Ford Bronco Sport — A more affordable Bronco photo

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(July 11, 2021) Back in the last century Ford advertised that it had "a better idea." Its "better idea" campaigns usually came attached to a new vehicle such as the early Mustang. Now in the year 2021 Ford has a better idea — perhaps we should call it a "good" idea — build a smaller version of the all-new ultra-popular Bronco, with all the styling cues of the larger truck, but at a price point many people can afford. And call it the Bronco Sport.


While the country has waited with great anticipation for the much-delayed 2021 Bronco to make an appearance in showrooms, Ford has sold thousands of Bronco Sports, built on the compact Escape platform. The fact that the new Bronco, which hasn't been built since 1996, is now finally getting to dealerships should not slow sales of the Bronco Sport, which is a very good vehicle, but not in the same segment as the bigger off-road Bronco. photo

We drove a version of the Bronco Sport for a week and were approached on several occasions by people who were enthralled by the Bronco look (highlighted by the "Bronco" grille and its upright SUV stance) and wanted a closer look. We patiently answered questions that on a couple of times included a tour of the interior of our test car, a Bronco Sport Outer Banks Edition.

Built on the same platform as the Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport comes in five trim levels including a now-sold-out limited production First Edition model. Though all Bronco Sports feature 4X4 drive, the Badlands is fitted with more off-roading capability than the less expensive Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks models.

The Badlands gets the larger of the two engines offered in the Bronco Sport lineup, a 2.0-liter Ecoboost 4-cylinder putting out 250 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque.. The other trim levels get a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine.

Both engines are paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission that features various driving modes (Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, Mud/Ruts and Rock) and paddle shifters. Slipping into 4-wheel mode is as easy as turning a knob on the console.

Don't fret over driving a three-cylinder. It provides adequate motivation from its 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. It's the same engine used in the Escape, but we wish Ford had upped its game with a bigger base engine in a vehicle that is supposed to rise above the average compact SUV. Or Ford could have made the more satisfying 250-horsepower Ecoboost an option on the lower trims. That being said, the 1.5-liter three-banger can manage a 0-to-60 run in 8.2 seconds and finish off a quarter mile in 16.3 seconds @ 84 mph.

We found it acceptable with the light two-passenger, no-cargo loads we carried during our seven-day test run. And gas mileage is above average rated at 25 mpg city, 28 highway and 26 combined on regular gas.  The Outer Banks Edition proved very proficient on our usual rural road "test track" with surprisingly good cornering ability and steering that was spot on. At the same time it exhibited a very comfortable ride quality.

The bigger engine found in the Badlands trim has been measured at 5.9 seconds from 0-to-60. Other than the engine, the Big Bend and Outer Banks trim levels will be more cost effective for people who don't need all the off-road paraphernalia found on the Badlands. If you want the off-road stuff, the Badlands comes with such things as off-road suspension, all-terrain tires, under-body skid plates, front tow hooks, trail control (cruise control for off-roading), and a forward-looking 180-degree camera system.

Every model comes with all-wheel drive, a host of driver assists, and a spacious cabin. The utility part of its SUV moniker is put to good use, with enough interior space to carry two mountain bikes. Cargo space is good with a high ceiling and low load floor, which is rubberized and can be removed for cleaning. Luggage space with the seatback upright is 32.5 cubic feet expanding to 65.2 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded in the Big Bend and Outer Banks editions. Those numbers are reduced slightly to 29.4 and 60.6 in the Badlands.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Bronco Sport interior is lack of adult-sized legroom in the rear seats. Most crossovers this size have more useable passenger space in back.

The Bronco Sport starts at $28,485 in Base trim, but for most of the stuff people expect, the Big Bend starting at $30,945 brings such amenities as keyless ignition and entry, automatic climate control, foglight and heated mirrors. All Bronco Sports get front collision mitigation, lane keep assist, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.

For an outlay of $35,275 the Outer Banks adds remote ignition, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, digital instrument panel, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and a household power outlet. The Badlands with the off-road equipment starts at $37,940.

Ford seems to be aiming the Bronco Sport at such competitors as the Jeep Cherokee and Compass, Subaru Forester and Outback, Chevrolet Trailblazer, and Toyota RAV4 TRD —  and the Jeep Wrangler in Badlands guise.

2021 Bronco Sport


Base price: $28,485; as driven, $35,275
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder
Horsepower: 181 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 190 pound-feet @ 3,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 172.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,593 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 32.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 65.2 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 25 city, 28 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Jeep Cherokee, Subaru Forrester, Ford Escape

The Good
• Rugged styling
• Can be outfitted for off-roading
• Interior versatility

The Bad
• Limited rear-seat legroom

The Ugly
• Bigger engine available only in top trim