Growing up in rural Newfoundland, it wasn’t uncommon for several people to have the same first name despite a population that totalled less than a single condo building on Toronto’s Yonge Street.
My own grandfather, a gentle soul who was a brickhouse of a fisherman with hands the size and hardness of frying pans, was Ralph. His cousin, who lived close by, bore the same name. This led to the latter being known as Young Ralph, even well into old age. The spectre of a senior citizen being called young anything still amuses me to this day.
Ford has created a similar situation with its reborn Bronco line. The machine you see here is the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, which has about as much in common with the remove-the-roof-and-doors big Bronco as I do with Australian parliamentarian Matthew Guy.
But there’s still lots to like about this young bucking horse, even in this Big Bend trim that’s nearly as cheap as it gets.
The Bronco Sport Big Bend is powered by a turbocharged 1.5.L engine making 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. This amount of grunt is on par for the segment, pushing the trucklet around town and to highway speeds with relative ease. What isn’t par for the course are the three cylinders the engine runs on in a segment where most of its competitors have four pots – though a four-cylinder is standard in the top trim (and autoTRADER.ca has a separate review of that trim on its way).
Three-cylinder engines are inherently unbalanced (thanks, physics), so the Bronco Sport does exhibit some vibration and harshness, especially right after start-up. That goes double on Atlantic Canadian mornings where temperatures touched −20°C. However, Ford has done a good job of smoothing out the cacophony once it’s up to operating temperature, and I doubt I even would have noticed this rude behaviour in summertime.
Driving Feel: 7/10
No such complaints are levelled at the eight-speed automatic, a transmission that’s lightyears ahead of the miserable continuously variable units that plague this segment like a cloud of locusts. Like its competitors, the Bronco Sport comes with a typical array of driving modes for various conditions. Unlike its competitors, though, Ford has chosen to have a bit of fun and call them G.O.A.T. modes, otherwise known as Goes Over Any Type of Terrain. It’s a neat bit of theatre if nothing else, and it’s an homage to the original Bronco of the 1960s.
Of those five modes, “slippery” blunts throttle response to the point of futility – handy in driving conditions for which it is named but frustrating elsewhere. Sport mode wakes up the little three-banger, permitting it to hang onto gears for longer, which helps keep the turbo on a boil, especially around town. In some instances, turbo lag is best measured with a calendar; this is not one of them.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
Despite running a very green engine – and by that I mean new; this tester had just 350 km on the clock when I picked it up – fuel economy was staggeringly good. Only 51 L of regular was required to top off the tank after 625 km of driving, equating to 8.2 L/100 km over an even mix of city and highway driving on winter tires. What the inline-three lacks in initial cold morning smoothness it apparently makes up for at the pump. If this engine gets more efficient as it loosens up (and traditionally, most engines do) fuel costs will be exceedingly low – impressive for this little four-wheel-drive sport utility.
While they share much in terms of platform and drivetrain, the Bronco Sport is a world apart from the Ford Escape in the styling department. Round, expressive headlights look retro without dipping into the well of nostalgia too much, and the BRONCO billboard across the grille is very eye-catching. Ford’s also tossed in some easter eggs à la Jeep, such as a tiny Bronco silhouette on the rear glass.
Slab-sided doors and side panels pair well with the bulldog nose, and (fake) fender vents tie the baby Bronco in well with other members of the Ford family. T-square cues continue around back, lending to an upright and practical cargo area, though the taillights look unfinished. Perhaps it’s just my jaundiced eyes.
This trim of the Bronco Sport is packed with several practical and thoughtful ideas that are sure to make this a darling among outdoorsy types (or even those who just want the look). Starting around back, the glass flips up independently of the hatch itself, a throwback to the original Bronco and a tremendous detail more companies need to copy right now. Inside that hatch are a pair of LED lights, controlled by a handy cargo area switch, that can be tilted for better nighttime activities. A nifty bottle opener is integrated into the latching area.
The cargo space is wide and well-shaped, and my tester came equipped with a $200 cargo system which permitted a double-decker load floor. That same piece of plastic could also slide forward and be converted to a picnic table with legs. The entire cargo floor is rubberized, and so are the rear seatbacks. This means flopping and folding the rear chairs to expand cargo space produces a large area that has an easy-to-clean and tough rubber floor. Practicality, thy name is Bronco Sport.
Front-row accommodations were ample for this 6-foot-6 human, even with the optional sunroof. The seating upholstery in this Big Bend trim is similar to that of the more expensive Badlands, which is to say the material is simultaneously rugged, comfortable, and easy-to-clean. It should hold its own against an active (or family) lifestyle.
As for families, you’ll want to take yours along when test driving Bronco Sport. Legroom for rear-seat passengers can be pinched, especially if those up front are long of limb, which is why points are docked in this category. There are no complaints about headroom back there, as the rig’s stepped roof (hidden on the outside by a pair of straight roof rails) provides abundant vertical space. There’s even a pair of pockets on the sides of the front seats for smartphones, though there are no charging ports in the back.
Expected features in this class such as keyless entry, remote start, heated front seats, and an array of power points are all present and accounted for in the Big Bend trim of Bronco Sport. Confusingly, one can also spec a Big Bend package for $1,300, adding a sunroof and wireless charging pad plus a reverse sensing system. Dual climate controls are a notable omission in this price bracket.
What isn’t expected are the handy and thoughtful additions like the adjustable cargo lighting and bottle opener, or the quartet of carabiner-style hooks stand ready to hold grocery bags and zippered pockets on the front seatbacks that are perfect for stashing a few necessities. A de-icer for the windshield wipers was very welcome on a cold morning. It’s clear Ford is out to take Jeep’s lunch money and, with touches like these, it’s got a good chance of doing so.
User Friendliness: 8/10
If you’ve been in any modern Ford lately, you’ve been in the new Bronco Sport. Everything from climate controls to infotainment is exceedingly familiar, with the exception of some fonts and splash graphics specific to the Bronco family of vehicles. It’s certainly not a criticism, save for moronic pop-up overlays that hog the infotainment display every time a minor volume change is made.
A handy ledge between the central screen and ventilation controls has a grippy rubber surface and occupies what’s normally wasted space in many other vehicles. The positioning of the wireless charger, just ahead of the electronic rotary gear selector, is ideal. Chunky vents recall those found in F-Series pickups, lending a more rugged image to the interior of Bronco Sport than the Escape could ever manage. And yet another fantastically user-friendly detail is the dedicated washer jet to clean the back-up camera with every spritz of the rear window.
It is irksome that Ford’s adaptive cruise control system is an $850 option, since the feature’s lane-centring and evasive steering assist work well in most situations. It’s most and not all, though, since the system tends to act a bit paranoid in traffic despite all of the tools being placed in their least sensitive settings. Nevertheless, this Big Bend does come standard with lane-keeping and pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking.
When equipped with similar features and drivetrain, the Bronco Sport costs about $2,000 more than the Escape upon which it is heavily based. Whether that premium is worth the higher monthly payment is largely a matter of personal taste. I wouldn’t hesitate to select the Bronco Sport, as it ditches the Escape’s suppository-inspired styling cues and incorporates a yaffle of practical touches like the rubber cargo floor and silicone-sealed switchgear. Pricing also lines up well compared to its direct competitors like the Jeep Compass and Cherokee.
In the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, designers have created a better Escape. It looks better, is more practical, and doesn’t cost a lot extra. Useful details abound, like the washer on the back-up cam and its completely rubberized cargo floor – ones which are likely to draw in customers who normally frequent Jeep and (dare I say) Subaru showrooms.
Remember, the Bronco Sport is not the truck-based SUV you may have seen online. This is an important distinction because I have already witnessed several dealerships loudly trumpeting “THE NEW BRONCO” they have in stock when referring to Bronco Sport. These eyes have also viewed a local print ad advertising a Bronco Sport but showing an image of the big Bronco. It doesn’t help that direct competitors – like Jeep – use the Sport moniker to denote a different trim level, not an entirely different vehicle. Ralph and Young Ralph knew this conundrum all too well.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I3|
|Peak Horsepower||181 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||190 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.3 / 8.3 / 8.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||920 / 1,846 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2021 Ford Bronco Sport Big Bend|
|Price as Tested||$39,549|
$3,350 – Big Bend package (moonroof, reverse sensing system, wireless charging), $1,300; Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+, $850; Class II Trailer Tow package, $600; Floor Liners, $250; Cargo Management System, $200; Cargo Mat, $150