Expert Reviews

2024 Ford Bronco Sport Free Wheeling Review

8.0
10
AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • STYLING
    6/10
  • Safety
    8/10
  • PRACTICALITY
    9/10
  • USER-FRIENDLINESS
    9/10
  • FEATURES
    8/10
  • POWER
    8/10
  • COMFORT
    8/10
  • DRIVING FEEL
    8/10
  • FUEL ECONOMY
    8/10
  • VALUE
    8/10

Back in the 1970s, Ford introduced a colour scheme it called Free Wheeling on some of its models, including the Bronco; its orange, red and yellow lines represented a sunset.

All these years later it’s back, with the colour scheme showing up on a dedicated trim dubbed the 2024 Ford Bronco Sport Free Wheeling, a new trim this year. It’s actually based on the entry-level Big Bend, which starts at $41,190, including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $2,195. Both the Free Wheeling and the white-accented Heritage trims are based on it, each at $44,190. This tester was further optioned with items that took it to $49,210 before taxes.

Styling: 6/10

The original Free Wheeling stripes were generally added as accents; this new heavily-striped one is definitely in-your-face. (As my husband said when I brought it home, “You didn’t tell me you were getting a clown car.”) I could possibly live with the stripes, or the red-pocket wheels, but the combination is a bit much. For that same price, I’m absolutely going with the Heritage, which is the best-looking of all the Bronco trims.

However, the stripes are also in the seatbacks, where they look pretty good and brighten up the interior. But then there are also door and dash accents that match the red wheels, and they could have been left out as well.

Safety: 8/10

The 2024 Bronco Sport received the highest five-star rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It also received the top “Good” in crash-tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but for the original front and side tests. It hadn’t undergone the updated tests, which better simulate being struck by a large SUV and assessing potential rear-passenger injuries, at time of writing.

All trims come standard with emergency front braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, and the rearview camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles. My tester was optioned with the Co-Pilot360 Assist+ package, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-centring, evasive steering assist, and traffic sign recognition.

But like many of these systems from several automakers, there can be glitches. Under a bridge on a 100-km/h highway, the system “read” the 60-km/h limit on the road above, and slowed down to match it. I had to override it as traffic behind gained on me in a hurry.

Features: 8/10

With the previous base trim discontinued for 2024, the Big Bend is now the entry point to the Bronco Sport lineup. With additional styling accents and upgrades, it becomes both the Free Wheeling and Heritage trims. Those three include roof rails, automatic climate control, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, remote starter, auto-dimming mirror, eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and heated front seats. Oddly there’s no heated steering wheel until the upper trims.

My Free Wheeling tester added a $1,495 Convenience package, which further added a premium steering wheel – though it still wasn’t warmed – plus LED fog lights, a wireless phone charger, integrated garage door opener, and rear parking sensors.

User-Friendliness: 9/10

The Bronco Sport doesn’t look as tech-heavy as some other entries in the segment, but that translates into easy-to-use dials and buttons that help reduce distraction, versus finding an icon to tap on a touchscreen. While that centre screen is also smaller than in some rivals, its menus are easy to navigate.

One downside is the gear selector dial: the transmission goes into park or drive when you turn to those, but you can then continue to endlessly spin the dial. A hard stop at park and drive, the two outer positions, would be better.

Practicality: 9/10

It’s easy to get both people and cargo in and out of the Bronco Sport, thanks to wide-opening doors, a squared-off tailgate opening, and a rear window that flips up to toss items inside. Cargo volume is 682 L with the rear seats in place, and 1,616 L when they’re folded down. There’s also a lot of room for small items up front. Towing capacity on almost all is 907 kg (2,000 lbs), while the Badlands is 998 kg (2,200 lbs).

My tester was equipped with a $225 cargo system that’s well worth it for campers. The cargo tray allows two levels for storage, and can be unfolded into a table under the open tailgate, where it’s protected from rain or snow.

Comfort: 8/10

There’s good legroom in the comfortable front seats, while there’s extra knee space for the second row thanks to the concave shape of the front seatbacks. The Bronco Sport’s square shape preserves some 1,054 mm (41.5 in) of headroom front to back. The ride is smooth and composed, and overall, it’s pleasant for drivers and occupants.

Power: 8/10

Most Bronco Sport trims use a 1.5L three-cylinder engine with turbocharging that makes 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. The top-level Badlands uniquely uses a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder that makes 250 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive (AWD) is standard. It runs primarily in front-wheel drive (FWD) but sends power to the rear as needed.

The three-cylinder is noisy at idle, but smooths out on acceleration. Overall, it’s peppy off the line, and has enough power for highway passing when you put your foot into it. It can flatten out a bit in its mid-range, but all things considered, it does the job as a commuter vehicle that can take you away for weekends as well.

Driving Feel: 8/10

Its responsive steering, tight turning circle, balanced feel, and composed ride make the Bronco Sport a decent little driver. Visibility is good, and it’s easy to park and manoeuvre in traffic. The drive mode dial is labelled G.O.A.T., which stands for “Goes Over Any Terrain.” That was the tag for the original Bronco, and of course is used on the current one. Other than its name, the Bronco Sport is essentially unrelated to the body-on-frame Bronco and so isn’t as adept at the truly tough off-road stuff, but it should get you to camp sites or hiking trails with ease. The drive modes are normal, eco, sport, slippery, and sand; the top Badlands trim further adds settings for mud/ruts and rocks.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates the 2024 Bronco Sport with the 1.5L engine at 9.3 L/100 km in the city, 8.1 on the highway, and 9.0 in combined driving. In my week with it, I averaged 8.8 L/100 km. By comparison, the Bronco Sport Badlands with its larger engine is rated at 10.2 L/100 km in combined driving; both engines take regular-grade gasoline.

Its AWD compact rivals are pretty close to that combined number. The Ford Escape, a sibling to the Bronco Sport, can rate as low as 7.4 L/100 km with its smaller engine (it’s also available as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid); the Subaru Outback as low as 8.3; and the Mazda CX-50 as low as 8.9 L/100 km. Meanwhile, larger engines in the Outback and CX-50, as well as those in the GMC Terrain and Kia Sportage, range from 9.3 to 10.1 L/100 km.

Value: 8/10

For 2024, the Bronco Sport lost both its starting Base and top-end Heritage Limited trims. The lineup now starts at $41,190 and finishes at $48,745. That’s a higher starting price than many rivals, where AWD versions of the Kia Sportage start at $34,295 and go to $45,095; the Subaru Outback at $36,290 to $49,690; and the GMC Terrain from $36,945 to $44,845 (all prices including delivery). Budget is always a consideration, but in the Bronco Sport’s favour, its driving feel and functional interior make it seem worthwhile rather than overpriced.

The Verdict

Nostalgia for the striped Fords of the past aside, I’m bypassing the overdone 2024 Ford Bronco Sport Free Wheeling in favour of the better-looking and identically-priced Heritage. But in either case, or even in other trims, the Bronco Sport is an impressive vehicle once you get behind the wheel. Outdoor lovers and city slickers alike should give this Ford a test-drive.

 

Competitors
Specifications
Engine Displacement 1.5L
Engine Cylinders I3
Peak Horsepower 181 hp @6,000 rpm
Peak Torque 190 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 9.3 / 8.1 / 9.0 L/100 km city/highway/combined
Cargo Space 682 / 1,616 L seats up/down
Model Tested 2024 Ford Bronco Sport Free Wheeling
Base Price $41,995
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,195
Price as Tested $49,310
Optional Equipment
$5,020 (Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+, $1,250; Trailer tow package, $850; Front and rear splash guards, $300; Cargo management system, $225; Convenience package of LED fog lamps, premium steering wheel, wireless charger, garage door opener and rear parking sensors, $1,495; Power sunroof, $900)