2021 Ford Bronco Sport Review: The Yin to Ford Escape’s Yang
Though they have plenty in common, the Bronco Sport and the Escape are fraternal rather than identical twins.
Originally published on July 20, 2021
Two kinds of new Ford Broncos exist. The first is the version everyone is thirsty for, the midsize, body-on-frame, serious off-roader available with two or four doors, and a removable soft or hard top. This 2021 Ford Bronco draws heavily on heritage design cues from the 1960s and competes with the Jeep Wrangler.
The second kind of Ford Bronco is the one pictured. Meet the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, a small crossover SUV designed to tackle tougher terrain than most of its competitors. It shares a platform and powertrain with the Ford Escape, but is more rough-and-tumble and ready for adventure. Competitors include the Jeep Compass, Jeep Renegade in Trailhawk trim, and the Subaru Crosstrek.
With prices ranging from less than $30,000 in standard specification to more than $40,000 if you add every option, the 2021 Bronco Sport comes with standard all-wheel drive (AWD) and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. Trim levels include Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands, and Ford offered a now sold-out First Edition.
Ford provided a Bronco Sport Big Bend for this review. It included the Big Bend option package and Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+; the latter being an upgrade to the SUV’s standard advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). The price came to $32,205 including the destination charge.
CLASSIC SUV DESIGN MARRIED TO MODERN INNOVATIONS
Design and packaging make the Ford Bronco Sport compelling. From the classic styling cues evident in the grille and headlights to its safari-style stepped roofline and boxy greenhouse, Ford masterfully leverages retro design and lifestyle details to appeal to the adventurers in all of us.
To keep prices appealing, the Bronco Sport’s interior is composed primarily of plastic with rubber inserts in some locations. It cleans up quickly but looks and feels inexpensive. Better to give attention to the onboard technology and thoughtful details such as the dashboard storage shelf, zippered seatback storage pockets, and cargo area carabiner-style storage hooks.
Big Bend trim includes an 8-way power driver’s seat and easy-clean cloth upholstery. Ford wraps it around front seats lacking side bolsters, so when rounding every corner you can feel like you’re falling out of them. I had trouble finding the right mix of seat height and legroom, but the view of the hood and creased fenders through the large windshield was nothing short of delightful.
The rear doors don’t open very wide, and adults may find the room to be a little cramped but rear air conditioning vents aid comfort. Smartphone charging ports also ensure distraction from the shortage of space.
You can access the cargo area through the separate lift-up rear window or by opening the entire liftgate. Behind the back seats, the Bronco Sport holds 29 cu. ft. of cargo. Fold them down and it can swallow a generous 65.2 cu. ft. thanks in part to its boxy roofline. At night, floodlighting illuminates the cargo area.
NOTEWORTHY TECH FOR THE SMALL SUV CLASS
Ford equips every Bronco Sport with its Sync 3 infotainment system and an 8-inch touchscreen display. It includes smartphone integration, satellite radio, and connected services which include a 911 Assist feature and an available Wi-Fi hotspot. Big Bend trim offers a decent six-speaker stereo. For the available Bang & Olufsen upgrade, you’ll need Outer Banks or Badlands trim.
A navigation system with a breadcrumbing feature is an option. This means that if you head off-road, the navigation system will track your progress into the wilderness so you can easily get back out again without getting lost.
Ford bundles the navigation system with the Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ package. This option adds to the Big Bend’s standard ADAS with:
- Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability
- Lane-centering assistance
- Emergency steering support
In effect, this upgrade gives the Bronco Sport Level 2 semi-autonomous driving assist technology. However, you must have your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes on the road for them to work.
There were a few hiccups during testing in terms of false alerts and unwanted vehicle behavior, but generally speaking the Co-Pilot360 technologies are smooth, accurate, and refined in nature.
At the time this review was written, crash-test ratings for the Bronco Sport were unavailable.
DESIGNED TO GET DIRTY
Two turbocharged four-cylinder engines are available in the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. The Badlands version gets a powerful 2.0L delivering 250 hp and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks trim levels include a 1.5L cranking out 181 hp and 190 lb-ft.
An 8-speed automatic transmission and AWD system is standard. Ford also includes G.O.A.T. driving modes, but not for bragging rights as the ‘Greatest of All Time.’ G.O.A.T. Modes™ in the 2021 Bronco Sport signify “Goes Over Any Type of Terrain”. Only the Badlands has Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl settings, though, suggesting that other trims aren’t quite as capable of going over any type of terrain.
Ford also bolts into every Bronco Sport a High-Performance, Off-Road, Stability Suspension (H.O.S.S.) It’s great while you’re in the dirt, on crumbling urban streets, or blasting over speed humps. Otherwise, during most normal driving, the ride and handling are true to its name: a bit like a bucking bronco. As the SUV bounced and jounced its way down the road, the vague and over-assisted steering was more of a challenge than a convenience.
Thanks to plentiful torque low in the engine’s rev range, the turbocharged 1.5L feels more potent than its size might suggest. The 8-speed automatic is also satisfying, especially in a segment where many competitors use droning continuously variable transmissions (CVTs). You can even run this SUV in its Eco driving mode because it doesn’t drain the life out of the drivetrain.
A short but challenging off-road test demonstrated the Bronco Sport’s superb capabilities as a small crossover. However, the nose did scrape at one point. So if you’re planning to throw this SUV on serious terrain, consider getting the Badlands version with its full menu of G.O.A.T modes, more advanced twin-clutch AWD system, special suspension tuning, all-terrain tires, and metal front bash plates.
A PURPOSE-BUILT ACTIVE LIFESTYLE SUPPORT VEHICLE
There is more off-roading meat to the Bronco Sport sandwich than you might expect, making the small SUV’s price easier to swallow. This is a purpose-built active lifestyle support vehicle; whether you simply want to look adventurous or you actually live to play outdoors.
By making the Bronco Sport legitimately rugged, it’s not as satisfying to drive as other crossover SUVs on the daily commute. Ford could solve this by recalibrating the steering, suspension, and adding some front seat bolstering.
However, since the Bronco Sport’s role is to play yin to the pavement-friendly Ford Escape’s yang, perhaps the boisterous on-road driving dynamics are just a part of what gives it such a playful personality.