2021 Ford Bronco Sport: When You Want a Bronco but an Escape Makes More Sense

Competes with: Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Compass, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4

Looks like: The new Bronco’s urban hipster little brother

Powertrains: Turbocharged 181-hp, 1.5-liter three-cylinder or turbocharged 245-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with eight-speed automatic transmission; standard all-wheel drive

Hits dealers: Late 2020

Ford is serious about making the Bronco an actual sub-brand of vehicles, and it’s given us not only the big, bad ultimate off-roading Bronco two-door and Bronco four-door models, it’s also given us this: a smaller, more everyday-friendly, off-road crossover called the Bronco Sport. The 2021 Bronco Sport doesn’t have the crazy rock-crawling systems of its bigger Bronco sibling, nor does it get the twin locking differentials, removable doors, convertible top or any other serious equipment to fight the Jeep Wrangler with. Think of it this way: The big Bronco is what you have an adventure in — it’s a basecamp, an overlander, a machine that becomes an integral part of what you’re doing. The Bronco Sport is what you’d use to get to where the adventure starts — take it to the beach loaded with surf equipment or the trailhead full of mountain bikes, but don’t necessarily take it out on the trail itself. The Bronco Sport can go deep into the wild, just not quite as deep as the non-sport Bronco. Get it?

Related: 2021 Ford Bronco 2-Door and 4-Door: Jeep Has Some Homework to Do

Exterior

Outside, the same designers who worked their magic on the big Bronco were charged with making the Bronco Sport look like it fit into the family, and they’ve done an admirable job. The Sport shares the same design cues as its bigger brother, such as round headlights flanking a one-piece grille with script, peaked fenders, single-piece taillights and a squared-off body. That upright profile is no accident — it’s meant to help maximize interior room for passengers and cargo, with the “safari roof” treatment translating into cargo room to accommodate two full-size mountain bikes. Roof rails are standard, enabling owners to mount racks or even a rooftop tent. The liftgate is a two-piece affair, marking the return of flip-up rear glass to add cargo without having to open up the whole thing. It also features floodlights and an optional slide-out work table to help set up camp at night. A selection of 17- or 18-inch wheels is available, with 28.5-inch and 29-inch all-terrain tires available on higher trim levels. 

Under the Hood

Powering the Bronco Sport is a standard turbocharged 1.5-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder engine making a Ford-targeted 181 horsepower and 190 pounds-feet of torque; a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making a targeted 245 hp and 275 pounds-feet of torque will be optional. (Both engines are rated as such on premium fuel, a practice Ford also employs on the Ranger and Escape.) Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, with the 2.0-liter engine getting the SelectShift paddle-shift function and a transmission cooler for more strenuous off-road work. If these powertrains sound familiar, it’s because they’re largely the same as the ones found in the Ford Escape on which the Bronco Sport is loosely based. The four-wheel-drive system gets a central differential cooler and a twin-clutch rear drive unit for the top off-road trim level, with the ability to direct rear-axle torque independently to the left or right rear wheel, good for high-speed off-roading on sand.

Depending on trim level, you can also specify a more robust off-road suspension with uniquely tuned front struts with hydraulic rebound stops, as well as 46-mm-diameter monotube rear shock absorbers — some of the largest in the class, Ford claims. Combined with a softer spring setup, the off-road suspension is meant to help the Bronco Sport operate more capably and comfortably in the wild. It may not be the ultimate adventure machine that the bigger Bronco is, but the Sport is still likely much more capable than just about any other compact utility vehicle out there (with the possible exception of Jeep’s various Trail Rated vehicles). It features a number of purported best-in-class off-road specs, including 8.8 inches of ground clearance. It also features best-in-class suspension articulation, according to Ford, and a maximum 23.6 inches of water-fording ability, a 30.4-degree approach angle, 20.4-degree breakover and  33.1-degree departure angle. It’s also built to survive when those angles don’t quite line up with the obstacles in front of you, featuring four steel skid plates and available frame-mounted front tow hooks.

Like the bigger Bronco, the Bronco Sport features the GOAT system, which stands for Goes Over Any Type of Terrain, according to Ford. It’s an electronic selectable terrain response system that adjusts a number of vehicle features automatically to optimize the Bronco Sport for terrain conditions in which it finds itself. Driver-adjustable modes include Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand, with the top off-road trims also adding Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl. It can tie in the onboard cameras to help spot what’s around you, and it can automatically engage the 4×4 lock and rear differential lock when needed. 

Interior

Inside, this is definitely not an Escape. The Bronco’s ruggedized, chunky industrial look carries down into the Bronco Sport quite well. Front and center is an 8-inch touchscreen that’s curiously running Sync 3, not the latest Sync 4 like a lot of the new model-year 2021 Ford products are receiving. It features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with available Alexa integration and SiriusXM satellite radio. 

The interior also receives a washout rubber flooring option, plus another for the cargo area that extends the rubberized floor covering to the second-row seatbacks. An available modular lightweight load-carrying equipment strap and hook kit is also available for attaching accessories to the front seatbacks for easy access via straps or carabiners. Ford’s Co-Pilot360 safety system is standard with the Bronco Sport, including automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind spot warning, lane keep assist and more. Two additional levels of Co-Pilot360 are also available, with increasing levels of driver assistance capability. 

Trim Levels and On-Sale Date

Like Jeep, Ford has decided to call its Bronco Sport trim levels something other than simply XL, XLT, Limited and the like. Instead, it will adopt a naming convention based on American national parks, with five trim levels to start with for the Bronco Sport.

Base models feature the 1.5-liter engine, 17-inch wheels, LED headlamps, Sync 3 with 8-inch touchscreen, roof racks and flip-up liftgate glass. Upgrade to the Big Bend model for easy-clean cloth upholstery and rubberized flooring in the cargo area, LED foglamps and the latest keyless entry keypad on the B-pillars. The Outer Banks is the luxury model, with 18-inch wheels, body-color handles, a black roof and a black grille with white lettering. It comes with a leather interior, power adjustable seats, a heated leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and the Bang & Olufsen premium audio system. If you want the ultimate Bronco Sport with all the top off-road capability, go for the Badlands model — it gets the more powerful 2.0-liter engine, advanced 4×4 system, upgraded suspension with a 1-inch lift, larger-diameter off-road dampers, seven-mode terrain response system, underbody skid plates and second-row underseat storage bin. Additionally, Ford will produce 2,000 First Edition units that combine the Badlands powertrain goodies with Outer Banks luxury interior and unique First Edition trim accents.

More From Cars.com:

  • 9 Ways the New 2021 Ford Bronco Is Not a Jeep Wrangler
  • What to Make of Ford’s Next Baby Off-Roader
  • Report: New Bronco Coming in March, Bronco Sport to Follow
  • Ford Bronco Off-Road Tease Reveals Nothing Concrete — and Certainly No Asphalt
  • 2020 Ford Bronco: 3 Things the Off-Road Race Prototype Tells Us About the SUV-to-Be

Starting price for the Bronco Sport is nearly the same as the bigger Bronco two-door model: $29,650 (including destination), just a few hundred bucks less than its bigger brother. And like the bigger Bronco, you can reserve your Bronco Sport right now at Ford.com for $100. It will arrive in showrooms considerably sooner than the Bronco, too, with an expected delivery date of late 2020, as opposed to spring 2021 for the big Bronco.

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