Ford Torture-Tested the 2021 Bronco Sport Off-Road Just Like the Big Bronco

This ain't no new Chevy Blazer.

The all-new Bronco Sport enables exciting, high-speed off-road driving thanks to an available 2.0-liter EcoBoost® engine with segment-best horsepower and torque. (Pre-production model pictured.)
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Possibly the only vehicle under more intense scrutiny than the newly revealed 2021 Ford Bronco is its diminutive doppelgänger, the Bronco Sport. For the first time in its history, the Bronco badge will be found on a unibody SUV—one which could easily sully the Bronco name if it didn't meet the public's expectations. Ford knows this, so to ensure the Sport exceeds expectations, it ran the junior model through many of the same extreme testing gauntlets as its larger, truck-based sibling.

Under the guidance of Bronco Sport project manager Adrian Aguirre, Ford tested the Sport in parallel with the full-size Bronco in Johnson Valley, California. Both vehicles were trialed along a similar set of "durability routes," on which Ford evaluated how the Bronco Sport's all-wheel drive, 18:1 crawl ratio, and low-speed modes handle the slow stuff.

High-speed thrashing sessions were undertaken in Anza-Borrego State Park, which Aguirre called the "spiritual home of the Raptor." The Bronco Sport obviously couldn't follow the big Bronco everywhere, but its R&D regimen was very similar.

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"I think the Badlands [trim] is gonna surprise in terms of capability for the segment," Aguirre explained in a call with The Drive ahead of the launch. "It's up there with what is currently perceived as being 'performance,' so when you look at some of the 'Trail-Rated' Jeeps, and the Trailhawks, we have very little to ask or nothing. It will fight above its weight class with the Cherokee."

Aguirre pointed to its extensive terrain management system software as one of the Bronco Sport's biggest advantages over its competition, along with the legitimately useful Trail Control feature, Ford's off-road cruise control that sounds like a gimmick but is definitely smarter than a novice in the dirt.

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The twin-clutch rear drive unit that can shuffle 100 percent of torque to either wheel and simulate a locking differential.

"In any of the drive modes, you can access the [torque vectoring] rear axle dynamically, so it'll intervene if required. And when you go into off-road modes, you can actually lock that center differential and ensure that you're gonna be having full-time four-by-four," he said.

"Something unique about the way we've executed these drive modes is that there are three unique brake calibrations, which really enable the system to change its behavior between an on-road drive mode, a drive mode where you're in the sand—where you need to have a little bit more slippage—and the slower rock crawl drive mode," he continued. "That, in combination with the driveline software and engine calibration, really enables the system to be a lot more capable than the competition."

Between those tech tricks, the twin-clutch rear end, its standard 8-ish inches of ground clearance and steel underbody bash plates and optional extras like a front-facing trail camera with an integrated washer, the 2021 Bronco Sport looks promising for those who want a bit more go-anywhere abilities in their workaday crossover.

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