When the idea of adventure is more important than actual adventure.
I want to live that life. I want to be out on the hills and dells and fording creeks for fun. But, I have kids. And responsibilities. And a job and a routine. And, I don’t camp.
However, I want a car that makes me feel like I’m someplace else every time I drive it, as writer Chastity Beene pointed out; that’s the magic of a true adventure SUV. Ford Bronco Sport, take me away.
The Ford Bronco has been one of the most talked about new cars in recent memory. Ford announced the return of the Bronco a few years ago, shared details with us last year and then, finally, brought it to dealerships.
The Bronco family includes the Bronco Sport and the full-fledged Bronco line; the Sport is more comfortable for daily driving, is smaller and comes in a 5 trim editions, each with different features and capabilities. The Bronco is outfitted more for off-road and off-the-grid adventuring and comes in 7 different trims.
Ford Bronco Sport Has All the Bronco Feels
To really put your mind in that magical place of adventure, each Bronco trim is named for a destination or experience: The Bronco Sport trims include Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands, and a top-of-the-line First Edition that, you guessed it, is a collectors item only available in the first model year. Bronco adds two more trim names: Black Diamond and Wildtrak.
The look of the Bronco Sport, which shares distinct details with the Bronco, starts with the grille; the Bronco name stretches across the front between the round headlights and across the tail gate where it’s framed by blocky vertical tail lights. The Bronco Sport’s shape is tall and boxy and features a ‘safari’ roof line that is even taller from the mid-section to the lift gate. It’s just what purists want in an SUV — extra head room and cargo space, because the tools for adventure (and tandem strollers) take up a lot of room.
From there, the Bronco Sport is filled with details that cater to the Bronco life, such as a dual-opening lift gate (you can open the whole gate or just the glass), a work light on the lift gate, and lots of spaces to stow your stuff, including two dashboard cubbies and zippered pockets on the seat backs. The interior has a very OG look and feel: anyone who spent time in classic SUVs will feel right at home here, but they’ll also appreciate all the modern technology, design details, and features.
Related: 2020 Ford Explorer: With Hot New Features and a New Look, This is Not Your Daddy’s 7 Seater SUV
GOAT Gives the Modern 4x4 a Bit More Character
When I heard that Ford dubbed its off road modes as GOAT modes, I immediately thought of those magical, funny creatures that can climb a tree for lunch, effortlessly clamber over rocky hills and eat just about anything.
And while the Bronco’s GOAT modes share that capability with actual goats, the name refers to the 4-wheel drive system that Ford calls GOAT mode, or Go Over Any Type of terrain; this name, and technology, harkens back to the original Broncos that were designed to go over anything and code named GOAT.
GOAT modes in the Bronco Sport are for the more casual off-roader; those who need 4WD to get to a vacation house or to get home on snowy days. While it’s a very capable system — we didn’t get a chance to really try it out, so I’m taking Ford’s word for it — the Outer Banks edition’s GOAT mode system is more ‘kid’ than buck, offering options — sand, slippery, sport, normal and eco — that are more capable than the typical all wheel drive. Upgrade to the Badlands edition for mud, ruts and rock crawl capabilities.
A Pony Designed for Daily Life
Knowing that the sweet spot in the SUV market are people who ask their SUVs to do it all — from managing school drop offs and grocery runs to family vacations, date nights, excursions to pick apples or watch fireworks, the Bronco Sport made its debut first. The least from-the-ground-up Bronco in the family – it shares its underpinnings with the Ford Escape – it makes sense that this model would make it to dealerships first.
However, it’s nothing like the Escape at all. Before my test drive I was a bit skeptical; I expected the Bronco Sport to be an Escape with a different grille and badges, but no. If I didn’t know that the Escape and the Bronco Sport share the same frame, I’d never have guessed.
That’s partially because the Bronco Sport has ground clearance. 8.8 inches, which is especially nice for a compact SUV and a full inch higher than the Escape (and the same as the Bronco). One little inch may not seem like a lot but when you’re short, every bit counts.
That extra inch, plus the Bronco’s upright seats, gives you a really nice command of the road. You can see everything, including the Bronco’s square, full-size-SUV-like hood line. Add to that the Bronco Sport’s lifestyle details and it’s a great package for daily life and occasionally challenging roads.
The Full Size SUV You Can Park in a Compact Parking Spot
The added height plus the compact size made driving the Bronco Sport a sweet deal. I could park in compact parking spots — and did!— and still have a full view of the road and highway. For running errands and lots of getting in and out of the car, which I did a lot of during my test drive, it was perfect. The seats are the perfect height for simply sliding into the driver’s seat and heading out. I didn’t have to climb in and, unlike some other ‘pony’ cars, I didn’t have to squat down to climb in. It was pretty perfect.
Driving the Bronco Sport was another pleasant spot. It shares engine with the Ford Escape, the 1.5L 3-cylinder Ecoboost engine with 181 horsepower and 190 torque. At first, I was skeptical; 3 cylinders? I was afraid this engine would struggle under the weight of the SUV, but once behind the wheel, I found it to be fine. Ford has long been building smaller engines that produce more power and the Bronco Sport shows it. However, if you need more power, the Badlands edition has a 4 cylinder engine that generates 250 HP and 280 torque, so even zippier and more powerful.
Add to that Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 driver assist and safety features, which include lane keep assist, pre-collision braking, blind spot monitors and adaptive high beam headlights, or upgrade to the Co-Pilot 360+ for $895 to add lane centering adaptive cruise control, road sign reader and voice activated touch screen navigation system. This system is great for keeping you aware of your surroundings, especially on busy roads.
Go Ahead and Bring the Boat: Ford Bronco Sport Towing Capacity
Of course with SUVs, especially those that are designed around the thirst for adventure, towing is a must. The Bronco Sport allows you to add a trailer tow and sway control package ($545 for the Outer Banks, $445 for the Badlands edition). The 1.5L engine can tow up to 2,000 lbs, enough to tow a small boat, a third wheel or a bike trailer.
However, if you’re going to tow a lot, or if you’re going to fill the car with kids and gear and plan to have a kayak or two on the roof, the Badlands, with the larger engine and 2,250 lbs. of tow capacity is a better choice.
Lots of Easter Eggs Celebrate the Bronco Life
Don’t we all love Easter Egg hunts? I know I do, especially the automotive kind. The delight of finding iconographic images that remind me I’m in an adventure vehicle keeps me on my toes and having fun. In the Bronco Sport it starts with simply getting into the car: the media screens come alive with an animation of boulders rolling down a hill to form into a bucking Bronco. This greets you every time you get into the Bronco. From there, you’ll see the bucking Bronco everywhere: on the steering wheel, on the seats, on the wheel caps. The Bronco imagery keeps reminding you that you’re now part of the Bronco family and makes you feel like you’re about to set out on an adventure. And, that’s the point!
What This Car Costs
- Base model, with flip up rear glass, Ford CoPilot 360 driver assist and safety features, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, 1.5 L 3 cylinder engine, GOAT modes, lift gate work lights and SYNC 3 voice activated media system and FordPass app, starts at $27,215
- Big Bend edition, which adds keyless entry touch pad on the door, easy to clean cloth seats, rubberized cargo floor mat, zippered pockets on the seat backs, LED fog lamps, starts at $28,720
- Outer Bands edition, which adds heated front leather trimmed cloth seats, dual USB A and C ports, smart key with remote start, 18” black wheels, the Outer banks package with a power moonroof, wireless phone charge pad and a B&O sound system, starts at $32,860
- Badlands edition, which adds the larger 2.0L 4 cylinder engine, under-body skid plates for off roading, 7 GOAT modes, forward 180 degree camera, front tow hooks, “trail control” speed control for off roading and front tow hooks, starts at $33,360
- First Edition, which Ford reports is sold out, adds leather seats, First Edition badging and includes the tow package standard, starts at $38,160
- Add the tow package ($445 or $550 depending on the model)
- Add Co-Pilot 360+(adds lane centering adaptive cruise control, road sign reader and voice activated touch screen navigation) system, $895
- Add a shelf divider for the cargo area (love this feature, especially with the flip up glass!) for $110
- Price of the model we test drove, about $37,605, including $1,495 destination fee
What We Loved
- All the Bronco feels, from the front grille to the media system animations
- A full sized feeling SUV in a compact, easy-to-drive size
- The large, nearly panoramic sunroof
- The flip up glass on the lift gate
- Auto brake hold… a great feature that every car needs!
- The combination of cloth and leather seats; they look and feel good
- The rubberized cargo floor
- Work lights on the lift gate!
- GOAT modes. Both the modes AND the name!
- The SYNC3 system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- USB-C ports…they charge much faster!
What You Need to Know
- Seats 5 but more comfortable for 4
- The larger 2.0 L 4 cylinder 250 HP engine is only available in the Badlands or First Edition models
- 5 drive modes, only 2 for off road driving
- Skid plate for off roading is not included on this model
- Estimated to get about 26MPG combined, we averaged about 17
- Uses regular 87 octane gas
- Towing capacity about 2,000 (2,250 with the larger engine)
What We Listened to in the Ford Bronco Sport, Inspired by our Outer Banks Edition
Anyone who spent time at the beach in the Carolinas will recognize this list and quickly get the urge to shag. No, not that shag, but this one:
Born in Myrtle Beach not far from the Outer Banks, but definitely something you’ll find at any dance hall throughout the Carolinas and beyond, and we were inspired to get sand between our toes, grab a been and do some six-stepping.
Disclosure: Ford provided the Bronco Sport for this review; all opinions are my own.