In our test drive of the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, the smaller of the two new Bronco family vehicles, we find that a name alone does not make an icon.
The Bronco Sport unlike the larger Bronco is a car-based crossover utility that shares its underlying architecture with the Ford Escape. It provides a less expensive and smaller alternative to buyers who like the Bronco’s rugged image.
Our tester was a mid-grade Bronco Sport Big Bend which as tested came in at $32,400. All-wheel drive comes standard on the crossover which is slightly smaller than its Escape sibling with 1-inch less of wheelbase and some 6-inches lass in overall length.
Styling is butch and boxy, singing many of the same rugged and retro tunes as the larger Bronco brother. Short overhangs, lots of black plastic cladding and a Bronco DNA in its facial features are the main keys to its look.
The rear three-quarter view brings in other cues from Range Rover models and features like LED lighting all-around make it a modern take on the retro theme of the 1960’s Ford Bronco.
The interior is an upgraded variation of the Ford Escape with revised dash and door panels. Seats are the same uncomfortable punishment devices from the Escape which lack support and adjustment range. They were covered in a nice material that was pleasing to look at however.
The rear seat manages to be more comfortable in spite of being almost short of legroom. It has a reasonably high seating position and can be folded flat to allow for a generous rubber lined cargo area.
Powering the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbocharged “EcoBoost” engine which employs a myriad of tools to make it highly efficient such as cylinder deactivation to run on 2-cylinders at coast, dual fuel injection, variable valve timing and an annoying auto-start stop system.
With all-wheel drive and its 8-speed automatic transmission we found the powertrain to be lacking refinement and enjoyability at almost every touch point, shuddering to a start and stop, shifting in a jerky manner and sounding quite odd.
At 181 horsepower an 190 pound-feet of torque it however does accelerate briskly, it’s just not that fun to live with as it tends to be very thirsty. You put up with all the fuel saving annoyances only to get an EPA estimated 25 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. Our actual observed fuel economy was only 23 mpg.
The final letdown was the handling and driving experience off-road. This is a Bronco in name, but really it behaves like a Ford Focus with a lift kit. Roll it down a bumpy trail or a washboard road and the body, interior and suspension rattles and vibrates in a way that makes you feel you should not be doing it. At best, this Bronco should be kept on the pavement.
Our big takeaway here is that Ford really didn’t put as much spirit and effort into the lesser of their two Broncos, settling for a mediocre car to switch buyers to when they cannot afford the main iconic draw to the showroom. It’s really a lost opportunity.