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2021 Ford Bronco III errr Sport: Your experience will vary

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Why does the Bronco III, sorry Bronco Sport exist in Ford’s lineup? I can think of several reasons. First, in an effort to make the Escape (of which the Bronco Sport shares many underpinnings) “more friendly,” it has designed itself into a hole where 50% of the population wouldn’t consider it because it looks so soft. And, a surprising number of the other 50% also think it must look soft based on who I see driving these on the streets.

Next, this isn’t the first time Ford has taken a two-tier strategy with the Bronco name. In the 1980s there was a full-size Bronco (Al Cowling’s white one as a specific example) and then a smaller one, the Bronco II.  

The Bronco II was based on the Ranger platform and plagued with problems. Build quality, rust and — most notably — a propensity for rollovers due to its short wheelbase and tall stature. The Bronco II was killed off shortly after the original Explorer came online and started selling very well. Just as an FYI, the original Explorer wasn’t much larger than the current Escape. Hashtag consumers always say they need more space, rant for another day.

One of the issues in being early to review a new product is that oftentimes you have either a pre-production unit or a very early production unit where not all of the issues have been worked out with production line QC.  So it was with the Bronco III, sorry, Bronco Sport that I had in for review.

Looking at the VIN, the unit I had in for review was number 258 off the line! Hence, your experience will likely be very different than the one I had.

Let’s get squawks out of the way

One thing that was immediately an issue was a loud whistle coming from the front passenger’s window at highway speeds. Every time I went more 75 MPH, the whistle was very apparent. I reached out to a number of colleagues who had also driven some of the early production vehicles, and they did not have the same issue. It was probably specific to my particular unit.

Next, the suspension tuning was off. Even though I was driving the Badlands model (the “off-road one”), in “Standard Mode” the shocks were not compliant, and the rebound was overly stiff.  The ride bounced like a lowered overly sprung Honda Civic from some Fast-and-Furious wannabe.

Lastly, some of the fit and finish were off. Nothing you’d notice if you drove it once or twice, but after a week some of the gaps and alignment of interior panels were noticeable.

As far as build quality, that covers it. However, there are several other items of note that have nothing to do with build quality but are part of the design.

The cargo area of the Bronco Sport is both smaller and taller than the Escape. Having spent time with the current model Escape in the not-too-distant past I was familiar with its dimensions. Next, also compared to Escape, second-row legroom is significantly narrower. My wife’s best friend, who is about 5-feet, 9 inches, rode in the back seat, and my wife had to move her seat up quite a bit so her friend had enough legroom.

Lastly, fuel economy is piss poor for a vehicle this size with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine. The EPA rates this at 21 MPG city, 26 MPG highway and 23 MPG combined, but the best I saw on the highway was 24 MPG. And I was closer to 21 MPG in mixed driving.

Off-roader or Soft-roader?

Being that this was the Badlands model, I wanted to take it off-road and test its chops. Early reports from those who had driven it for the West Coast intro drive had generally good things to say about how it handled itself in the Southern California desert. Unfortunately, the week I had the Badlands was about two weeks before the Holly ORV park opened up by me. I did take it on to some soft turf and mud though.  Perhaps with better tires, it would have acquitted itself better, but for a few moments, I thought I was going to be stuck — even after engaging crawl and mud modes. The treads immediately filled up with mud and did not shed it. It was like driving with slicks. I will reserve full judgment until I have another opportunity to test it off-road properly.

2022 Ford Bronco Sport Pirelli Scorpion tires

When taking the Ford Bronco Sport off road, the treads immediately filled up with mud and did not shed it. It was like driving with slicks. (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Details matter

The Bronco Sport does have some potential, though. Ford did get a lot of the little things correct. Big on my list, Bronco Sport has real knobs and buttons for the HVAC and infotainment system. Too many OEMs, Ford included, are so anxious to make the interiors of their cars into giant tablets that are all touch screens. This is fine, as long as you are not in motion. The moment you are driving even at parking lot speeds, the level of distracted driving that occurs trying it hit touch points borders on dangerous, let alone at highway speeds.

Another thing that I appreciate is that if when you turned the vehicle off if you had the steering wheel and seat heaters on, they returned to their settings when you re-started the vehicle! Yes, it’s a small thing, but details are everything in this very competitive segment. To continue, the entire steering wheel was heated, not just the 8-10 and 2-4 o’clock positions that several vehicles in this class do. Also, the seat heaters get up to temp very quickly.

Other nice small details that most others miss: The pockets in the lower doors were lined so that if you had a water bottle or other object in there, it didn’t rattle incessantly. There were seat pockets in the back of both the driver’s and passenger’s seats. Also, those pockets were lined with a very nice material.  The graphics on the seat and headliner were also nicely done. Several other small touches in the interior also gave this a higher-end look and feel in places that you might not expect.

2022 Ford Bronco Sport rear seat pocket liner detail

One of the nice little details on the Ford Bronco Sport: The seat pockets on the back of the driver and front passenger seat were lined with a really nice material. (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Horses for courses

Powering this example was the aforementioned 2-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder. In the Bronco Sport, it makes 250 horsepower at 5,500 RPM and 277 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 RPM. I would call the power on this engine just about right for the vehicle. It is not what you would call quick, rather it moves you up to speed at a pace that gives you confidence in a busy urban environment.

The base 1.5-liter three-cylinder EcoBoost makes 181 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 190 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 RPM. Given that the Bronco Sport weighs in at 3,500 pounds with the three-cylinder and 3,700 pounds with the four-cylinder, I’d opt for the four-cylinder every time. Both engines are backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission.

There are numerous drive modes that Ford calls G.O.A.T. modes. They are Normal, ECO, Sport, Slippery, Mud/Ruts, Sand, Rock Crawl. Different modes also have different levels and tones of artificial engine noise piped into the cabin. The difference is SO pronounced it makes it far too obvious that they are all very artificial. The different modes do have some effect on driving dynamics, mostly in throttle mapping. For 99% of the people, 99% of the time, just leave it in Normal and let the computer figure it out for you. As I mentioned earlier the Mud/Rut mode wasn’t that helpful, but again I think if this vehicle had the optional Falken Wildpeak tires rather than the Pirelli Scorpions, that would have made a larger difference.

Sounds like …

The sound system in the Bronco Sport is labeled as Bang & Olufsen, with 10 speakers and a subwoofer.  I say labeled because I’ve heard what a B&O sound system sounds like, and this isn’t it. It’s fine, looking back at my notes I had no major issues other than I mentioned it was more branding than substance. For the compressed streaming music or podcasts that people generally listen to, owners won’t care. They will see a premium badge and that makes them feel like they got something, even if they didn’t.

The bottom line on the Bronco Sport

The base price on this Badlands model was $32,660 with an as-tested price of $37,545. This is pretty in line with the class. A quick check of dealers in several geographic locations shows you should be able to lease a Badlands for about $450 a month.

Because of the styling of the Bronco Sport Ford will be able to reach a much larger demographic than they currently can with the Escape. It’s much more substantial and athletic without being overly macho. Based on style alone this will do well for Ford. It gives the appearance of outdoor adventure and has some substance to back it up. Bronco Sport is worth a look and drive if you are in the market for this category.

Photos in the above gallery by Eric Trytko.

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