This Crossover Is No Ordinary Escape

Ford Bronco Sport Full Overview

Bronco’s love has so far proved unconditional. But expanding the family and attaching the Bronco name to the crossover cousin of the Ford Escape caused unrest from the start. The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport compact SUV has a lot more to prove and a lot of hearts to win.

But Ford plans for the Bronco Sport to be a more rugged, square counterpart to the more car-like Escape, with the latter’s sculpted sides and tapered roofline designed to appeal to city drivers. And while the Escape and Bronco Sport share the same new car-based front-wheel drive architecture and about 80 percent of its parts, engineers gave the Bronco Sport standard all-wheel drive and added serious off-road features to further differentiate the two SUVs.

With deep curiosity, I climbed into the passenger seat of an early 2021 Bronco Sport at an off-road park in Holly, Michigan, outside Detroit. Ford allowed a small group of media to experience the vehicle, which goes on sale this fall. The existing vehicles are prototypes, and we are not allowed to drive them. Ford puts its own people behind the wheel, product developers and engineers who have spent years working on vehicles. We are also not allowed to review the interior, as it is a pre-production specification and therefore not a final representation of what the customer will see.

All of this means we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the full drive review, but for now, we can give an initial impression of the Bronco Sport’s passenger seat at the new state park with multiple trails to test its durability. Here’s what we learned:

The Bronco Sport Badlands Lives Up to Its Name

The Bronco Sport I drove was Badlands, one of five trim levels (same series name largely reflects the one used for the Bronco). The Badlands is the top trim, excluding the 2021 First Edition, which is a one-off limited edition celebrating the relaunch of the iconic nameplate and includes almost everything from the other trims as standard equipment. The Badlands took the features offered in the mid-level Big Bend trim and added parts to make it more off-road capable.

Badlands also replaced the 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission with the more powerful 2.0-liter I-4 EcoBoost turbocharged engine and 10-speed automatic transmission. You can’t get a manual transmission on the Bronco Sport.

Enhanced AWD System

There are other key improvements. While all-wheel drive is standard on all Bronco Sport models, the Badlands features a unique system with dual-clutch rear axle for torque vectoring. It also has a unique off-road suspension and uses 28.5-inch all-terrain tires with 17-inch wheels.

Other mechanical differentiators include a metal bash plate, front tow hook, and a camera to see what lies ahead on the trail when the vehicle reaches the top of a hill and the driver cannot see the trail.

Cruise Control for Tracks

Many buyers are familiar with Hill Descent Control, software designed to slowly descend hills at a controlled speed. The Bronco Sport has Trail Control which functions as a low-speed off-road cruise control and works uphill, downhill or on plains. My driver set it to 4 mph and took his foot off the pedal. The Sport maintained a constant speed and went through a 25-degree incline, according to data on the off-road information cluster.

The new state off-road park in Holly, Michigan, offers a variety of trails with rock, sand, and water obstacles. There are lots of loose surfaces and hills with slopes of up to 19 degrees. The center differential locks automatically in off-road mode to evenly divide the power between the front and rear (Badlands has seven different terrain modes). The driver pushed the button to lock the rear axle clutch as well, and the SUV never budged while navigating the terrain. The rear lock can be activated quickly in any mode.

From U.S MotorcycleTrend SUV of the Year testing, I’ve seen a lot of crossover struggle on smooth, muddy sand, and many had to backtrack downhill for a second try or be pulled out of deep, slick grain. But the Bronco Sport had no trouble and passed a test where you stop halfway up an incline, let it settle in the sand, and then continue climbing. Equipped with Hill Hold, the Bronco stays in place on the hill automatically—no need to drive on two legs.

Bronco Sport Succeeded

My driver took the Sport through the smaller waterhole than the body-on-frame Bronco fills at a rapid rate. But that’s fine; the two vehicles are complementary, not competitors, and are meant to offer different levels of capability. The Sport is not designed for deep water snorkelling like the Bronco.

The ride on the Bronco Sport was a bit short, but it was impressive. This isn’t the Escape-based poseur SUV some feared. The urban-dwelling soldier looking to get away on the weekends will most likely find that he can handle more than he’s asked to. We look forward to getting behind the wheel to put it through its paces right, on the road and off, for a more complete assessment.

Yes, there are haters who refuse to accept that the unibody SUV bears the Bronco name, but after spending some time in it, we can appreciate the strategy behind the move to create an even bigger Bronco family. And we can see shoppers entering Ford showrooms like moths attracted to the Bronco headlights but walking away with the Bronco Sport if it better meets their needs.

Looks good! More information?

Ford Bronco Sport 2021
PRICE $28,155-$39,995
LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass SUV, 4-door
MACHINE 1.5L/181-hp/190-lb-ft 12-valve DOHC turbo I-3; 2.0L/245-hp/275-lb-ft 16-valve DOHC turbo I-4
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
ROAD WEIGHT 3,500-3,650 pounds (approx.)
WHEELBASE 105.1 inch
L x W x H 172.7 x 74.3 x 67.9-69.1 inches
0-60 MPH 7.0-8.5 seconds (approximate MT)
EPA FUEL ECON Not tested
FOR SALE December 2020

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