2021 Ford Bronco Sport: The $28K 'Baby' Bronco Is Built for Off-Roading, Too

This isn't just a rebodied Escape—it's shaping up to be one of the most capable crossovers out there.

The all-new Bronco Sport First Edition series in Cyber Orange Metallic Tri-Coat. (Pre-production model pictured.)
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Twenty-four years after galloping off into the sunset, the Ford Bronco is back, and this time around it's brought company. Now officially a "family" of vehicles, the iconic nameplate now graces a rough-and-tumble larger model plus a tagalong little sibling: the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. Sharing its unibody bones with the road-going Escape crossover, this isn't exactly the second coming of the Bronco II—but don't be fooled into thinking Ford's just repackaged the Escape as a cynical cash grab. There's a lot more to this trucklet than that.

If the bigger Bronco is aimed at the Jeep Wrangler, consider the Bronco Sport as Ford's answer to the Jeep Cherokee—a modern CUV that needs to offer better-than-average off-road capabilities because of its historic reputation—though the Jeep Compass is also analogous in size. To build a proper foundation, Ford extensively modified the Escape's C2 architecture by shortening its wheelbase to 105.1 inches and fitting proprietary knuckles, which help give the Bronco Sport's base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks trims more than 7.8 inches of ground clearance (make that 8.8 inches with the optional 29-inch A/T tires on the Badlands trim).

This is obviously a unibody crossover with four-wheel independent suspension, but the twin-tube shocks up front and 46-mm monotubes in the rear have been tuned with off-road performance and wheel articulation in mind (7.4 inches front, 8.1 inches rear); further, the higher-trim Badlands and First Edition Bronco Sports get a special front strut setup and hydraulic rebound stops to smooth out the ride on rough trails.

Approach, breakover, and departure angles on the Badlands model with the bigger tires are 30.4 degrees, 20.4 degrees and 33.1 degrees respectively.

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport comes standard with all-wheel drive, a full-time system whose forward traction is enhanced by a battery of gadgets and gizmos that appear to outflank the standard offerings on every other crossover in its class, short of maybe the Cherokee Trailhawk. The twin-clutch rear axle can send 100 percent of the engine's power to either wheel and mimic a locking differential.

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Meanwhile, the 8-speed automatic transmission has an 18:1 crawl ratio when the Rock Crawl driving mode is selected—let's take a second to appreciate that a unibody crossover has a rock crawl mode and bash plates to back it up—one of seven selectable terrain modes that modify powertrain and steering behavior depending on conditions. Ford claims it put a lot of thought into transmission and differential cooling to prevent overeager drivers from burning out the AWD system in a tight spot.

It's also got Trail Control, Ford's off-road low-speed cruise control system where all you have to do is steer, and an optional front-facing trail camera with a washer. That's an option that you'll currently find only on the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator. Lower-trim Bronco Sports can safely ford 17.7 inches of water, while Badlands and First Edition models can cross 23.6 inches without ruining anyone's day—though any water that makes it into the cabin can be drained via in-floor plugs.

Where the Bronco Sport does borrow copiously from the Escape is its engine options: a 1.5-liter turbo three-cylinder making 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque, or a larger 2.0-liter turbo-four with 245 horse and 275 torque. Ford says that four-pot, which is only available on the two higher trims, will give the Sport the best power- and torque-to-weight ratios in its class, though its curb weight hasn't been announced yet.

Wrapped in a quadrangular body (172.7 inches long, 82.2 inches wide, 70.2-71.4 inches high depending on tires) with an upright roofline, the 2021 Bronco Sport will have the most cargo space in its class, with accommodation for two mountain bikes side by side with the rear seats folded, and easy access via a flip-up rear window. Other outdoor hobbies are equally supported by Camping, Snow, and Water packages, or by over 100 official accessories that will be available a la carte at launch.

And once unloaded, the Bronco Sport can assume the role of mobile base camp; its roof rack is designed to support a tent, an available cargo area partition can fold out to form a table and the lift gate has an integral bottle opener and LED flood lamps.

Within are seats trimmed in dirt- and food-resistant upholstery, with zippered seat-back pouches, military-style MOLLE webbing, and a new F-150-esque storage compartment under the second row. An eight-inch touchscreen displays Ford's Apple- and Android-compatible Sync 3 infotainment system, which on upper trims can optionally feed a Bang & Olufsen 10-speaker sound system. Standard Ford Co-Pilot360 safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, and lane keep assist. Things like radar cruise control, evasive steering assist and speed limit sign recognition are extra.

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Like the larger Broncos, reservations for the Bronco Sport open the second the public reveal wraps up, and it can be secured for a $100 deposit against the $28,155 starting price. The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport will arrive at dealers by the end of 2020, by which time we'll surely know if the Bronco Sport can show up the Jeep Trailhawks like Ford intends.

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