Ford fires the opening salvo in its Jeep utility war with the Bronco Sport crossover.
There is a war going on. In the utility vehicle sphere, that is. Jeep has long dominated the segment, picking up market share even as the segment expands. That’s left a world of competitors scrambling to catch up, with most fighting back with an assortment of on-road capable crossovers.
On the other hand, the Ford Motor Company has a different vision. Specifically, the blue oval intends to take the battle to the heart of Jeep, perhaps in a way that no other manufacturer will do. Notably, Ford has a trio of Bronco models planned with electrified variants certain to follow.
The first model is the Bronco Sport, a direct competitor to the Jeep Compass. The second model is the Bronco SUV, which will battle the vaunted Jeep Wrangler. The third model is the Bronco pickup truck, itself tasked with taking on the Jeep Gladiator.
2021 Ford Bronco Sport Review
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is a compact all-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle with room for five. Available in five trims (including a now sold-out $38,500 First Edition), this model costs from $26,820 to $32,820, plus a $1,495 freight charge. Ford offers two engine choices and one automatic transmission.
For 2021, the Bronco Sport is all-new. This is the first time we’ve seen a Bronco-badged model since the Bronco was discontinued in 1996, ending a 31-year run.
Make no mistake about it: Bronco Sport is an eye-catching and head-turning model. It has the layout of a traditional, rugged SUV, so right there is a big difference. This means the baby Bronco has a long hood, upright pillars, and squared corners.
It was hardly designed with aerodynamics at the forefront, thus the difference. Then again, most high-profile vehicles won’t win coefficient-of-drag honors.
The baby Bronco’s front fascia is particularly interesting as it has the letters “BRONCO” dominating the grille. That can be a bit confusing to some as the “BRONCO” designation describes the family of vehicles, not the specific model. Otherwise, if you head to the rear, you’ll find “Bronco Sport” prominently fixed to the tailgate.
Other factors that contribute to the Bronco Sport’s unique look are its rounded headlamps with LED accent lighting. It represents somewhat of a throwback design with modern touches, in particular the accent lights.
The linear profile with the tall roof pillars, the even beltline, and large wheel arches project strength. From the rear, the look is just as imposing with the vertical taillamps serving as sentries. Overall, the Bronco Sport’s stance is strong, evocative, and neo-classical.
As with any model, there are some differences in equipment and trim pieces. Active grille shutters, which aid in aerodynamics, are standard. Also, all trims come with LED headlamps and taillamps, configurable daytime running lights, and liftgate floodlights.
Most trims come with 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, but 18-inch wheels with all-terrain tires are available. Bash plates are included with the Badlands model.
Ford developed the Bronco Sport with customizers in mind. Indeed, a survey of the accessories available is nothing short of impressive. These items include door moldings, fender flares, hood protectors, a hood scoop, splash guards, bumper protectors, roof crossbars, and spoilers.
Further, Ford makes available side window deflectors, a tie-down shackle, a wheel lock kit, and trailer towing accessories. Ford accessories are dealer-installed, not factory added.
Just as the Bronco Sport serves up a muscular and traditional exterior, much of the same can be said about how the interior was crafted. This is not your typical crossover – Ford designed it to do the dirty work and that’s why features such as texturized rubber mats, wipeable vinyl, and plastics reign.
Cloth seats are standard; you’ll find two-tone leather-trimmed seats on the upper trim models.
There is a bit of a utilitarian vibe going on as well. The dashboard panel seems inspired by Ford trucks with upright and pronounced vents at the corners. Take note of the cell phone storage shelf between the infotainment and climate controls, it’s one of a few modern touches that make the interior livable for 21st-century drivers.
On paper, the Bronco Sport seats five. In reality, it succeeds in that endeavor. We credit the roomy back seat with delivering enough space for three adults, even if two is your preference. The tall roof pillars help too as they provide the additional headspace that comes in handy for tall individuals.
The cargo space measures 32.5 cubic feet behind the second row and 65.2 cubic feet with the second row folded. That’s slightly below the industry average but within the range of most models.
Ford equips the Bronco Sport with the usual amenities – full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, and air conditioning. Amenities such as a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, and an 8-way power driver’s seat are optional or standard with the top trims.
Ford equips every Bronco Sport with its Co-Pilot360 suite of driver technology. This means a pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot information system with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping system, and automatic-beam headlamps come with every trim.
Ford also supplies an upgrade to the suite with a CoPilot360 Assist+ package available on all but the Base trim. Here, this bundle includes adaptive cruise control with full stop and go along with lane centering and evasive steering assist. Ford bundles voice-activated navigation to round out the package.
There are a few other tech features available including standard auto hold and post-collision braking. Standard with the Outer Banks trim are rain-sensing wipers and a reverse sensing system. Trail control and a 180-degree forward camera system with split-view and a washer are standard with the Badlands.
Ford supplies the Bronco Sport with a 6-speaker audio system, an 8-inch touch-screen display, SYNC 3 infotainment, two USB ports, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone compatibility. A 4.2-inch screen in the instrument cluster comes standard.
Among the upgrades are additional USB ports, a 110-volt power outlet, and a 6.5-inch instrument cluster display. Also, a 10-speaker B&O sound system with HD Radio technology is available with the two top trims. Lastly, a wireless charging pad is bundled within a package reserved for the Big Bend, Outer Banks, and Badlands trims.
Powertrains, Performance, and Off-Road Credentials
To no one’s surprise, Ford offers a pair of its “EcoBoost” or turbocharged engines with the Bronco Sport. For more than the past decade, we have seen turbos roll out across the Ford product range. There are some naturally aspirated engines, but most come boosted.
The standard engine is a 1.5-liter three-cylinder. Before you get your panties twisted in a wad, you should know that this one bangs out 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque, with the first number rivaling what some sizable four-cylinder models produce. The torque values are strong and may have you forgetting what is under the hood.
Engine choice number two is reserved exclusively for the bad-to-the-bone Badlands edition. Here, Ford serves up a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque.
Those are strong numbers for the most off-road capable of the four trims. Both engines send power to the wheels by utilizing an 8-speed automatic transmission.
It is easy to forget the Bronco Sport’s limitations until you put it through the paces. Our Outer Banks trim seemed appropriate given that we are in North Carolina and the Outer Banks has been a favorite Tarheel State fishing spot for us in recent years.
That said, it is still a four-hour drive east to where we’d want to go, therefore a trip wasn’t in the plans this time. But Maxim did send a writer there to put it through the paces.
Even without the sand, we managed to crisscross one of our favorite light- to mid-duty off-road areas that are replete with gravel roads, grass, and some mud. Notably, this is where the Bronco Sport’s G.O.A.T. – Goes Over Any Type of Terrain – terrain management system comes in handy.
Controlled by a dial at the base of the center console, the baby Bronco features normal, ECO, sport, slippery, and sand modes. Choose the Badlands and this model gains mud/ruts and rock crawl modes.
Ford may call the Bronco Sport four-wheel drive, but it is not. Instead, each model features its all-wheel-drive system. The first three trims split power from the front to the rear wheels as needed, while the Badlands and First Edition model have a twin-clutch rear differential that’s able to send all of the torque rearward to either wheel. Get stuck in the muck and this is the mode you’ll want.
Ground clearance measures 7.8/9 inches in the first three trims and 8.6/8 inches in the Badlands. Maximum water fording is 17.7 inches to 23.6 inches in the Badlands.
Ford doesn’t publish the breakover numbers, but the Approach angle is 21.7 degrees (Base/Big Bend/Outer Banks) and 30.0 degrees (Badlands), while the Departure angle comes in at 30.4 (Base/Big Bend/Outer Banks) and 32.8 degrees (Badlands). Thus, the Ford is right in the thick of things with competing Subaru and Jeep models.
We would have loved more time and places to go with the Bronco Sport, but that wasn’t to be. Our test model came with the standard engine which supplied sufficient power, although nothing spectacular. On the road, it sprinted wherever we needed it to go with the transmission shifting fairly seamlessly, except when it was cold.
We’re intrigued by the possibilities of the upgraded engine and think it is the better choice. That said, the turbo-three acquits itself, handling most tasks at hand with ease.
Underpinned by the same platform as the Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport is clearly the burlier of the two. It’s still a crossover, but like the Subaru Outback, these are the only models in the segment with standard all-wheel drive.
Other compact crossovers not mentioned already include the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX3 and CX30, and the Buick Envision.
None of these, however, match the off-road capabilities of the Subaru, Jeep, or Ford products.
We are patiently waiting for the Bronco SUV to arrive in the coming months, but we can see where the Bronco Sport will interest a core group of enthusiasts, particularly for its laudable off-road capabilities. Certainly, the $6,000 spread between the four trims is intriguing. Likewise, the baby Bronco’s starting price makes it a strong contender.
Moving beyond the Base model to the second-level Big Bend brings in appearance upgrades and available packages including upgraded driver-assist technologies.
But for the serious off-roader, the top-of-the-line Badlands trim nets both the larger engine and additional off-road modes, including mud/ruts and rock crawl. Here, your main dilemma is whether to opt for the Badlands or wait for the Bronco SUV. Either way, rocky terrain beckons!
2021 Ford Bronco Sport Specifications
|2021 Bronco Sport
|$26,820 to $38,500 (plus $1,495 freight charge)
|Engine No. 1
|1.5-liter, turbo I3
|181 @ 6,000 RPMs
|190 @ 3,000 RPMs
|Engine No. 2
|2.0-liter, turbo I4
|245 @ 5,500 RPMs
|275 @ 3,000 RPMs
|Curb Weight (pounds)
|3,467 to 3,707
|Head room (f,r — inches)
|Leg room (f,r — inches)
|Shoulder room (f,r — inches)
|Hip room (f,r — inches)
|Storage (cubic feet)
|Gross vehicle weight (pounds)
|Fuel Tank (gallons)
|EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway)
|25/28/26 (1.5L); 21/26/23 (2.0L)
|Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico
2021 Ford Bronco Sport exterior photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved. Interior photos courtesy of the Ford Motor Company.