2021 Ford Bronco Sport First Drive
Small in stature but big on off-road fun!
When rumors started swirling about the return of Bronco, off-road enthusiasts everywhere began getting excited. Then, news of a smaller "baby Bronco" emerged, and the four-wheeling world was cautiously optimistic about what this pint-sized Bronco may be. And then it happened: The Bronco family was fully revealed, and that optimism about what was shown to be the all-new 2021 Ford Bronco Sport changed into a sort of cautious enthusiasm. While it looked the part and certainly had the right specs on paper, would the Bronco Sport actually be as capable of wearing the Bronco badge as Ford claimed it would be? Well, we were finally treated to a small taste of what the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport has to offer, and we can say this, it certainly does not disappoint.
Talking with others in the industry, it sounds like those of us in Southern California got the least amount of time with the new 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. Nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed what time we did get.
Bronco Sport Highway Drive
Our street drive portion consisted of about 10 miles of two-lane road and about the same on the highway. Thankfully, we were able to drive both the 1.5L EcoBoost 3-cylinder engine in an Outer Banks trim along with the larger 2.0L EcoBoost I-4 in a First Edition. Producing 250 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, the 2.0L EcoBoost-equipped was quite spunky on the road, especially in the Sport drive mode. More interesting, however, was the base 1.5L EcoBoost three-cylinder engine. Producing just 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque, the smaller of the two EcoBoosts propels the 3,500-pound Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks models plenty adequately. We had no issues accelerating, merging or passing, and really never found ourselves wanting for more power. While the 2.0L EcoBoost is quite a bit of fun to drive, the 1.5L will be more than enough for most people.
Both engines are mated to the same eight-speed automatic transmission. Badlands and First Edition models with the 2.0L EcoBoost get SelectShift with flappy paddles and an auxiliary transmission oil cooler. We found the shifting to be smooth and efficient in all drive modes, and the transmission was seemingly always in the correct gear for the task at hand. All Bronco Sports are all-wheel drive, though the system has a front-wheel-drive bias when four-wheel traction isn't needed. That said, even the powerful 2.0L EcoBoost-equipped models accelerated briskly from a stop, in a straight line, without any perceived torque steer.
Highway ride was quite nice, as well, in both the base-model Bronco Sport and the HOSS suspension-equipped First Edition. For a vehicle in its class, the Bronco Sport was exceptionally quiet on the highway, as well, with very little in the way of road noise entering the cabin. The stereo worked great, controls were all placed in reasonable positions, and we quickly settled into a comfortable seating and driving position.
Off-Roading the Bronco Sport
While it's great that the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is so good on the highway, where it really needed to impress was in the dirt. And we're glad to report that it certainly didn't disappoint. While other groups got long and difficult off-road trails, deep sand dunes, and dusty autocross courses, our cohort drove approximately 10 miles of dirt powerline roads with one impressive descent down a sandstone slab and a short bit of sand wash.
That all said, the First Edition with the big engine and the HOSS suspension was definitely the most fun on the trails. The suspension works great at soaking up the bumps and ruts and is even quite capable when it comes to getting a little speed or air (whether intentional or not). Note we said "a little." The Bronco Sport's traction control system and GOAT modes work fantastically well at keeping the pint-sized SUV moving forward when traction is minimal.
If frequent trips into the backcountry are on your itinerary, we would highly suggest opting for a Badlands model (sorry, First Edition Sports are sold out) so that you get the HOSS suspension, bigger tires, and GOAT drive modes. The base Bronco Sport along with Outer Banks and Big Bend models don't come standard with any of these features. Don't get us wrong, we did the toughest parts of our short off-road journey (the sandstone hill and sand wash) in an Outer Banks model, and it performed admirably. It's just that having those tools in the box makes off-roading the Bronco Sport much more enjoyable.
Here's the deal, folks. If you live an active outdoor lifestyle, say you enjoy off-roading, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, hiking, camping, or just simply being one with nature and you don't need the larger power or space of a pickup or fullsize SUV, then the Bronco Sport may just be the right vehicle for you. The 2021 Bronco Sport is quiet and comfortable on the highway, has a pretty solid EPA fuel economy rating (even for the 2.0L), and is more than capable enough to get you deep off the grid. Add in the fact that there's enough space inside to store two full-size mountain bikes and that there's an enormous catalog of factory-backed aftermarket parts already, and the Bronco Sport makes a case that's tough to argue against. Sure, crossing the Rubicon trail might be a challenge, but that's not what the Bronco Sport was built for. The Bronco Sport is going to get you deep into the woods on Friday, let you have some fun, then take you back to your board meeting on Monday. And it'll do it all in comfort and style.