2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands 4x4 Review

Tougher than the rest


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Impressive off-road capability, gutsy turbocharged engine, cute but still rugged looks, hefty steering, excellent rotary gearshift and climate controls, easy SYNC3 infotainment.
Negatives: Gets mistaken for the real Bronco, smallish interior makes rear passengers suffer, poor set of standard features can't keep up with the competition.
Bottom Line: Don't let the small, front-wheel drive underpinnings of the Bronco Sport fool you. It's a real off roader ready for punishment. It drives better than we thought it would, and despite the cheapness of the interior, it's got more appeal than most of its competitors.
The Bronco Sport might seem like a copout for those who couldn't afford (or wait for) the real Ford Bronco. But Ford has taken what might seem like the mild-mannered front-wheel drive biased chassis of the Ford Escape and created a little beast. All-wheel drive is standard on all Bronco Sports, but the top trim Badlands gets special suspension tuning, a torque-vectoring rear differential, a Terrain Management System with seven driving modes, and enough suspension travel and tire meat to make it more capable than others in its segment, namely the Jeep Compass. We drove the Badlands trimmed Bronco Sport for a week, and you can read our full impressions below.
 

Driving Experience

8.3

 

The Badlands is surprisingly great to drive. A turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with 250 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, a significant upgrade from lower models'181-hp turbocharged three-cylinder. Ford also made the Badlands feel more like an actual truck than a unibody crossover. The result is a little SUV that drives and feels bigger than it is.

Ride Quality: The ride is defintely firm, but the Badlands feels solid. The suspension is stiffer, and as a result, but it managed bumps without a problem, and it never felt loose or out of sorts.

Acceleration: The little Bronco Sport is quick, getting to 60 mph from a standstill in 5.9 seconds. Throttle response was good, and the 8-speed transmission managed shifting duties well.

Braking: The Bronco Sport has some of the best braking in the segment, despite the fact that it has off-road tires and off-road suspension.

Steering: The steering is on the light side, and there's little feedback to be had through the steering column. Turn-in is decent, and it remained on-center at highway speeds.

Handling: The off-road nature of the Bronco Sport Badlands results in some body roll, but it never felt off-kilter.

Technology

8

 

We continue to applaud Ford's SYNC 3 system. While it's not the fanciest looking, it works well because of its simplicity and responsiveness. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard.

Infotainment System: The 8" screen is a good enough size. The screen is clear, and the responsiveness is excellent. Pairing to devices is super-quick too.

Controls: The rubberized climate control knobs and the large rotary shifter are great. They're some of the best we've used, and they make complete sense in a vehicle like this. The overall layout is also easier and more intuitive than almost any Ford we've driven this year.

Styling

7.2

 

You can call this a baby Bronco if you'd like, but we're impressed with how Ford did up the Bronco Sport Badlands. It's compact and kinda cute, but it's done with just the right touch of ruggedness.

Front: The wide expanse of grille and headlights are well-integrated and give the front end of the Bronco Sport a great, fresh attitude that looks like nothing else on the road, except for the actual full-sized Bronco.

Rear: The rear end looks tall, but the blockiness aids in giving the Bronco Sport a tough look for such a small SUV. We like the fact that the cabin's HVAC vents look like the taillights.

Profile: The Badlands trim give the Bronco Sport a tougher look than stock thanks to total absence of chrome. The grey wheels match the grey paint nicely, and we like the black roof, black door handles, and black body trim. The bladed C-pillar is also a very nice touch.

Cabin: We're not the biggest fans of Ford interiors, but the Bronco Sport's is the right fit for the vehicle. It's simple, chunky, and attractive.

Comfort

7

 

Needless to say, the Bronco Sport isn't huge inside, but it does a good job of taking care of the front passengers. The interior might not be high grade, but it's well thought out and not overly cluttered.

Front Seats: The fabric and leather seat combination isn't bad. The bolstering, cushioning, and seating position are spot-on.

Rear Seats: Legroom is tight for tall folks, but the seats feel comfortable despite the flatness of the backrests.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Bronco exhibits quite a bit of road noise at highway speeds but remains solid and decently quiet on local roads.

Visibility: Overall visibility is pretty good, but the thick C-pillars inhibit sightlines out the side rear windows.

Climate: The Badlands comes standard with heated seats, a great feature to have in Chicago (although we didn't need them in the summer). The large vents move ample amounts of air.

Safety

9

 

The Bronco Sport doesn't have the same level of safety tech as some of the competition, but it more than holds its own in crash tests. It's a very safe vehicle, and buyers should get ample piece of mind thanks to the top scores.

IIHS Rating: It earned the Top Safety Pick+ for 2021 with "good" in all test with the one exception of an "acceptable" for LATCH ease of use.

NHTSA Rating: The Bronco Sport earned five stars from the federal government.

Standard Tech: The Bronco Sport Badlands we drove came with the Ford Co-Pilot360 suite of safety tech that includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic forward emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, automatic high-beam headlights, and a reversing camera.

Optional Tech: Our tester came with Ford Co-Pilot Assist, which is essentially Adaptive Cruise Control with full Stop-and-Go.

Storage/Cargo

9

 

The Ford Bronco Sport isn't a massive vehicle, but for its size, the storage and cargo space utility is excellent. We were impressed by the thoughtfulness and usefulness of the interior. The designers definitely thought of virtually everything.

Storage Space: There are some great options for small item storage in both rows, including a large open cubby in the center console, big door pockets, zippable storage pouches in the front seatbacks, MOLLE webbing, and storage under the rear seats.

Cargo Room: The Bronco Sport has 32.5 cubes behind row two and 65.2 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. That's bigger than the Jeep Compass.

Fuel Economy

6

 

This is the one disappointing area for the Bronco Sport. We didn't expect it to be efficient, but it got markedly less gas mileage than we thought. The EPA estimates net worse than the Jeep Compass and way worse than the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road.

Observed: 18.3 mpg.

Distance Driven: 108 miles.

Audio

7

 

The stock audio system is a good one. It won't blow you away with full, rich sound, but it is clear and devoid of any distortion.



Final Thoughts

We're sure many buyers will flock to the Badlands for its looks alone. But what lurks underneath is the best off-road compact crossover in the business, with the Jeep Compass Trailhawk just behind it. What the Bronco Sport has in its favor, as well, are great looks, a gutsy engine, tremendous storage versatility, excellent controls, and top-notch safety. It's a compelling package that will make owners proud to own this baby Bronco.
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