The problem with crossovers is that they are just too similar. You can recognize the silhouette of today’s most popular vehicle segment from a mile away, but you can’t always tell which one it is. I’m sure I could lean over and look out the window and see several parked nearby, well in addition to the next crossover I’m testing, which is already here. It’s a seemingly endless stream, and while I’m here to give sage buying advice, it does get a bit monotonous. However, Ford has just had a go at something new. If making a Mustang-based crossover wasn’t enough heresy, they’ve gone and made a Bronco crossover. Sort of. I’ll explain.
Bronco Sport Overview
I’m sure you’ve had to correct some family member or friend who incorrectly labeled the vehicle above “the new Bronco”. While that’s not really the case, it is loudly emblazoned with the “BRONCO” name on the front and rear. Ford has a history of labeling things as “Bronco Sport”. Back in 1970, the Bronco Sport was a standalone vehicle, but this new Sport probably most resembles the Ranger-based Bronco II from the 1980s. So, this isn’t the first time “Bronco” has been affixed to a smaller SUV.
This new Bronco Sport comes in five trim levels for 2021 and prices range from just over $27,200 up to just north of $38,000.
Ford dropped off the mid-range Outer Banks version that will likely be pretty popular among buyers. Think of it a bit like a Limited model of other Ford vehicles. Classier interior, a bit more comfortable, that sort of thing. The Cactus Grey paint is one of my favorite recent press car colors, but it still comes up a bit short of Nori Green over at Lexus. Inside, it’s an interesting shade of blue called “Navy Pier”. This all goes toward making the Bronco Sport something more than just “the next crossover”.
The Outer Banks package, as you can see above, gives you a host of upgrades. It’s hard to tell exactly what our tester would have sold for, it had one of those “vehicle not for sale” window stickers that sometimes means it’s pre-production version. Best I can tell on the Ford website, this Outer Banks Bronco Sport would go for around $36,045 as-equipped. I drive a lot of crossovers, and that’s pretty a solid final MSRP.
At first glance, it’s easy to see that the Bronco Sport is chonky. Take a look at the beefy hood, you can easily see those two raised areas on other side while driving. Unlike a lot of modern front ends that feel like they dive off into nothingness, the bulky hood made it easier to point the Bronco Sport where you wanted it to go. Sadly I didn’t get to take it on any off-road trails, more on that in a bit.
While many likely assume that this was a rushed “I’m a Bronco too” job, it’s clear that Ford invested some time in the design. The greenhouse is interesting, with the cool angled panel just aft of the back doors, and the appearance of a raised “safari style” roof (ala X-Terra or Land Rover) moving from front to back. Add the beefy headlights and taillights and the required plastic wheel arches, and it’s no shrinking violet. It’s also got a unique profile, it’s not just another jelly bean crossover.
I dig that.
The same can be said for the interior. While it’s not quite as Wrangler-rugged as the full-size Bronco, it’s got some nice details and several nice touches. The dials are all chunkers as well, with big grippy rubber surrounds that are easy to use. The screen placement is good, it sits up high and is easy to see.
Check out those seats! The material on the outer edge resembled a nicely worn pair of jeans. Bolsters aren’t amazing, but the seats were nicely adjustable and supportive on a long drive.
I like the cubby just below the screen as well, it’s an easy spot to keep your phone. Honestly, they just should have made that the wireless charging area. The actual wireless charging area down below is a little small and sits at a strange angle. I found that if I didn’t have my phone on the charging pad just right, it wouldn’t charge.
Usability was pretty good, the software will even dials back the HVAC fan when you use voice commands on your phone. Its little touches like that that I didn’t expect, my wife’s GLS does that kind of thing, didn’t expect it in a mid-$30K Ford. The only issue was that I could not figure how to get out of Apple CarPlay. There is no clear “home button” so I had to press the A/V setting button (bottom left under the screen) to get CarPlay to exit. Speaking of CarPlay, occasionally we were listening to the radio and I would get a text and it would swap the audio source back to CarPlay and it would just auto-play whatever I had on. As funny as Tom Segura is, I don’t need my kids listening to the stand-up-comedy that I listen to!
I really like the material covering the back cargo area. The diamond-plate pattern is made of a rubbery material, so when I would do a partial grocery run, smooth items like sodas didn’t slide around at all. The Home Depot run was pretty successful as well; the 10-foot sections of 3/4 inch PVC that we got to build a racing wheel mount for the X-Box fit from front to back with the rear window open. The Bronco Sport uses a dual-release handle in the back to open just the glass or the whole hatch. It was a minor thing, but this Wrangler-like feature ended up being pretty practical. Too bad they couldn’t fit the spare tire on the back hatch.
The Outer Banks Bronco Sport is powered by salt life stickers and white claw. Just kidding, it’s got the 1.5L EcoBoost which is actually a 3-cylinder putting out 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. It’s not bad, it feels much stronger than it looks on paper. The Outer Banks weighs a reasonable (these days) 3467 pounds, which helps the power and torque get the Sport moving. You have to opt for the Badlands trim to get the larger 2.0L engine (250 hp, 277 lb-ft), which you should definitely consider.
Sport mode isn’t great, though it usually isn’t in vehicles with non-sporting pretensions. Out on the road, the Bronco more than got out of its own way. I actually didn’t know it was a three-cylinder initially, it gets up to speed from a stop and cruises on the highway with ease.
The “G.O.A.T.” terrain settings seem a little gimmicky, but to be fair I didn’t get a chance to try them. Aside from one summer monsoon that we got caught in, we didn’t come across much in the way of tricky terrain. I look forward to getting a Sport properly muddy at some point.
The Bronco Sport Outer Banks will very much find an audience. It’s the comfy one, it’s the middle of the range one, it’s one that will likely end up in a lot of driveways with the aforementioned salt life sticker on the back. I have yet to drive the Badlands, but as an enthusiast of both on and off-road vehicles, it looks like it’s worth it just to get the 2.0L engine. Especially since they both have roughly the same starting price. With the Badlands, you also get a variety of additional terrain settings, bash plates, and more. Whether that makes it less comfortable on the road will have to be determined. If you want the Outer Banks interior with the Badlands capability, you can always opt for the even pricier First Edition!
Regardless, I can say that the Outer Banks is a solid entry into the crossover world. Its biggest asset is that it’s not boring, and these days that’s a huge win. Add in a reasonable MSRP and solid list of features and options, and I’ll be it does well. Just make sure you take a look at Jeff’s Badlands review before you decide which one to go for.
Or continue to wait for the big Bronco forever like Kamil…