their response would inevitably be something along the lines of “Oh, well, it’s still really cool!”
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can pick from colours far more playful than this vehicle’s Carbonized Grey, and there are a variety of cool wheel options as well.
It’s not a big interior, but feels more spacious than it is thanks to the high roof. Even in the lower-roofed front section, I had plenty of head room to spare.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll find a somewhat cheap feeling interior. The hard plastics look a bit low-rent and the fact that it comes standard with a plastic steering wheel(!) feels downright rental-car stingy in a nearly $40,000 vehicle. Note that my vehicle’s optional Big Bend package includes a leather-wrapped wheel. A good portion of the dash is made up of a textured rubber-type material which made it feel rugged to me but basically everything else is hard plastic.
Gauges are standard analog ones, separated by a digital driver information screen.
The heated “easy to clean” fabric seats were not to my liking. I don’t say this very often, but I didn’t find them very comfortable and I think I would start disliking them strongly on a longer road trip. The cushions are quite flat and harder than I like, and strangely for a vehicle that is being marketed as an off-roader by Ford (regardless of how you feel about that), the bolstering left a lot to be desired – as in there is virtually none for the passengers’ thighs and kidneys. Which means during more aggressive driving on or off road, you’ll be feeling like you’re rolling out of your seat.
The dash features the SYNC touchscreen system – a clean, straight-forward user interface that handles your navigation, phone, sound system and vehicle settings. I always appreciate that Ford adds some hard buttons and knobs to make accessing the major functions easier to do without taking your eyes off the road.
Below that is an automatic climate control system. The smaller sunroof overhead (it’s not panoramic) is a function of the raised roof above the second row.
There’s a solid selection of driver assistance technology here – blind-spot monitoring, a rear-view camera with rear parking sensors, automatic high beam lighting, lane-keeping system, pre-collision assist, evasive steering assist and adaptive cruise control.
While it seems I have picked on the Bronco Sport’s somewhat entry-level interior, it should be noted it can be dressed up considerably in higher trims with two-tone interiors, leather upholstery and nicer trim.
That aforementioned raised roof here makes for a vary spacious rear seating area. Head room is vast, and almost makes up for the lack of leg room. At 5’10”, sitting behind my own driving position, I had perhaps an inch of leg room to spare, so taller passengers aren’t going to be thrilled in the back seat for extended periods.
Rear passengers get adjustable air vents, as well as USB-A and a USB-C charging ports. The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with cupholders, and there are two sets of anchors for child seats.
I found the occasional nook and cranny around the cabin handy – there is a rubberized storage slot in the middle of the centre stack, as well as an open bin at the bottom where you’ll find the wireless charging and three power ports – a 12V plug as well as USB-A and USB-C plugs. There is a reasonably useful bin under the armrest lid, as well as a 12V plug.
The greatest utility is obviously found in the surprisingly spacious (833L) cargo area. You can flip up the glass separately allowing you to quickly drop something in or grab something out of your trunk. Why don’t more manufacturers adopt this feature?
The rear seats split 60-40 and fold down, making a large 1,846L space. I really liked that the same rubber mat material that protects the trunk floor is included for the backs of the rear seats and can be snapped on, making for a large, continuous protected cargo surface if you fold the seats down.
My vehicle’s optional cargo management system includes a solid plastic partition that can act as a parcel shelf, which effectively divides your trunk in half vertically. That really reduces the usefulness when it comes to big cargo items. However it’s potentially very useful for camping trips, etc. when you want a divider for your many smaller items.
The shelf folds in half, and can also be stored on the trunk floor to get it out of the way. And finally, you can also secure it so it sticks partially out of the trunk and, supported by fold-out legs, it becomes a little work surface, picnic or prep table. Of note, the divider/shelf/table is very light and can be removed completely as well. Not sure how often this would get used, but I love the concept.
Under the Hood
The base engine is a 1.5L turbocharged 3-cylinder, putting out 181 HP and 190 lb.ft of torque. It’s mated to an 8-speed automatic and an all-wheel drive system that Ford adorably refers to as a 4×4 system (it’s not).
Ford rates this combination at 9.3/8.3 L.100 km (city/highway). We averaged 8.4 L/100 km without making any effort to drive economically, which is not bad at all.
Because my review sample was outfitted with the optional towing package, it can tow up to 2,000 pounds.
Ford’s remote starters are among the very best I’ve ever used, and they respond almost instantly. The Bronco Sport’s starter was appreciated on some of the bitter cold mornings we had it for.
Although this vehicle had the base engine, it provides enough oomph off the line and for around town. It can even pass comfortably at higher speeds, although once you’re on the move, the power isn’t going to blow anyone’s hair back. Still, it’s adequate and is likely all the engine most drivers will need in most driving situations.
The transmission is exceptionally smooth and I found it to be very refined. Gears are selected with a rotary dial, and there’s a Low mode.
I was surprised by the outstanding handling characteristics of the Bronco Sport. It’s playful and downright athletic, proving to be fun around town and absolutely willing to be thrown into curves and corners. Add to that an incredibly tight turning radius which also makes the vehicle easy to live with when it comes to parking – and obviously doing mild off-roading.
The trade-off here is that the ride is quite firm and jiggly, often giving a tiny bit of that old-school 4×4 feeling and it got a bit bouncy on the highway.
The Bronco Sport has G.O.A.T. modes – that stands for Goes Over Any Type of Terrain. There’s a mode selector that allows you to choose between a 5 modes which are more for traction levels than actual terrain – there’s Normal, Eco, Sport, Sand and Slippery modes. Not really off-roading stuff, but whatever. Upper trim levels add a couple of additional G.O.A.T. modes.
Noise levels are reasonably well dampened, and it’s quiet enough around town. The exception is the nasty sound the engine makes under load. Step on it, and it gets buzzy as 3-cylinders are by their nature not balanced. On the highway, the cabin felt like it was a bit noisy as well, although this isn’t the most aerodynamic ride in the world so that’s understandable.
Visibility out of the Bronco Sport is pretty good. There’s a chunky hood in front of the driver that lets you know where the front end is at – that’s important if you’re doing any kind of mild off-roading. The rear view is decent, and the rear headrests can be folded down when not in use, which helps out too. I’d say the biggest sticking point is the 3/4 pillars – they’re chunky and can hamper some shoulder-checking, but there’s always the blind-spot monitoring system to help you out.
I really liked the pockets on the side of the front seats – a great place for rear passengers to store phones and always know where they are. Speaking of storage, the map pockets on the backs of the front seats are padded affairs, and they zip up for securing things. And there is plenty of daisy-chain webbing sewn to the lower portion of the seatbacks, allowing you to clip in and store various adventure equipment there. These are very thoughtful touches.
With the rear tailgate open, if you look up, you’ll find two rotatable, pivotable LED tailgate floodlights. They’re switchable in the trunk and provide excellent illumination for camping, etc. An added bonus – one of the tailgate latch points is a bottle opener – love it!
My biggest nitpicks were perhaps the things that are missing here. For a vehicle that is essentially $40,000, I would want a dual-zone climate control system and heated rear seats, and probably a power lift-gate as well.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was middling. She said it was actually fun and very easy to drive, but after a few times behind the wheel, she said it started feeling like a cheaper vehicle in terms of the interior.
I agree. I loved the Bronco Sport off the bat, but living with it for a week showed some issues. The ride could be smoother, the front seats absolutely should be more comfortable, and there were a few things missing that I’d expect to be included at this price level.
Ford’s ads show the Bronco Sport almost exclusively off the pavement, but I suspect the vast majority of them will never leave the comfort of asphalt roads. That’s fine and frankly, that’s what this vehicle is best at anyway. Sure, it will handle some soft-roading but nothing major, and it does a great job in almost every department. It’s fun to drive, it’s got plenty of utility for its size, it has character and it’s a nice blend of the modern and the rugged. It’s a better Escape and it’s the right Bronco for most people. I suspect Ford will sell a lot of them.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Ford Canada.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.