2021 Ford Bronco Sport Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Apr 01, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Ford deals!

More than 25 years after Al Cowlings and O.J. Simpson led police on a televised slow-speed chase through Los Angeles in a white Bronco, America is once again infatuated with Ford's legendary SUV. Broncomania is gripping the nation.

Two Broncos are returning to Ford showrooms. The headline-grabbing standard Bronco is modern to its core but takes its design cues from the iconic original Bronco of the 1960s. It comes in 2-door and 4-door body styles, offers a convertible top and removable doors, and promises off-roading capabilities to match the Jeep Wrangler it so obviously targets in its sights.

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is the subject of this review. The Bronco Sport is smaller and also takes inspiration from the original model, but it is not as faithful a visual interpretation. It shares a platform and powertrains with the Ford Escape but is a boxier and more utilitarian vehicle with more off-roading capability than its showroom sibling. In some ways, it's much like the original Escape, and capitalizes on the traits that made that vehicle so popular.

Every Bronco Sport has a turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. In addition to a Base trim level, the SUV comes in Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands, and First Edition specification. Since the First Edition is sold out, this review will focus only on the available trim levels.

What Owners Say About Small SUVs - Find the best Ford deals!

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Big Bend Silver Front Quarter Right

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 58% of small SUV owners are female (vs. 40% across all segments), and their median age is 56 years (matches the segment).

Owners say their favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Setting up and starting
  • Getting in and out

Owners indicate their least favorite things about small SUVs are (in descending order) the: 

  • Fuel economy
  • Interior design
  • Infotainment system
  • Driving comfort
  • Powertrain

The Ford Bronco Sport is a new model for 2021 and was not a part of the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Ford Bronco Sport - Find the best Ford deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a 2021 Bronco Sport Big Bend equipped with the following options:

  • Big Bend Package
  • Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+

The price of the test vehicle came to $32,205, including the $1,495 destination charge.

Getting In and Getting Comfortable

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Big Bend Front Seats

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

As is true of any crossover SUV, the Bronco Sport is easier to enter and exit than a car because it sits high off the ground. Aside from rear doors that could open at a wider angle, it is an effortless activity.

Once you're behind the steering wheel, the view over the hood is a treat, reminiscent of the original Bronco. Each front corner is visible, making the SUV easy to place for parking. The creased fender tops and hood bulges add plenty of retro character. Looking out over this topographical landscape is delightful but doesn't help much with visibility when off-roading. Depending on the Bronco Sport version you buy, Ford offers a front camera for driving on rugged terrain.

Despite 8-way power adjustment, however, comfort proved elusive. Without more leg support and seat-track travel, taller people may have trouble finding a proper driving position. Lateral bolstering is utterly absent. But the cloth upholstery looks good and feels durable, and the test vehicle included single-zone automatic climate control and heated front seats.

The Bronco Sport Big Bend's front passenger's seat does not offer power adjustment, but it sits high off the floor, so this omission isn't problematic. More leg support would be nice, though.

The rear seat room is cramped for taller adults, who will find their knees and shins resting flush against the plushly padded front seatbacks. The test vehicle included zippered storage pouches (my kids thought these were terrific), air conditioning vents, USB type A and C charging ports, and a center armrest with cupholders.

Commensurate with its price and vehicle class, the Bronco Sport's interior is loaded with inexpensive-looking plastic. At least it, and the soft rubberized surfaces on the dashboard and door panels, is easy to clean up.

Ford generously allocates interior storage. You'll find plenty of space for this size of an SUV, from the handy dashboard shelf and large bin forward of the transmission shifter to the sizable glove compartment and center storage bin underneath the armrest.

Cargo room is also a Bronco Sport strength, thanks in part to the SUV's boxy design. It varies depending on the version you buy but ranges from a minimum of 29 cubic feet behind the rear seat to a maximum of 65.2 cu.-ft. with the back seat folded down. Floodlighting makes it easier to load and unload the SUV after dark.

Furthermore, the rear window glass opens independently of the power liftgate, the Big Bend includes a rugged cargo liner, and Ford offers carabiner-style hooks on both sides of the space. These are perfect for plastic grocery bags to prevent them from emptying their contents while driving home. 

Ford also offers a wide range of Yakima accessories for the Bronco Sport, including racks, carriers, and roof-top tents. And the Big Bend's SecuriCode keyless entry keypad on the front door pillar means you can leave the key fob inside while you're adventuring away from the vehicle.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Sync 3 Infotainment System Review

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Big Bend Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Ford equips the Bronco Sport with its Sync 3 infotainment system and a 4.2-inch driver information center located within the instrumentation between the gauges. Both are easy to use, though it helps to have a baseline familiarity with such technology. Undoubtedly, the youthful digital-native customers Ford is targeting with the Bronco Sport will have no trouble figuring everything out.

In the Bronco Sport, Sync 3 includes:

  • 8-inch touchscreen display
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • 911 Assist (with a paired smartphone)
  • Apple CarPlay
  • Android Auto
  • SiriusXM satellite radio
  • FordPass Connect services (with subscription Wi-Fi)
  • Voice recognition
  • 6-speaker stereo

Ford makes a navigation system available, and it's bundled with the Co-Pilot360 Assist+ option package. It includes a breadcrumb navigation function, which is very helpful when exploring deep into unknown territory. The test vehicle had this upgrade.

During testing, Sync 3 proved easy to use, thanks in part to Ford's separation of stereo and climate controls from the screen. The voice control technology is excellent, providing fast and accurate responses to commands, including adjusting cabin temperature. Sync 3 required me to follow specific paths to success to find a favorite hometown restaurant, but otherwise, it impressively interpreted natural commands.

If there is cause for complaint, on a couple of occasions, Sync 3 would "hang" if I tried to change radio stations before it finished loading. Also, while the standard 6-speaker stereo is adequate, people who love music will want to upgrade to the Outer Banks or Badlands for the available Bang & Olufsen audio components.

What It's Like to Drive the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Big Bend Silver Side View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Most Bronco Sports have a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine making 181 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 190 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm. An 8-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to a standard all-wheel-drive system.

Choose a Bronco Sport Badlands, and the SUV comes with a much more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and more sophisticated AWD system. This engine delivers 250 hp at 5,500 rpm and 277 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm, and features a twin-clutch rear drive unit for improved off-roading capability.

Though the test vehicle came with the lesser of the two powertrains, it nevertheless supplied decent performance. The swell of turbocharged torque goes a long way toward making the Bronco Sport's 1.5-liter turbo feel responsive, and the 8-speed automatic is far preferable to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). However, the test vehicle did not match the 26-mpg EPA estimate in combined driving, falling a bit short at 24.6 mpg on the testing loop.

On the center console, you'll find a rotary dial that controls the Bronco Sport's G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) driving modes. In the Big Bend, they include Eco, Normal, Sport, Slippery, and Sand. Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl are exclusive to the Badlands.

Faced with sharply rutted terrain, I chose Sand and hoped for the best. The Bronco Sport scrambled along, demonstrating more talent than a typical crossover SUV would in a similar situation. On pavement, switching between Eco, Normal, and Sport, there are subtle but discernable differences. After choosing Eco, I forgot the SUV was in this mode because driveability doesn't suffer for it.

Ford equips every Bronco Sport with a 4-wheel independent suspension. It's tuned for off-road performance, and Ford refers to the underpinnings as a High-Performance, Off-Road, Stability Suspension system, or H.O.S.S.

Well, hoss, it certainly does work well in the dirt, but on the pavement, where you're going to spend most of your time, it's less than satisfying. Unless you're blazing over the speed humps on the street leading to your kid's elementary school. Then, the H.O.S.S. works like a champ. 

Aside from our off-roading across crusty, rutted terrain, during which the front end bottomed out once despite single-digit speeds, the Bronco Sport bucks and kicks its way down the road. The ride is bouncy. The SUV tosses its weight laterally and then sharply catches itself. It overreacts to sharp bridge transitions, especially at the rear end.

Light, disconnected, rubbery electric steering amplifies these characteristics. Immovable when the automatic stop/start system shuts the engine down, lifeless on center as you're driving down the road, and seemingly magnetically drawn to return to center when you simply want to negotiate a constant-radius, moderate-speed curve, the Bronco Sport's steering is dissatisfying.

The lack of feel results in regular steering correction and makes it hard to place the SUV in a lane and to predict how much steering input is necessary to achieve an objective. In a situation on California 154, when an approaching vehicle's left wheels crossed the double-yellow line, the Bronco Sport's lack of steering feel, accuracy, and sharpness was not helpful as I squeezed the SUV to the right to make room for the offending vehicle while trying not to drop a wheel onto the highway's narrow dirt shoulder.

Furthermore, if you're inclined to hustle a Bronco Sport down a twisty road, which is challenging given the lack of seat bolstering, you'll find that H.O.S.S., the steering, and the easily flustered tires are incompatible with that style of driving. And at steady-state rates of speed on freeways, the SUV is quite loud due to wind and road noise.

In addition to the unpaved hinterlands, the Bronco Sport's dynamic forte is urban areas. Here, at lower speeds, when traveling over crumbling infrastructure, the H.O.S.S. makes all kinds of sense. Plus, the light, effortless steering aids maneuverability for parking. 

Generally speaking, you'll be inclined to buy a Ford Bronco Sport for many reasons. On-pavement driving enjoyment is not going to be one of them. 

Ford's potential response to this assertion might suggest that people without plans to go off-roading should instead choose the Escape. This advice would ignore the overall allure of the Bronco Sport's purposeful styling and rugged image. Furthermore, as Subaru regularly demonstrates, it's not impossible to create a capable crossover SUV that's good to drive no matter the surface or situation.

Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ Review

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Ford Co-Pilot360 Menu

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Every 2021 Ford Bronco Sport comes with Co-Pilot360, the automaker's collection of advanced driving assistance technologies (ADAS). This package includes:

  • Forward collision warning
  • Automatic forward emergency braking
  • Blind-spot warning
  • Rear cross-traffic warning
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Lane-keeping assistance
  • Automatic high-beam headlights
  • Reversing camera

Additionally, starting with Big Bend trim, a Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ Package is available. The test vehicle had this upgrade, and it includes:

  • Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability
  • Lane-centering assistance
  • Evasive steering assistance
  • Speed sign recognition (N/A on Big Bend)

During testing on California 101 south between Santa Barbara and Ventura, the Bronco Sport's Co-Pilot360 Assist+ technologies worked well, for the most part. The Level 2 ADAS functions proved smooth, refined, and accurate under typical driving situations, and the lane-centering assistance is excellent because, though you can feel it working as you grip the steering wheel, you never feel as though you're fighting against the technology.

Ultimately, though, I turned off the Level 2 tech. Why? I'll explain.

In the middle of a gentle curve, while traveling in the freeway's far left lane with the adaptive cruise control locked onto a Ford F-150 ahead, the Bronco Sport suddenly, momentarily, and without apparent reason, braked hard. It happened only for a split second, no doubt because it inaccurately perceived an obstacle that wasn't actually there. But this took place just as another motorist had tucked in behind the Bronco Sport, and that person was not happy about getting "brake checked."

Not long after, while driving in the middle lane and slowly inching past a left-lane squatter, the Bronco Sport began to catch up with slower cars ahead. I pushed on the accelerator, sped up, signaled a lane change to pass them, and let up off of the accelerator as the SUV moved into the left lane. Immediately, the ADAS perceived the car I was about to pass as an obstacle and braked. Again, to the left-lane squatter I'd just overtaken, it undoubtedly appeared that I'd purposely brake-checked a fellow motorist, and that driver made sure to fill the Bronco Sport's back window full of Ram grille for several miles.

After these two incidents, I turned off the adaptive cruise for the remainder of the journey.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport FAQ - Find the best Ford deals!

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Cargo Area

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

How much cargo space does the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport have?

According to Ford, the Bronco Sport cargo space measurements vary depending on the drivetrain selection and whether the SUV has a sunroof. With that in mind, maximum cargo room behind the back seat ranges from 29 cubic feet to 32.5 cu.-ft. Fold the rear seat down, and you've got between 60.1 cu.-ft. and 65.2 cu.-ft. of cargo volume at your disposal.

The tall roof and cube-shaped cargo area are roomy for this size of a vehicle, and Ford supplies small bins on either side of the main cargo floor. The test vehicle's Big Bend Package added a honeycomb-pattern rubberized floor covering and seatback material to protect against water and mud. 

The cargo space also has useful clips for holding lightweight items secure, floodlighting for loading after dark, and a flip-up rear window in addition to a power liftgate. Purposeful roof rails ran nearly the length of the Bronco Sport Big Bend's safari-style roof.

Does the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport get good gas mileage?

When equipped with its turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine and standard all-wheel drive, the Bronco Sport earns an EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 26 mpg in combined driving. On the testing loop, the SUV got 24.6 mpg.

Based on our real-world result and the Bronco Sport's 16-gallon tank, you can expect a maximum driving range of 393 miles, or about 350 miles between stops at the gas station.

Is the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport safe?

Because the Bronco Sport is new for 2021, it had not undergone crash-testing when this review was published. Be sure to check for any new ratings on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites.

How much is the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport?

Prices for the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport start at $26,820 for the base trim and run up to $38,500 for the limited-production First Edition. But since that model is sold out, the Badlands is the next most expensive variant at $32,820. These prices include the Bronco Sport's standard all-wheel-drive system, but not the $1,495 you'll pay to have it shipped from Ford's Hermosillo, Mexico factory to your local dealership.

What are the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport competitors?

In the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study (IQS), the Kia Soul was the highest-ranked model in the small SUV segment. The Toyota C-HR was the second highest-ranked small SUV for initial quality. 

In the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout Study (APEAL), the Mini Countryman and the Toyota C-HR tied as the highest-ranked models in the small SUV segment. The Mazda CX-30 was the second highest-ranked small SUV for overall appeal.

Other competitors to the 2021 Bronco Sport include the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Jeep Compass, and Subaru Crosstrek.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Ford deals!

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Big Bend Silver Rear Quarter View

There is plenty to like about a 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. It looks great, it offers significant utility, it supplies genuine off-roading capability, it's technologically advanced (especially for the small SUV segment), and it checks all of the boxes for the youthfully adventurous but budget-minded demographic it targets. But as a daily driver, it forces compromise in terms of comfort and on-pavement ride and handling.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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