Test Driving the Bronco Sport
December 07, 2020
I’m not going to lie to you, I like the Bronco Sport. Bronco 2-Door and 4-Door get most of the attention around here and there are good reasons for that, mostly because they’re awesome. Here’s the thing though, Bronco Sport is good. I’m confident that, for long time members of the Bronco community, this little Bronco will surprise you and, in my opinion, it lives up to the name on its grille.
When I went out to the Moab 4×4 Expo, I got an Escape as my rental for the trip. I drove it the whole week I was in Moab and drove it on a day long trip through three national parks that you can read about here. It’s fine enough as a road tripping car. I didn’t have any complaints. However, when I went out to Holly Oak ORV Park the following week and spent an afternoon in the Bronco Sport, the differences between the two, even though they’re on the same platform, were stark.
Understand, driving impressions are very subjective things. Scientific, third-party testing is what gives us the numbers to make objective judgments on the specifications and engineering choices that Ford made when designing this vehicle. An afternoon driving a Bronco Sport is just one man’s opinion. But that one man’s opinion is that this little truck can wheel and if you give it a chance, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by it.
Going back to my recent experience driving an Escape, driving the Bronco Sport is more akin to driving a Ford Ranger than it is to driving an Escape. Looking out over the hood, Bronco Sport feels more truck-ish and the seat position conveys that truck feeling of sitting on, as opposed to sitting in, the vehicle. The first Sport that I tried out was a Big Bend with the 1.5L EcoBoost engine. When I pulled out onto the pavement, there was enough acceleration to bring a smile to my face and when I turned the G.O.A.T. mode dial over to Sport Mode, the throttle became more responsive and there was a discernable difference in the shift schedule.
It isn’t a sports car by any means. Unibody crossovers have a bad tendency to deliver adequate power at best and to be horribly underpowered at worst. Bronco Sport, even with the smaller 1.5L engine was among the peppiest that I’ve driven in this market segment. I didn’t drive the 2.0L on the road but given its performance off road, which I’ll get to momentarily, I’d have to imagine that it just gets better. Another key part of my on-road testing was turning radius. My most recent rental was a GMC Terrain and it’s turning radius was terrible. Parking was more difficult, and U-turns often became three-point turns. Not so on Sport. It turns a tighter corner than anything that I’ve driven in its class and that comes in handy more often than you might think.
For on-road driving, the driver’s area is laid out well enough. If you’re familiar with Ford button and control knob arrangements and Sync 3 then you won’t have much trouble finding everything. I particularly liked the placement of the Sync 3 display. It’s placed higher and more directly in your line of sight which helps when using the system. Unfortunately, Bronco Sport doesn’t get Sync 4 so there’s Apple Carplay integration, but it isn’t wireless. I would have loved for that to be included because, trivial as it is, plugging in devices every time you get in the car is annoying.
All in all, driving the Bronco Sport on the road exceeded my expectations but driving off-road is where this little truck really comes into its own. I lucked out and drew the Cyber Orange First Edition as my test vehicle for the off-road portion of our afternoon. To Ford’s credit, we took off in a group four Sports that included 1.5Ls and 2.0Ls and all the trucks did the same course together. There was one rock crawl section that the Badlands Sports and First Editions did on their own but all the other obstacles where conquerable by both engine sizes and with or without the available rear lockers.
That’s where things get exciting for me. I’m the kind of guy that thinks we’d all be a bit better off with some extra time outside. Bronco Sport begs you to take it somewhere awesome. There are going to be a lot of people sitting on top of an incredible amount of adventure potential and I can’t wait to see where our Bronco Nation community takes this little truck. I took my Sport up steep, slippery dirt hills. I rock-crawled. I forded a water obstacle. We took tight turns in narrow, winding trails through thick woods. We descended steep hills with loose rock and dirt under our tires. The Sport did it all without any issues, mostly through the power of the included G.O.A.T. Modes and Trail Control.
That could be the Sport’s biggest challenge. Getting the most out of your Bronco Sport will require some study. G.O.A.T. Modes are easy enough to select and give great visual indicators of what each mode is for, but it could be that most people don’t ever turn that dial. Even more so, using Trail Control will probably require those who need it to dive into the user manual to fully understand how it works. When was the last time you looked at the user manual in your vehicle? Hopefully, there’s some time and effort put into promoting these features so people get out and try them. Once you try them, you’ll be hooked. I was a bit nervous going down one of the inclines that was on the course but setting Trail Control allowed me to concentrate on steering while the system helped on the rest. Similarly, we tried an ascent up some simulated slick rock in Normal mode and we weren’t successful. However, switching to Rock Crawl mode made all the difference getting to the top. If you get a Sport, you owe it to yourself to dig into these features, head out to the trail or your local off-road park, and try them out.
Up to now, the big question surrounding the Bronco Sport was whether it was a real Bronco or just a more rugged Escape. The incredible capabilities of the Sport’s big brother meant that the smaller sibling in the family had a lot to live up to. If you’re asking me though, after having driven that ambitious little truck the question is settled in my mind. Bronco Sport is a Bronco and given its price, it’s a Bronco experience that’s going to be accessible to considerably more people and I’m excited about that.