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It’s safe to say the 2021 Ford Bronco has been dominating discussion since it debuted last month, but I’d argue the Bronco Sport is even more important.
Don’t get me wrong, the full-size Bronco is cool as a cucumber. But its market position is clear: it’s Ford‘s response to the Jeep Wrangler. The Sport, meanwhile, is different. It shows up in the much more crowded compact SUV segment, yet is the only offering to make four-wheel drive standard. It bridges the gap between the car-like Escape and the full-tilt Bronco, and that could be just what the market needs.
We won’t find that out until we get behind the wheel, though. Before that, however, Ford Canada invited us to a small, socially-distanced event at its Oakville HQ to poke around the little horse in various trims. Here are the five biggest takeaways we had from our time with the Bronco Sport:
Tidy dimensions and clever storage solutions
The Bronco Sport is pleasantly compact in person. While it does share its basic “C2” platform with the Escape, it’s 7.8 inches (198 mm) shorter, a hair wider, and a couple inches taller. In fact, outside of the width, it’s nearly identical to the original Escape from 2000. The styling is instantly recognizable—Ford brought a classic ’70s era model to drive that point home—and those boxy lines should make it easy to place, on the road or off it.
Thanks to its ruler-straight styling, the Bronco also feels spacious inside. I’ve spent a lot of time in the 2020 Escape this year, so I’m happy to report that Bronco Jr. feels like a completely different vehicle from the front seat. The only shared elements are the lower center console and the steering wheel: everything else is unique, from the dashboard architecture to the door moldings. The latter is a big deal, as it’s one cheapest-feeling parts of the new Escape. Happily, the Bronco Sport looks and feels better.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Ford Escape Titanium Review
A brief sit in the backseat suggests adults should have no issue on long-haul trips. It’s in the second row where the clever storage solutions start coming into play. Zip-up pouches on the front seat backs can hold knick knacks, and another storage cubby exists underneath the rear seat squab.
Out on the tailgate are two buttons, to open either the whole enchilada or simply the glass. Pop the trunk open and you’ll find an available rubberized storage space and cargo tie-down system. But what remains my personal favorite is the built-in bottle opener, nestled into the hatch frame. Why don’t more cars have this?
Real off-road chops
The Bronco Sport is the only vehicle in its class to offer standard four-wheel drive across the line. That’s a pretty clear statement of intent from the Blue Oval: this might be the more accessible, everyday-use member of the Bronco family, but it should still be able to impress when the pavement runs out.
To that end, Ford will offer two different four-wheel drive systems in the Sport. All trims bar the Badlands (and sold-out First Edition) use a conventional full-time system. Those higher two trims add a twin-clutch rear axle setup, with a locking differential and the capability for torque vectoring.
Augmenting the mechanical setup is a driver-selectable mode system Ford is dubbing G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain). It’s not just silly marketing either: that name derives from the earliest stages of original Bronco development. All Bronco Sport models will feature five selectable modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, Slippery, and Sand. The Badlands and First Edition get more goodies here too, with additional Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl modes.
Ground clearance sits at 7.8 or 8.8 inches (198 to 223 mm), depending on trim. The approach angle on the lower trims is 21.7 degrees; breakover is 18.2, and departure is 30.4. Stick to the Badlands and its optional all-terrain tires, and those numbers all improve to 30.4, 20.4, and 33.1, respectively. Compared to its closest competitor, the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, the Bronco comes out ahead on the angles game. Water fording, again with the Badlands, is just shy of two feet.
Smaller engines too
The Bronco Sport isn’t just smaller when you bust out the measuring tape. It’s got a smaller engine lineup too.
The two EcoBoost motors are the same ones you’ll find in the Escape. That means a 1.5-liter triple, and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The former produces a healthy 181 hp and 190 lb-ft, while the extra cylinder in the 2.0 bumps the numbers to 250 hp and 275 lb ft. If you want the larger engine, you’ll have to plump for the top-shelf Badlands trim; the others all exclusively use the three-pot. Ford folks wouldn’t rule out eventually offering the 2.0 in other trims, but did say it’s happy with the split for now.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Review
On the plus side, that should make the Sport significantly easier on the wallet at the pumps versus the big Bronco. We’ve tested both engines in the Escape and they consistently beat their EPA estimates, which bodes well. The full-time four-wheel drive and blunter aero profile should increase the Sport’s fuel consumption, but we’d wager it shouldn’t be more than a 10 percent penalty.
Plenty of personalization possibilities
Jeep folks modify their rides more than any other vehicle on the road. Ford gets that, and it’s prepping hundreds of first- and third-party accessories for the Bronco’s release. The Sport is getting in on the action too, with a variety of add-ons to make it a better base camp for adventures. Ford is splitting them up into four categories: Bike, Snow, Water, and Camping.
Naturally there will be myriad rack options to carry boards, bikes, and boats. Buyers looking for shelter can select from awnings or a roof-mounted tent. Ford Canada’s Jeff Burdick was keen to stress that the Sport’s standard roof racks were built to handle this from the factory, capable of holding 600 lb.
The dual-level roof not only provides what Ford is touting as class-leading rear headroom, but will also two mountain bikes to be stored inside the Bronco Sport, with the proper bike rack accessory. You’ll need to fold the rear seats down for that of course, but it’s still an impressive feat for something so small.
First horse across the line
The Sport will be the public’s first point of contact with the Bronco family. That’s because it will hit dealerships before the end of the year; the full-size Bronco, while still a 2021 model, will arrive in the Spring of next year.
In the US, the Bronco Sport will kick off at $28,155, including $1,495 in destination charges. Canadians will need at least $34,199 to call the Sport their own. Prices rise through to $34,155 for the Badlands, before options ($42,199 CAD).