Back To the Future
Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Ford.
Ford says the all-new 2021 Bronco Sport is “Built Wild.” That wild creature is now at your local Ford dealer where it will be taking on the Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-30 and Jeep Compass and Renegade head-to-head. This subcompact crossover is designed to take the roads and trails less traveled, with an immediately recognizable design that will grab looks wherever you go.
Two Engines, One Transmission
The all-new 2021 Ford Bronco has two EcoBoost gasoline engine choices. The Base, Big Ben and Outer Banks trims get a 1.5-liter three-cylinder putting out 181 horsepower (hp) and 190 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. The Bronco Badlands and First Edition models get a 2.0L 4-cylinder with 250 hp and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic with a manual mode and paddle shifters as well as driver-selectable drive modes. Ford calls these modes G.O.A.T (as in Goes Over Any Terrain), which affect the steering sensitivity, shift points, throttle response and traction control.
All Bronco Sport models have standard all-wheel drive and get drive modes in the Terrain Management System of Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, with the more aggressive trims adding Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl. When scrolling through the drive modes, the 6.5-inch LCD information screen displays a different animation graphic for each mode, such as green leaves for Eco and red checkered flags for Sport. Cute, but fun.
Clean Fleet Report drove the Bronco Sport 4WD Outer Banks with the 1.5L, which delivered smooth performance and ample oomph, with 0-60 times around eight seconds. EPA fuel economy numbers for the 1.5L are 25 mpg city/28 highway/ 26 combined. In 320 miles driving through Southern California we averaged 27.1 mpg. A 100-mile piece of those miles was an all-freeway run with the adaptive cruise control set at 65 mph and in Eco mode, returning 32.1 mpg. Our takeaway is when the Bronco Sport is loaded with a two adults and all their gear, 30 mpg will be realistic on the highway. Fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific and represent the reviewer’s driving experience using the dash gauge computer. Your numbers may differ.
Hitting the Road
The Bronco Sport shares mechanical parts with the Ford Escape, but the differences between the two are obvious pretty quickly. The Escape is more car like, while the Bronco Sport has a boxy shape, taller roof, shorter wheelbase and shorter overall length, earning comments it looks like a Land Rover. We were behind the wheel of the Bronco Sport 4WD Outer Banks which had a signature black grille.
The LED head and driving lamps, and a large spelled-out B-R-O-N-C-O, sit above the rugged-looking matte black bumper and lower fascia, where fog lights are neatly tucked on the far outer edges. The hood leads to a nearly upright windshield, and then onto the roof, with rack rails and a step-up section behind the B pillar. The brush guard side cladding is there to protect the paint, while the twin rectangular bumps on the hood are there merely for design.
The rear has bold Bronco lettering, dual exhaust and LED tail and license plate lights. The lift gate has a throwback hinged window feature, with a wiper and washer. Make sure to look for the Bronco Easter Egg on the hatch window.
The 2021 Bronco Sport Outer Banks weighs in at about 3,500 pounds and has a 2,000-pound tow rating. While not a sport crossover, the independent front and rear suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars handled most corners flat, but when pushed hard there was body lean. The 18-inch Michelin Primacy 225/60 tires gave a planted feel around sweeping arc turns. The steering was well-balanced, and bit on the heavier side, which we like. Road feel was excellent and there never was time or situation where we felt disconnected from the tires and the road.
Ford is proud of the off-road capability, saying the “Bronco Sport has the toughness and smarts to help turn off-road novices into 4×4 pros.” It does this with a suspension built to take on rugged terrain, including rock crawling. Ford’s Trail Control technology enables a cruise control-like setting up to 20 mph forward and six mph in reverse for vehicle-controlled throttle and braking, letting the driver stay focused on navigating the trail. Another helpful feature is the 180-degree off-road camera that automatically comes on when in the off-road modes.
There is a lot going on inside the Bronco Sport, starting with the rear cargo area that has a rubber mat to protect the carpet from mud, water and sand. There was 38.1 inches of height in the cargo area, made possible by a dual height floor setting and the raised roof section noted earlier. With the 60/40 split rear seat upright, there is 24.1 inches of space, which grows nicely to 57.1 inches with the seat folded flat. The cargo area has LED lights, tie-downs, carabiner hooks, power outlets and even a bottle opener. A very nice feature are the twin LED spotlights on the lift gate that can be rotated to highlight areas around the Bronco at night.
Rear leg room at 79.3 cubic inches is good, while the 41.7 cubic inches of head room was excellent. A third, middle-row passenger can be accommodated, but will be doing rock/paper/scissors to get an outer seat for longer trips. Rear seat passengers sit a bit higher than those up front, and get a folding armrest with cup holders, a 110V/150W power outlet, zippered storage pockets and MOLLE straps.
The dash layout was simple and straight-forward, with all controls in easy reach. Cloth seats are standard, but our Grand Banks model’s were covered in leather with cloth inserts and imitation leather on the side panels. The Navy Pier blue color fit the adventure tone and feel of the Bronco Sport. The heated front seats were comfortable for 100-mile trips, which was the furthest we drove before getting out to stretch. The driver gets eight-way power adjustments while the passenger gets six-way. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, wireless phone charging and the USB Type A and C charging ports were welcome features.
The 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with a subwoofer sounded great inside the compact cabin. The 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen, with swipe and zoom, was home to the rear view camera and the AM/FM HD radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Sirius/XM. All of the infotainment and communication goes through the Ford Sync 3 system.
Ford’s Co-Pilot360 with driver-assist features is standard, and the FordPass Connect offers convenience features such as remotely lock/unlock doors, and engine start. The 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot can accommodate up-to 10 devices as far as 50-feet away.
Convenience features include rain-sensing windshield wipers with de-icers, automatic high beams, power and heated exterior mirrors, auto dim rearview mirror, dual zone automatic climate control, tilt and telescoping steering column, rear seat underside storage, push button start/stop and trailer wiring. The static weight load rating is 450 pounds, so there should be no issues adding rooftop tent.
The 2021 Ford Bronco has an extensive list of standard and optional safety features, beginning with front, knee, side and side curtain airbags as part of the Ford Safety Canopy. Additional safety systems include an anti-theft engine immobilizer, stolen vehicle tracking, hill descent control, AWD and rear axle locks, off-road inclination screen, tire pressure monitoring system, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert and a post-crash alert system.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport comes in five models, with these base prices including the $1,495 destination and delivery fee.
Big Bend $29,815
Outer Banks $33,815
First Edition $39,995
Clean Fleet Report’s 2021 Ford Bronco Outer Banks 4WD had a base price of $32,160. With $795 in optional equipment and the $1,495 destination and delivery fee, the MSRP came to $36,045.
The 2021 Bronco comes with these warranties.
Powertrain – Five years/60,000 milesBumper-To-Bumper – Three years/36,000 milesRoadside Assistance – Five years/60,000 miles
Observations: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks 4WD
If you are in the market for a great-looking compact crossover that is off-road capable, then the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport should be at the top of your list. The Bronco Sport is a nostalgic reminder of the first Bronco models from the mid-1960s, but the updated version offers all the convenience and safety features of a modern, rugged, freeway-capable, versatile vehicle.
The interior is well-appointed and more upscale than might be expected; the exterior design will be recognizable wherever you drive. There are functional and practical features such as the bottle opener, rear seat storage system, rubber floor covering, interior cargo tie-down systems, the flip-up rear hatch glass window, positionable LED spotlights and many more.
Ford wants you to have some fun and make a statement with your Bronco Sport as it comes in nine exterior colors–Shadow Black, Alto Blue, Kodiak Brown, Iconic Silver, Rapid Red, Carbonized Gray, Cactus Gray, Oxford White and our favorite, which we were driving, Area 51.
The Bronco Sport has just come out, but let’s take a look at what the next generation of this crossover may look like. Ford announced in the next decade the majority of its vehicles will be electric, and gasoline-powered vehicles like the Bronco Sport will be hybrid or plug-in hybrid. This means the next Bronco Sport could very well have some sort of electrification to motivate it down the road. With the Mustang Mach-E already in dealerships, Ford is making good on its electrification future.
Considering the Ford Escape Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid, with which the Bronco Sport shares much of its mechanical pieces, have been on the road since 2020, there is little question where the Bronco Sport is headed. Clean Fleet Report applauds Ford, and all other manufacturers, for making the electrification commitment.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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