INDIANAPOLIS — Many vehicles have worn the iconic Bronco badge over the decades from the original compact off-roader in 1965 to the F-150 derived second generation most famous for carrying O.J. Simpson and the Ranger-based Bronco II in the 1980s. A new all-capable edition based on the current Ranger is imminent, but Ford also stretched the bucking pony to a fortified Escape-based crossover called Bronco Sport. Think of it as a more urban-friendly version for commuters and families who occasionally enjoy a weekend away.
Styling is spot on as many people confused the Sport with its fully fettled all-capable sibling. It’s easy to confuse given the wide flat hood, stamped metal-looking grille with BRONCO spelled across, round LED headlamps, and gray bumpers. Our Badlands edition added exposed tow hooks, orange badges, and 17” gray alloy wheels that look like steelies. Metal bash plates defend its undersides, though most Sports will see trails no more severe than gravel driveways. It’s as square as the Escape is round, enhancing interior space while helping drivers find the corners on trails or just while parallel parking.
Whether your idea of adventure is a day of mountain biking or carrying messy children to a museum, the Bronco Sport’s cloth seats, rubber flooring, and plastic surfaces can be scrubbed down and washed out. I could do without a rubber steering wheel, but the chrome Bronco logo adds flair – as does the blue-tinted trim on the dash/doors, storage everywhere, and liftgate floodlight for loading gear at night. Heated seats and mono-zone automatic climate control add comfort.
I would have preferred the fancy B&O audio system that comes on other premium Fords, but the regular system boomed tunes. Devices connect via Bluetooth, USBs, and 4G Wi-Fi – made easier with Apple CarPlay. Ford’s 8” infotainment screen is very intuitive with icons for audio, phone, navigation, and apps. Protecting everybody you consider family is a full suite of safety tech that includes adaptive cruise, auto emergency braking, blind-spot warning, lane keep assist, and rear cross-path detection.
Whether moving through city traffic, accelerating onto the freeway, or climbing trails, few will complain about the powertrain. Under the wide hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 250 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. Thanks to a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission and auto stop/start, fuel economy is rated 21/26-MPG city/highway – not stellar, but acceptable for a crossover with trail cred.
Needing a little time away, I escaped from Indianapolis to Pokagon State Park for a few days. Underway, making time on I-69, the Bronco Sport felt much like a peppy Escape. The turbo made me giggle and the four-wheel independent suspension provided surprisingly athletic handling. It’s fun to toss about. I didn’t need it, but a switch in the console employs the "G.O.A.T. modes," standing for Goes Over Any Terrain. The system can configure the vehicle’s throttle, steering, and traction control for all types of surfaces. I left it in Sport to enjoy the sensitive throttle with heavier steering.
Some will decry the Bronco Sport as nothing but a brand play on a tarted-up Escape, but that would be denying its full due. Not every urbanite or country squire needs a hard-core off-roader for daily use. The Bronco Sport can go almost anywhere, but do it with style and the daily comfort life demands. A base price of $27,215 or $35,745 as-tested makes it pretty affordable, too. Competitors include the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, Subaru Outback Wilderness, and Toyota RAV4 TRD.
Casey Williams is former auto correspondent for WFYI and the Indianapolis Star plus a contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Auto Page. He has reviewed vehicles and covered the auto industry for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Broad Ripple. E-mail him at AutoCasey@aol.com; check his reviews on YouTube at AutoCasey.
2021 Ford Bronco Sport
2021 Ford Bronco Sport
5 passengers, AWD Crossover
Powertrain: 2.0L T4, 8-spd trans
Output: 250 hp/277 lb.-ft.
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 17”/17” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Driving
Towing: 2,200 lbs.
Fuel economy: 21/26-MPG city/hwy
Assembly: Hermosillo, Mexico
Base price/As-tested: $27,215/35,745