Review: The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Is More Of An Off-Road Worthy, Go-Anywhere SUV Than You Might Think

You get solid all-wheel drive capability, whichever version you pick

2021 Ford Bronco Sport
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is more of a street machine than it’s big brother, but still packs some off-road capability in its own right. (Photos: Ford)
✓ All-new model (First time Ford’s done that in awhile)☓ Tight rear seating behind tall drivers
✓ Standard AWD☓ High step-in height, lift-over height
✓ Quick, supple ride☓ Can get pricey, depending on the model
✓ Fairly roomy (with a few exceptions)

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks: Overview

The all-new 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is the small brother of the larger, more powerful Ford Bronco arriving in just a few weeks. It’s a considerably better effort than the now-classic Ford Bronco of the 1960s and 1970s and the more comparable Bronco II of the 1980s, without losing some of the beloved throwback charm of those old models.

The four-door, all-wheel drive Bronco Sport has a handier size than its larger brother for congested areas, and comes in four distinct trim levels. You can either choose the $28,960 (including destination) base model, or the extra-cost Big Bend, Outer Banks or Badlands. List prices range up to $39,995 for the limited-production First Edition, although that one has officially sold out by now. All models have genuinely rugged off-road prowess, with good ground clearance and departure angles and short overhangs for handling sand, snow, mud, rocks and more — within reason. On-road comfort is good, but the Badlands version makes some tweaks on the firmer side to give it the extra off-road capability. 

2021 Ford Bronco Sport
2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks.

Styling: Rugged look, solid practicality thanks to the boxy design

My test Bronco Sport Outer Banks had a stylish rugged look, especially with its optional ($395) Rapid Red Metallic” paint. Two small but prominent parallel hood bulges look as if copied from the legendary 1950s racing-derived Mercedes-Benz 300-SL sports car, which had two flip-up doors. The Bronco Sport has four doors and a large hatch with a pop-open glass top in which to toss small objects if you don’t want to bother opening the hatch, which has two hefty pull-down bars for easier closing.

I tested the $32,160 Outer Banks version, equipped with the $1,595 Outer Banks package. It promises to appeal to many Bronco Sport buyers because it has attractive leather upholstery and plenty of features. Moreover, there are more than 100 factory backed and aftermarket accessories.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is directly aimed at other off-road ready crossovers like the Compass Trailhawk.

Performance: Plentiful for this class

The higher-end models like the Badlands and First Edition have a turbocharged 2.0-liter 250 horsepower four-cylinder EcoBoost with 277 lb-ft of torque. It works with an 8-speed automatic, but most Bronco Sport buyers don’t really need the larger mill. Other trims, including the base, Big Bend and Outer Banks, get a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque. Don’t let the three-cylinder configuration fool you. This smooth engine has plenty of zip for city and highway driving and also works with a responsive 8-speed automatic transmission.

Official estimated fuel economy figures for the smaller 1.5-liter engine stand at 25 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Combined, the smaller engine achieves a relatively frugal 26 mpg. Opt for the 2.0-liter-equipped Badlands, and those figures fall to 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway (23 mpg combined). As both engines are turbocharged, Ford recommends premium fuel for the best economy, horsepower and torque.

My test Bronco sport’s steering felt quick, but could have used a more linear and connected feel. Handling was also a plus point, even when taking on/off expressway ramps at above-average (but still legal) speeds. Braking had a nice progressive action and high engagement, so there were no points where the car felt cumbersome or unstable. A driver can choose the standard mix of driving modes including “Economy,” “Normal” and “Sport.” I found the Normal mode best for daily driving. Switch to Sport and you get tighter steering feel and the engine holds revs longer for quicker acceleration. Ford’s “G.O.A.T. Modes” add Slippery and Sand on standard models, and Mud/Ruts, Sand and Rock Crawl to the Badlands and First Edition.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Interior

It should be obvious that Ford designers put a lot of effort into making my test Bronco Sport Outer Banks user-friendly. For instance, both heated power front seats have zip-open storage pouches on their backs, a heated steering wheel, cupholders are within easy reach and dashboard knobs and hard buttons are well-marked and nicely positioned.

The 8.0-inch infotainment touch screen is easy to work, though it does use Ford’s older SYNC 3 system, rather than the newer 4th-generation system found on the larger Bronco. On the other hand, the console shifter dial is a snap to use, there’s available wireless charging pad, two additional USB ports, and a 10-speaker sound system. A large power sunroof, roof-rack rails, a deep console cargo bin and “dead pedal” area on the floor for a driver to rest his left foot makes the Bronco Sport a comfortable road trip companion. The tailgate has LED floodlights in case you happen to wind up stuck somewhere in the dark, and even the turn signal has a pleasant sound when you put it on.

The many safety features include a pre-collision assist system with automatic emergency braking, cross-traffic alert, rear view camera, reverse sensing system and lots of air bags.

Some criticisms, and my verdict

The large exterior mirrors on the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport are a plus, but thick front windshield pillars can partly block driver vision when the Bronco sport is taking a tight turn. 

A slight step-up is needed to enter the quiet, nicely designed interior, but occupants then sit high in upright seating. The front seats offer good side and thigh support and there’s decent room for four or five adults, although the rear-seat center is best left to the old-down armrest with cupholders. Also, a passenger behind a tall driver should have some more legroom, but that’s not as much of a problem behind the front-seat passenger. Cargo room is fairly good, but if above-average cargo space is needed you will have to fold the rear seats forward.

My test Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks had a solid, long-lasting sort of character. That’s especially comforting, given the car’s rough-and-ready, adventurous attitude over a more ordinary crossover. In short, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport delivers what it promises, though it can get pricey at the higher end of the trim spectrum.