Ford Bronco Sport a real head-turner
By Jim Bray
I have a funny feeling that Ford is about to sell a ton of its new "baby Bronco".
That isn't judging from my impressions driving the newly spawned SUV, but from the reactions I got to driving the newly spawned SUV – from neighbours, passersby, perhaps even from passengers in aircraft flying over at 40,000 feet.
This vehicle, which I happen to find quite unattractive and not particularly compelling, garnered so many stares and thumbs up gestures (and possible a few other gestures aimed at the driver) that I couldn't believe it. I've had Porsches and BMW's and Lexi and Jaguars and Mercedes and Audis, and some of them bring crowds – but nothing like this new Bronco Sport.
Obviously, this is yet another vehicle for which I am far removed from the target audience. What can you do?
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The Bronco Sport joins its new big brother, the Bronco (non-sport, I assume), as a 4x4-only SUV and it competes in a niche where on-road performance is only as important as its off-road capabilities. Or so they say.
"Bronco Sport has the toughness and smarts to help turn off-road novices into 4x4 pros," said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product development and purchasing officer. "Bronco Sport embraces the needs of outdoor enthusiasts – every inch of it was designed and engineered with weekend adventurers in mind."
To that end, the Bronco Sport is ready to haul a couple of mountain bikes (which can stand up in its cargo area) and enough "factory-backed standalone accessories" to let Bronco Sport owners customize their vehicle the way they want, whether they're carrying bikes, kayaks, skis, whatever.
Hardly unique, but undoubtedly welcome for those who want these capabilities in a Ford.
Bronco Sports come in three trim levels besides the base model: one call Big Bend, one called Outer Banks, and, the one Ford sent for review, the Badlands model.
The Badlands version gets its motivation from a two litre EcoBoost engine that unleashes 245 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque. The other trim levels get Ford's 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine with about 181 horsepower and 190 lb.-ft. of torque.
I didn't get to sample the smaller engine, but I'd recommend the two litre one anyway because, well, you can never have too much oomph. I daresay the extra ponies and twisty things would also come in handy on the highways, especially when you're forced to pass some oaf tooling along obliviously.
Both engines come with an eight-speed automatic transmission, but the Badlands version also gets SelectShift manual mode, which includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. As it should! In reality, however, the manual shifting tends to work when the vehicle deigns more than when you deign, but this is common.
I was pleased to see only eight speeds to the tranny, too, which means less hunting and pecking when you want to accelerate than in nine and 10-speed transmissions. In real world use, it didn't do a lot to help, but it was better than a kick in the face. And how's that for high praise?
All Bronco Sports come with an independent suspension at both ends, and Ford says the "uniquely tuned front struts with hydraulic rebound stops" provide for a quieter, less jarring off-road experience. The monotube rear shocks, Ford says, are among the largest in the class, "helping provide improved response and more comfort off-road, while softer springs and antiroll bars offer greater articulation over obstacles."
Since off-road performance is important here, the Bronco Sport's Badlands series' "Terrain Management System" has several G.O.A.T. (Go Over Any Terrain) modes as well, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand; Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl modes. I didn't venture off road more than once, but it was on a road where I felt obliged to try the mud/rut setting and, as expected, it worked fine.
Badlands models can also partake of Trail Control technology, which Ford says enables a cruise control-like setting up to 30 kph forward and 10 kph in reverse for "vehicle-controlled throttle and braking, letting the driver stay focused on navigating the trail."
There's more, too. Off-road performance is enhanced via four steel bash plates, and you can get frame-mounted front tow hooks Ford says can each handle static loads up to 100 per cent of the vehicle's gross vehicle weight. Badlands models are claimed to be able to wade through up to 23.6 inches of water.
Badlands models also come standard with 28.5-inch-diameter all-terrain tires – and 29-inchers are available.
A neat feature is the LED floodlamps on the tailgate – because, Ford says, "out in the wild, there are no streetlamps". There are also– MOLLE straps for taking on extra gear, as well as zippered seatback pockets for hiding your contraband.
Inside is a pretty efficient cabin, though as so often happens to me with Ford products, I had trouble finding a perfect driving position. I don't know if this is a Ford thing or a "Jim's big butt" thing, but it's pretty consistent.
But other than that, this Bronco Sport operates pretty much as it should, thanks in great part to Ford's Sync 3 system, which uses an eight-inch centre stack-mounted LCD touchscreen to operate the many features. I've always liked the Sync system and think it's one of the best that I've used on any brand. The only real downside is that it's rather slow.
The system also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and of course you can order SiriusXM satellite radio and, an unexpected but welcome option, a B&O audio system that sounds excellent.
Alas, as with virtually all vehicles today, you get a suite of "advanced driver-assist technologies", which means there's a bunch of stuff that let you drive safely even if you have no business being behind the wheel. You know, stuff like "Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking which includes Pedestrian Detection, Forward Collision Warning, Dynamic Brake Support; Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert; Lane-Keeping System, Auto-High Beam Headlamps and a rear-view camera with washer."
And you can also partake of Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go and Lane-Centering, Evasive Steering Assist and voice-activated touch screen navigation (well, it depends on your voice and the computer's mood, apparently, but this is hardly a thing that's unique to Ford…).
You can shut off the more annoying of the nannies (I like the rear camera and cross traffic monitor, but could do without most of the rest, especially since you have to pay for them even if you aren't going to use them).
Bronco Sports start at $32,199 Canadian, and the Badlands version starts at $40,199 (plus the usual pounds of flesh). Ford's sample stickered at $47,449, three grand of which was the Badlands package, but which also included such goodies as dual zone automatic HVAC, HD radio, a power moonroof, reverse sensing system, wireless charging pad and that 10 speaker B&O audio system.
In all, Ford's new Bronco Sport is a pretty neat vehicle to drive, if you're a fan of this type of vehicle, with decent power and handling that was better than I expected.
As mentioned up top, I have a feeling we are about to see a bunch of these beasties on our highways and/or byways. Of course, I've been wrong before…
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray