It seems like a lifetime ago that I was sitting inside of Joe Louis Arena as Ford revealed their plans to reboot the Bronco. It was so long ago that the building no longer even exists.
But at the time, we didn’t know that in addition to the Bronco itself Ford would also birth an entire Bronco family of vehicles, including this little guy, the Bronco Sport.
Just because 2 vehicles share a name doesn’t necessarily mean they have much in common. Such is the case with the upcoming Bronco and this new Bronco Sport. Sure, they’re both real off-roaders, or at least can be specified that way, but that’s just about all they share.
Think of the Bronco Sport as the Escape’s country cousin. Built South of the Border upon a unibody, front-wheel drive platform that’s significantly shorter than the Escape’s but about 3” taller, the Bronco Sport is equipped with standard 4-wheel drive and carries a starting MSRP of just over $28,000.
Ford has given the trim levels cool names like Big Bend and Outer Banks but it’s this Badlands model that they deem the pinnacle of off-road performance. So if you want the more powerful engine, the better 4-wheel drive system, the differential lock, more drive modes, all-terrain tires, off-road tuned suspension, an extra inch of lift, and more aggressive off-road geometry, then this is the only model for you.
$34,315 is where the pricing starts and this one with the amenity-laden Badlands Package and Co-Pilot360 Assist + driver tech checks in at $37,705; slightly less than a loaded Jeep Compass Trailhawk which serves a similar purpose in life and about $12,000 less than a comparable Bronco Badlands.
I’ve had a lot of fun this week taking the Bronco Sport out on snow-covered trails where the combination of G.O.A.T. modes – short for goes over any type of terrain – capable Pirelli tires and nearly 9” of ground clearance has made for confident exploration. The hood is squared off to help better visualize the vehicle’s dimensions and a 180-degree off-road camera automatically triggers when you dial into the 4X4 settings.
And there’s a differential locker for extra traction. With iced-over snow, ruts and mud lurking beneath the Badlands climbs steep hills and beautifully manages the turbo’s output through the myriad G.O.A.T. modes making it seem like it’s never breaking a sweat. I don’t have access to my usual summer trails but in these snowy conditions the Bronco Sport conquers all obstacles.
The upsized 2.0-liter EcoBoost is rated at 250 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque matched to an 8-speed auto with paddle shifters – a huge advantage it has over its Jeep rival.
The best part of the Badlands is that it kicks butt off-road while providing a really, sophisticated, softly-sprung ride on-road. And the cabin’s quietness adds to the sense of it being more substantial than the price would indicate. The turbo’s strong too and Ford has made it sound good from in here. I’m less impressed with the heavy dose of Escape interior bits which felt old and less-than right out of the gate when it was last redesigned. But all told the Sport makes for an excellent, more affordable companion to its bigger brother.
When the rear wheels aren’t needed the driveshaft disconnects in order to save fuel, helping the Bronco Sport achieve 23mpg in combined driving on regular. And when the rear wheels are in play the Badlands dual clutch drive unit is capable of diverting torque to each individual wheel. The softer springs invite a more comfortable ride both on- and off-road and everything about the driver controls seems precise.
It’s the $2,595 Badlands Package that adds most of these creature comforts which elevates this Bronco Sport to premium status, like the moonroof, heated steering wheel, 10-speaker B&O Sound System, power seats, remote start, dual zone automatic climate control and more.
The leather-trimmed seats look and feel great and you’ll find little Bronco Easter eggs throughout such as on the easy-to-reach touchscreen. There’s a wireless charge pad but no wireless phone projection – a pet peeve of mine – but this previous gen SYNC3 system is simple and intuitive if not a bit yesterday, frankly like a number of the Sport’s touchpoints. But the driver display has awesome graphics and cool splash screens that add to the Bronco ambiance.
And then there’s the clever stuff like zippered seatback pockets, a tailgate with flip up glass, a rubberized cargo floor with seatbacks that are also rubberized so you can load in the dirty stuff with impunity and there are tie downs and hooks.
There’s even a bottle opener located in the hatch and an underseat storage bin that can handle wet or muddy gear and be hosed out like the rest of the rubber floor. And a full-size spare in a 4X4 is always a welcome sight.
This Kodiak Brown, which often looks black, really does nothing for me and the vehicle shape as a whole doesn’t ooze with style. Over 100 accessories allow for bigtime personalization though including a Yakima interior bike rack that allows for 2 standing mountain bikes.
So as my loan comes to an end the Bronco Sport has left me feeling confident about Ford’s plans to grow the Bronco family, and even though Ford estimates that only 15% will roll out as a Badlands model those who choose it are getting one tough little SUV.