Try the all-terrain Ford Bronco Sport
After stealing my credit card, the diner cashier asked, “Is that your Bronco out there in the parking lot?”
After explaining I was taking a test drive, she told me about the two Broncos she had previously owned (her ex-husband abused them both) and how much she wanted the 2021 model (very, very bad).
She is not alone. The Bronco’s original run spanned the years between 1966 and 1996, and after Ford announced the return of the brand in 2017, the Bronco fever set in. Barrett-Jackson auction house reported that the average sales price for old models skyrocketed 88 percent over the next three years. A restored ’76 edition fetched $ 195,000.
Last year Ford finally announced details of the new lineup, and three months later, more than 190,000 people had already spent $ 100 reserving their place in line to buy one. It would be correct to say that the anticipation was high.
What does the new line-up look like? The best-known models are the two- and four-door SUVs with a removable hood and spare wheel on the tailgate. But the model that will likely sell the most is option number three: the smaller, nippier Bronco Sport. This is the one the cashier eats at the diner that I test.
In contrast to the two real SUVs, the Bronco Sport falls into the crossover category alongside the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V. It is essentially an SUV-shaped car built on the frame of a sedan and shares DNA with the more suburban-centric Ford Escape. The big difference is that Vigor and Bloom appeal to the growing number of customers who spend their free time camping, climbing, and kayaking.
Ford Motor Company
Sport makes good business sense: for most car buyers, it is the most practical entry point in the field. As a category, crossovers account for around 40 percent of new car sales. While SUVs are beautiful to look at – and they are great if you’re having a hard time towing – their smaller cousins cost less and offer better fuel economy, so you don’t pay extra for electricity you don’t need.
While Ford hasn’t released the full-size Bronco SUVs yet (COVID reportedly delayed production), the sport is now available. It became available in the fourth quarter of last year, and a few months later Ford announced it had sold 5,120 units. Those who make it to dealership lots sit an average of only six days before someone drives them home.
For my test drive, I planned a possible use case for people who buy the Bronco Sport: a long weekend in nature. Two friends and I met at 5:30 am on a Saturday in New York City. We loaded the hold with camping gear and set off for a 4.5 hour drive into the Adirondack Mountains. We went from the city to the freeway to snow, stayed two nights in our tents, and then drove back to civilization.
The Bronco Sport comes in five trim levels, and I drove Badlands ($ 32,820). It is designed for off-road use with a 2.0-liter turbo engine (compared to 1.5 liters on the base model), 28.5-inch off-road tires and an improved suspension system.
When my crew and I charged up in the pre-dawn darkness, I appreciated that Ford was thinking of putting a floodlight in the hold. The visibility made our complicated charging project easier and ultimately got us on the road faster. I also admired the Bronco’s sturdy rubber floor that extends over the entire cabin. It turned out to be more than capable of distracting barbs from snowshoes and hiking sticks.
After loading three packs weighing between 55 and 85 liters plus a couple of extra bags of emergency equipment, we set off to overcome the morning traffic. Out of the cab, the Sport drives as quietly as any new crossover, but when I switched between the seven driving modes I found more oomph than I would expect. There’s a lot of power there – especially in sport mode. (The other modes are Normal, Eco, Slippery, and Sand. Mud / Ruts and Rock Crawl modes are only available in Badlands and First Edition.)
On the autobahn, I set the adaptive cruise control to accelerate and brake. The feature is so sophisticated that the vehicle comes to a complete stop when needed, and it freed up some brain pace so I could talk about critical trail and camp plans while I was driving.
The Badlands Edition comes with a number of off-road benefits that I was unable to test. For example, it is designed to wade through 23.6 inches of water. And the Trail Control function works like a slow speed control, working gas and accelerator pedal for ideal traction in rough, difficult terrain. RVs will appreciate the two standard 110-volt outlets – one behind the front seats and one in the cargo area – as well as dozens of Ford-approved accessories and racks for kayaks, snowboards, bikes, and more.
The feature that turned out to be the most important for my trip was slip control. We encountered snowfall about an hour before the trailhead, and shortly afterwards we saw the usual victims of icy roads – cars in trenches surrounded by street torches, tow trucks, and state troops.
Some of the moving vehicles switched on their hazard warning lights and slowed down. And while I’ve definitely reduced my speed, I continued to ride confidently in the sport’s slippery driving mode, which mitigates sudden changes in tire speed due to rapid acceleration or potentially disruptive gear changes.
I tested the system at low speed by pumping the gas a little too hard and cutting off the wheel. The traction didn’t move. The Bronco’s brain effectively smoothed my driving and rooted me on the road.
I’ll spare the details of the camping trip, but after miles of snowshoeing and two tiring nights in the snow, it was nice to get back to a vehicle that I didn’t feel guilty about filling it up with ice-encrusted gear. In addition to the rubber floor, the Bronco’s non-absorbent padding can be easily wiped off.
I started the car with the keyless ignition and sat my tired body on the heated seat. Then I made my way to the diner, where I met the cashier, who was more interested in my Bronco than my two nights in the snow.
After breakfast, my crew and I made our way back to our homes. The return trip – quiet, gentle and partly controlled by automatic functions – highlighted the most outstanding feature of the sport: It is just as comfortable in the city as it is in the wilderness. And that’s perfect for those of us who like to go back and forth.
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