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All-New 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Is the Cool Little Brother

Just don’t call it a Bronco II.

Conner GoldenWriterManufacturerPhotographerWilliam WalkerPhotographerSteven PhamPhotographer

It's a blessed day in Ford Bronco Land. Not only is the Ford Bronco back in a very big way, but the resurrection of the storied nameplate brings a new Bronco brand that the automaker claims will carry Ford's promise of future "Built Wild" 4x4 SUVs and trucks. For those who aren't interested in the Bronco proper—for size, price, or comfort reasons—the new Bronco brand brings us the compact 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, the first of hopefully many 4x4 Fords to wear the Bronco badge.

Confused? If the new full-size 2021 Ford Bronco is the Blue Oval's broadside blow at the Jeep Wrangler, think of the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport as the second salvo aimed squarely at the Jeep Cherokee and smaller Compass, particularly the off-road focused Trailhawk variants of each. Despite the Bronco name and off-road branding, the Bronco Sport pulls much of its structure and mechanical guts from the more quotidian Ford Escape, sharing up to 80 percent of its whole with Ford's non-truck bread-and-butter.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport: Escape Bones With Better Skin, Starting Price of $28,155

You wouldn't know that from comparing dimensions, however. Drape a tape measure over the two SUVs and you'll find the Bronco Sport is 7.8 inches shorter than the Escape, with part of that reduction coming from the 1.6 inches cut from the wheelbase. Conversely, the revised roof design—one not entirely dissimilar to the design found on the new Land Rover Defender—extends the Escape's roof by 4.2 inches. Cargo space is down ever so slightly compared to the Escape, but the new Bronco Sport manages 6 percent more passenger space.

Like the big Bronco, the Bronco Sport is available in a range of special trims, though the differences aren't nearly as extensive. Aside from the base Bronco Sport, the Big Bend trim adds additional equipment with requisite aesthetic touches, while the higher-tier Outer Banks adds more luxury and "sport" attitude. The range-topper is the Bronco Sport Badlands, also the most off-road capable of the Bronco Sport bunch. Like the regular Bronco, Ford will also offer a limited-production First Edition, with all of the best parts in one comprehensive package.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport: Tiny, Tough Turbos

Like the basic structure, the Bronco Sport's powertrains are sourced from the Escape, too. The standard engine is the familiar 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder, offering up 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque, a single horsepower and 13 lb-ft more than the Escape. The optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is down 5 hp compared to the Escape's 245 hp, but both rate the same stout 275 lb-ft of torque.

No matter which engine you pick, the Escape's eight-speed automatic transmission handles shifting duties, though Ford says the internal tuning is modified, as is the 1.5-liter's shorter axle ratio. You can't get the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport with anything other than all-wheel drive, and there are two distinct flavors of the system available; the range-topping Badlands rides on a more advanced torque-vectoring system than the rest of the Bronco Sport lineup.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport: Not Your Average Mall Crawler

Of course, a 4x4 SUV is more than its locking differentials, and we're happy to report the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport incorporates an upgraded suspension that includes Sport-specific control arms and knuckles that significantly increase suspension travel and track width when compared to the Escape, while special off-road tuned shocks should prove more durable and long-lasting over rough environments than traditional comfort-oriented street dampers. The electric power steering is fiddled with as well, now tethered to the many different terrain and driving modes available.

In keeping with the precedent set by the big Bronco, the available terrain modes are known as G.O.A.T. modes: Goes Over Any Terrain. All Bronco Sports arrive with Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand, while the trail-focused Badlands adds Rock Crawl and Mud/Ruts mode for sure-footedness over a greater variety of terrains. When toggled, the infotainment screen displays pertinent off-roading data points like tire pressures, corner-camera views, differential settings, and the status of the cruise-control-esque Trail Control that keeps the SUV trucking along trails at speeds of up to 20 mph.

If you do spring for the bad boy 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands model, the biggest upgrade you can expect is the all-wheel-drive system, now with a modified rear differential that can send up to 50 percent of available torque to either of the rear wheels. There's water-cooling for portions of the all-wheel-drive system, as opposed to air-cooling in lesser trims, and the suspension is reworked for an additional inch of ground clearance, for a total of 8.8-inches.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport: Ultimate Lifestyle Machine

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport isn't in the same league as the bigger Bronco, but that's just the way Ford designed it. The type of buyer the Blue Oval wants to court with the Bronco Sport is more interested in using their vehicle as a means to get to an activity, rather than the vehicle serving as the experience itself. In other words, Bronco Sport drivers are more likely to be rock climbers than rock crawlers, mountain bikers rather than dune hoppers, and would prefer to kayak down a stream versus fording it with their truck.

In this pursuit, the new Bronco Sport is bursting at the gills with lifestyle accessories. Standard roof rails provide opportunity for roof boxes, tents, or bikes, though you may want to belay that last one. Ford made sure the rear storage area is cavernous enough to fit two full-size mountain bikes, provided you fit your new SUV with the proper accessory. Most Bronco Sport models feature hose-down rubber floors, and you can option the seatbacks on the rear seats with the same grime-resistant material; it makes cleanup easier if your cargo tends to involve mud, dirt, or a bit of both. Those who take their dog(s) along on their trail runs will especially appreciate this feature.

Plus, there are little touches of utility strewn about the cabin to make a weekend in the woods that much more tolerable. On the seatbacks, Molle system straps are mounted to zippered storage compartments, and there's a hidden storage bin underneath the right rear seat. With the rear hatch open fully, integrated downward-facing lamps illuminate any tailgate gathering or activity, while a 12-volt socket and a 400-watt, 110-volt plug provide auxiliary power for gear like air pumps or electric fans. The rear storage area is accessible through the glass hatch, and has a pull-out false floor rated to support up to 50 pounds.

One of the coolest aspects of the return of the full-size 2021 Ford Bronco is its extensive catalog  of accessories available from launch, and thankfully the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is no different. According to Ford, more than 100 individual accessories will be available, including goodies like additional roof storage, tents, wheels, and lights.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport: Small Stunner

If this sounds like the perfect pint-sized overlander for your ever-so-active lifestyle, make sure to mark your calendar for later this year, as that's when Ford says deliveries will begin. At $28,155, the base level Bronco Sport carries a premium over a base-level Escape, which starts at $26,025. Ford is already taking deposits for the 2021 Bronco Sport, so get in touch with your local dealer if you want to reserve yours soon.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Highlights:

  • Starting price: $28,155
  • A seemingly worthy inheritor of the Bronco name
  • Perfect for active types
  • Clever packaging leads to storage abundance
  • It's all about the accessories

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Trim Levels & Pricing 

  • Base:  $28,155
  • Big Bend:  $29,655
  • Outer Banks:  $33,655
  • Badlands:  $34,155
  • First Edition:  $39,995

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