Far less extreme than the full-fat Bronco, the Bronco Sport hits the perfect mark for those needing a mix of practicality and capability
What a difference one word makes! The Ford Bronco is a throwback-styled, extreme-performing off-road monster — think a Jeep Wrangler from another mother. The Bronco Sport must be an even wilder version, then, right?
Actually, no. It’s a completely different car.
Where the Bronco has a live axle at the back, transfer case in the middle, and macho styling throughout, the Bronco Sport is basically a Ford Escape with a retro-themed, aggro glow-up. You know: the Escape that no longer lines the Ford Australia lineup?
While there’s undoubtedly interest Down Under to see the full-fat Bronco somehow make its way into local showrooms, it’s the milder Bronco Sport that is perhaps a better fit.
Ford Australia doesn’t currently have a logical offering for the popular (and lucrative) midsize SUV segment and the Bronco Sport certainly fits the bill. At least, that is, dimensionally.
It’s much less of an off-road weapon than the full-fat Bronco, but that doesn’t mean the Bronco sport isn’t worth your time. What this thing loses in trail-hopping ability it more than regains in on-road prowess and comfort. So closer to what are looking for in a midsize family hauler, then.
An ideal choice for Aussie consumption? Let’s dig a little deeper into the current U.S. version to find out.
In the U.S., you can get yourself into a base Bronco Sport for as little as $29,215 (AUD $42,946), which makes it a great value to start. For that you’ll have to make do with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost motor making just 135kW and 258Nm.
If you want any semblance of actual sportiness in your Sport, you’re better to step up to the 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder, offering 186kW and 376Nm. That’s what’s under the bonnet of the Heritage Limited trim you see here, which is the top-shelf model and starts at $44,655 in the U.S. (AUD $65,863).
For that you also get the upgraded, locking rear differential and the G.O.A.T. Terrain Management System (also available on the Badlands trim) as well as somewhat beefier suspension and roughly an extra inch of ground clearance.
Standard features include:
It takes about three seconds to realize that the Bronco Sport is a significantly different beast than the Bronco.
In the Bronco, it’s a bit of an inelegant climb into the driver’s seat and then the lightweight, easily removed door slams shut with a resounding clang. For the Bronco Sport, you slide comfortably into a low, plush, leather-wrapped chair and the door has a solid thud when closed.
The 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder spins to life with an unenthusiastic drone, but it is capable enough, again rated at 186kW and 376Nm.
Paired to an eight-speed automatic, the Sport won’t exactly thrill you with accelerative urgency, but it is torquey enough to be fun. For its part, the transmission is smooth and upshifts quickly, especially when you toggle over to Sport mode.
There are seven total modes, all accessed through a G.O.A.T. dial much like on the other Bronco. Spin the wheel and you can toggle through Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Rock Crawl.
Those last three are designated for off-road driving, and they automatically lock the Sport’s centre differential and enable the forward-looking nose camera.
Toggle all the way through to Rock Crawl and it locks the rear differential, too.
Now, don’t get your hopes up. Remember, this is an on-road focused machine with monocoque construction on the C2 platform shared with the Escape, rather than the (T6.2) body-on-frame underpinnings that the Bronco shares with Ranger ute.
In fact, in character, the Bronco Sport Heritage Limited is certainly more of an extra-capable SUV than it is a shrunken down, dedicated off-road 4×4.
As such, the Bronco Sport lacks the two-speed transfer case of the Bronco, instead having a centre differential that will see the Sport running in front-wheel-drive most of the time. Likewise, the front differential is fully open and the rear is a twin-clutch unit.
Actually, it’s basically the same Dana diff Ford formerly put in the Focus RS, now living out its retirement in a seemingly far more tame application.
So, again, not the kind of drivetrain you might want for serious rock-hopping, but honestly plenty enough for some significant challenges when the asphalt ends. In fact, it does strike a compelling and somewhat convincing all-terrain middleground.
That’s helped by a set of 235/65 R17 all-terrain tyres, which likewise aren’t pressed with the most rugged of patterns, but do provide more grip than your average all-seasons without the on-road drone of a full-bore, off-road tyre.
Most importantly, that tread pattern looks great stretched around the white, 17-inch alloy wheels.
Bolstering the Sport’s off-road prowess is Ford’s Trail Control mode, which takes hill descent to the next level by maintaining your speed of choice whether going uphill or down.
But, reasonably capable as it is off-road, the Bronco Sport is much more comfortable on asphalt.
Here, the ride quality is smooth and compliant, with just a bit of a harsh, truck-like edge on bigger bumps that almost feels like it was engineered into the thing to make it feel less like an Escape and just a little more like a Bronco.
It’s not the most polite midsize SUV out there, though its character does seem to fit the bill it pitches quite nicely indeed.
Ford has been going crazy with clashing colours, textures, and shapes in its interiors lately and the Bronco Sport is not immune to this affliction. But, something about the chunky, semi-retro vibe of this car makes it all almost work. At least when viewed through nostalgia-tinged glasses.
Most surfaces feature a sort of waffle-pattern, rubberised material that feels nice and looks a lot better than the faux leather pattern embossed on the steering wheel and elsewhere on the interior.
A few white highlights help to brighten up the dashboard, surrounding the gauge cluster and wrapping around the infotainment system, paired with some white stitching on the seats, which are themselves wrapped in fetching brown leather.
Again, there’s a lot of colours and textures, but given how brash the paint scheme is on this Heritage Limited flavour, it actually works – except perhaps for the incredibly harsh, sharp, cheap plastic on the interior door pulls that would feel out of place on a car costing half as much.
That infotainment screen is an 8.0-inch touchscreen propped up out of the top of the dash.
It looks tiny compared to the screens Ford is putting into most U.S. market cars these days, but it has everything you need — short of a physical home button to make it easier to jump out of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. While both of these are supported, neither is wireless.
This is Ford’s older Sync 3, after all, and though the navigation experience is a bit dated, it’s all functional enough.
The 10-speaker B&O Sound System won’t convince you that you’re sitting in a concert hall, but it’s solidly powerful and delivers good sound, a major upgrade over the average-quality offerings in the regular Bronco.
Rear-seat passengers have all the headroom they could want despite sitting up tall, giving a good view up and over the front seats thanks to what Ford calls a “safari-style” roof, kicking up aft of the B-pillar.
A pair of USB-C ports back here plus a 110V outlet ensure there’s plenty of juice, plus two air vents will keep those in the rear comfortable. Up front, power comes from a pair of USB ports, one A and one C, plus a 12V outlet and a wireless charging pad.
If you don’t want to put your phone there, there’s a second little cubby below the infotainment screen that’s perfect for most phones, plus generous door cubbies, little bungee pouches on the sides of the transmission tunnel, and even curious little pockets in the side of the seats.
If that’s not enough, there’s a flat, hidden compartment underneath the right-rear seat. In other words, there’s no shortage of places for your kids to lose their favorite toys.
Out back, this Bronco was outfitted with the $195 (AUD $287) optional Cargo Management System, which provides a sort of fold-out plastic shelf thing that seems designed for tailgating, but is so fiddly and finicky I can’t imagine it being of much use.
There’s a respectable 821 litres of boot space with the seats up, and 1716 with them down though this measurement is likely taken from the roof, not the window line like most cars do in Australia.
Better yet, the rear seats are backed with a sort of diamond-plate plastic covering that should hold up to plenty of abuse from dog claws or IKEA runs.
Every trim of Bronco Sport comes with comprehensive active safety systems, including pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, a lane-keep system and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert.
When it comes to airbags, driver and passenger have front and side-impact airbags, while the driver gets an additional airbag to protect their knees, and all occupants are covered with Ford’s so-called Safety Canopy to protect from side-impact and rollover accidents.
The Bronco Sport is not available yet in either Australia or Europe, so neither Euro NCAP nor ANCAP crash test ratings are available.
However, the Bronco Sport scored “good” ratings in all six American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests, earning it a Top Safety Pick+ rating.
The high-spec 2.0-litre EcoBoost comes with EPA claimed consumption of 10.2L/100km combined, with 11.2L for urban and 9.0L for highway. We saw indicated consumption at just under 10 litres (9.97L, to be exact) during our test.
With a 61-litre tank, that works out to 610km of maximum range.
Dropping down to the lower-spec Bronco Sports, with the 1.5-litre EcoBoost, returns claims at 9.0L/100km combined, with 9.4L for urban driving and 8.4L for highway. So neither powertrain option is particularly frugal.
Ford has a circa-16,000km (10,000-mile) service interval, with most intervals including simple things like oil changes, cabin air filter changes, and tire rotation, plus inspections of things like brakes and wiper blades along the way.
The first significant service comes at around 161,000kms (100,000 miles) and that just entails a set of spark plugs.
The Bronco Sport has a comprehensive, three-year, circa-58,000km (36,000-mile) bumper-to-bumper warranty. Powertrain, meanwhile, is covered for five years, or almost 97,000km (60,000 miles). Ford also includes free roadside assistance for that period.
You’ll need to get over the fact that the Bronco Sport is not a Bronco before you can begin to appreciate this car.
Ford’s marketing of this machine in the U.S. probably isn’t helping, going so far as to put a chunky little Bronco in the digital gauge cluster, which will give some owners FOMO – fear of missing out – every time they look down.
But ‘miss out’ is certainly the current status for Aussie buyers. Despite being a quality machine, for the most part, the Escape has well and truly done so for good in the Aussie market, leaving a hole that could potentially be filled by a Bronco Sport-shaped replacement.
However, such a prospect remains highly unlikely. Perhaps the mooted EV reboot in its next generation might pave the pathway landing Bronco Sport on local terra firma, both on and off road.
And that’s a shame because, taken on its own, the high-spec Bronco Sport as sold in North America is great.
It has more than enough off-road chops for any situation you’re liable to run into, enough comfort for the more tiresome on-road situations you’ll more regularly encounter, and comfortable seating for four plus more than enough cargo space for whatever adventures you and your family crave.
The old Ford Escape was a worthy SUV, but it didn’t sell well in Australia. This time, Ford is betting the the new fourth-generation Escape can out-manoeuvre key rivals.
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