Road Trip

High-tech tuning makes the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport more off-road competent than expected

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands is one of the most capable compact SUVs you can buy.

Photo by Sue Mead

Comfortable, capable, and composed. Inspired confidence. Loves to play in the dirt! Either you're reading my report card from elementary school or a tale of more than 500 miles behind the wheel of the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands. The journey took a small group of journalists from Los Angeles, California to Lone Pine and back to L.A. via a sand dunes playground and along a 40-mile-long challenging off-road trail on the outskirts of Death Valley National Park.

Once outside the L.A. metro, it became clear that this all-new sport ute's breadth of competences was impressive, though somewhat expected. Ford wasn't just going to slap the Bronco name on a traditional crossover and call it a day. The company put this smaller four-door SUV through durability testing parallel to its bigger, more-off-road-skilled sibling, the 2021 Ford Bronco, evaluating it over almost all of the same low-speed crawling and high-speed thrashing exercises in Johnson Valley and the Anza-Borrego desert.

The point is this: the Bronco Sport has 'real-world' toughness and a collection of segment-best off-road talents, despite its junior role in the stable. The 'Built Wild' test steed was the Badlands model (one of five model choices) bolstered by specialized engineering and off-road proficiencies to enhance the standard four-wheel drive that comes on all Bronco Sport trims that carry forward the heritage G.O.A.T. (goes over any terrain) moniker.

Driving northward from L.A., I had the opportunity to check the boxes for comfort, technology and driving dynamics. The Sports' brick-like exterior styling is smartly-executed and carries forward Bronco's design DNA and gives an immediate impression of its off-the-pavement mission, penned with a high stance and chiseled angles of approach and departure, as well as the hint of its four underbelly skid plates.

For its price-point (this model starts at $32,600), I was impressed with the collection of infotainment and navigational technologies, safety features, and ergonomics. Elbow room abounds in the five-seater that wears interior cues that speak more to rough and rugged than premium accoutrements while the high safari-style roof sets the stage for an open and airy feel to the cockpit.

Traveling a highway speeds, I was impressed with the ample and on-demand power derived from the Bronco Sport's 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine that motivates with 245 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque and the integration of the eight-speed transmission that brings seamless up-and-down shifts. I also appreciated the fully-independent suspension that provided just the right balance of supple ride and responsive handling as I sliced with ease through bustling traffic putting the Bronco's Sport's electric power steering to the test. My only complaint was wanting a tad more braking power at the top of the pedal to slow the nearly two-ton SUV.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands The Bronco Sport rose to the challenge of desert dunes.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Along our journey, a highway closure south of Lone Pine, due to the crash of an Air Force jet near the main roadway, forced our group to deviate on a dirt-road bypass. The group traveled along the track with corrugated washboard, with divots and holes that dotted the road for a significant swath. For us, it was the perfect first test to check out the Bronco Sport's manners and ride comfort in an everyday, unplanned experience. The SUV soaked up the bumps and didn't stray from its intended path, even on loose dirt with pebbles.

Our first authentic off-road experience took us to the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, where we were able to motor up and over tall dunes, drive in deep sand, and perform high-speed maneuvers on a test track that Ford carved out in this desert area. As an experienced off-road racer that has navigated thousands of miles of dunes fields around the world, I was enamored with the Bronco Sport's traction capabilities. Its talents are derived from an advanced 4x4 system with a class-exclusive twin-clutch rear-drive unit that has a differential lock feature. This pairs with the SUV's Terrain Management System, which features up to seven G.O.A.T. Modes: standard modes include Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand; Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl are available on Badlands and First Edition versions.

Next up was a full-day of off-roading to check out more of the Sport's talents. The Swansea-Cerro Gordo OHV Route is a 34.7-mile loop trail located near Lone Pine that offers moderate off-road tracks and travels to an elevation of more than 8,000 ft., with views of Mt. Whitney and Death Valley. Our route along the Cerro Gordo Trail included a rugged backway to the Salt Tram Station and Cerro Gordo Ghost Town. On it, the road climbs rapidly through a corridor into the Inyo Mountains Wilderness and runs along the ridge atop the Inyo Mountains, with great views, wildflowers and historical mining structures.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands The Bronco Sport ventured far off the beaten path.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

This was the perfect venue to try out the Bronco Sport's hardware along a collection of steep, rocky and narrow tracks. Schooled by Eddie Khan, Bronco Sport Engineering Manager, I used different settings on the terrain management system with the locking differential in off and on settings, when the vehicle needed a more aggressive aid to climb up or over an obstacle.

I appreciated the Bronco Sport's 8.8 inches of ground clearance, 30.4-inch approach angle, 33.1-inch departure angle, 18:1 crawl ratio, and trail cameras when climbing up and over patches of steep rock and while navigating along a lengthy section of narrow shale shelf road with life-ending drop-offs on the side. On this trail in particular, precise driving is critical, as this last part of the road is prone to washouts and rock slides. If you research the trail, you'll see that it is deemed "suitable for aggressive stock SUVs with high clearance, low range, and skid plates" and, although we lacked traditional low range, the Bronco Sport's 105-inch wheelbase, with its slightly wider track in front than in the rear, and suspension, made the vehicle feel planted at all times.

Heading back to L.A. and seeing just how much dirt had accumulated on the Bronco Sport from the journey, I was thankful that the cleaning team could take advantage of the rubber flooring throughout the cabin and cargo area, easy-to-clean cloth seating surfaces, and silicone-sealed control switches to make their detailing job easier.

The Bronco Sport's technology and engineering made trail life easier. Though I've piloted thousands of vehicles in countries all over the world, the model and this journey will stand out because of how surprisingly well the compact SUV performed. Now I'm even more excited to get my hands on the four-door Bronco.

Trending News

 
 

Tesla quietly released the "toy" today.

Tesla

Tesla is known for being unpredictable, so today’s news is not totally shocking, despite being extremely cool. The automaker released a new vehicle today, but not for use on the road, and not for use by grownups. The Cyberquad for Kids landed today with a sophisticated feature set and a very adult price tag of $1,900.

The Cyberquad for Kids checks in at 122 pounds and can carry a person that weighs as much as 150 pounds. Two forward speeds include 5 and 10 mph settings, and reverse can reach 5 mph. Depending on the rider’s weight and speed, the Cyberquad for Kids can travel up to 15+ miles on a charge. Tesla says that an empty battery can take up to five hours to fully recharge.

A full steel frame underpins the quad, and though it’s being pitched for kids, the ATV features adjustable suspension, rear disk brakes, LED light bars, and a cushioned seat. The futuristic EV looks almost identical to the larger Cyberquad we saw during the initial Cybertruck demonstration.

A thorough set of assembly and troubleshooting directions are available on Tesla’s site, but despite the Cyberquad for Kids’ complexity, don’t get any ideas about using it on the street. Tesla recommends using it on sidewalks and for stunts, but I think we’re all looking forward to the eventual tidal wave of YouTube videos this thing is going to generate.

Tesla Cyberquad for Kids Kids 8 years and older, and up to 150 pounds can ride. Tesla

If you’re hoping to get a Cyberquad for Kids, you might be out of luck. Though it only launched today, it’s already out of stock. There’s no word on if more will become available. Those that were lucky enough to snag one should start receiving them in early 2022.

Related Articles Around the Web

Trending News

 
 

New compact pickup truck

2022 Ford Maverick: A small truck with big ability

The Maverick can tow up to 4,000 pounds when properly equipped.

Ford

Pickup trucks are big. And, over the past two decades as sales have skyrocketed in this segment of the automotive market, mid-sized, full-sized and Super Duty-sized trucks have grown more popular and larger in nearly every dimension. Bigger was better. However, for Ford and many buyers now, the option of a pickup with tidy dimensions is . The 2022 Ford Maverick is the revitalization of the compact truck and this all-new model is filled with a host of surprises and appealing features. Among the surprises are clever design and storage solutions, with the built-in opportunity for DIY customization, as well as a long list of available accessories.

2022 Ford Maverick The Maverick's bed can swallow 4x8 sheets of plywood.Ford

The Maverick starts at $19,995 and comes standard with a hybrid powertrain. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine is available. Ford says over 100,000 customers have already ordered the entry-level pickup that comes with a 4.5-foot bed and a crew cab body style only. Both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions are available, although AWD can be optioned with the gasoline engine. The mini-truck comes in XL, XLT and Lariat trims, with an available FX4 package that adds toughness and technology for off-the-road terrain. The package adds different suspension tuning, underbody protection, all-terrain tires, and backcountry drive modes, like Mud/Ruts and Sand, as well as Hill Descent Control. A First Edition Package offered for the first model year only comes on the Lariat trim and brings unique graphics, trims, and wheels. Sized like Ford's Ranger and other compact trucks of the past, Maverick is the solo offering in this reborn segment, although some might cross-shop it with the all-new Hyundai Santa Cruz that has a truck bed, but is pitched as a sports activity vehicle.

The Maverick is built on the same unibody platform and high-strength steel subframe as the Ford Escape and Bronco Sport. In the right light, it even looks a bit like the "baby Bronco" from the front with an upright body style, an eye-attracting front face and Ford's drop-down side windows. Standard LED headlights flank the grille while bed rail caps are vertical and extend from the bed to the top of the back window. One of the most appealing features of the truck is Flexbed that offers many different ways to organize and stow cargo within the bed's box 54.4-inch back end that can accommodate 4 x 8 sheets of plywood and has low sides for easy access along with a multi-position tailgate. Of note, Maverick has standard built-in 12-volt electrical power prewired on both sides of the bed at the rear to help with DIY electrical projects, plus two available 110-volt 400-watt outlets (one in the bed and one in the cabin) to power phones, laptops, small TVs and small corded tools. Fun features are under-the-bed stowage and a tailgate cleat that serves as a bottle opener.

2022 Ford Maverick An eight-inch touchscreen is standard. Ford

The base powertrain's hybrid is motivated by a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder that is shifted through Ford's PowerSplit CVT transmission; the internal combustion engine joins with an electric motor to improve fuel economy and bring a power boost. This Maverick version has 191 combined horsepower sent to the front wheels and 155 lb.-ft of torque while the 2.0-liter EcoBoost directs 250 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft of torque to either the front wheels or all (for the AWD) and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Drive modes include Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Tow/Haul. The hybrid has a payload of 1,500 pounds that can accommodate an ATV in back and a tow rating of 2,000 pounds, which will allow the truck to tow a pair of personal watercraft or small camper. The EcoBoost-powered truck equipped with the optional 4,000-pound Tow Package can tug a 21-foot boat.

We sampled a few different trucks and performed some towing and hauling exercises on roadways in the Nashville, TN environs. Top of our "likes" list is the hybrid powertrain that garnered great fuel economy and moves quickly when motivated by the throttle, as a result of good torque-on-tap. We were impressed by the backcountry prowess of the FX4 model that we motored on a dirt tow track that included a modest uphill climb and a section with a small rock ledge. The truck performed well with no slippage or drama. Of note, the AWD set-up has a more sophisticated rear suspension, a multi-link configuration in place of the front-driver's torsion-beam design.

2022 Ford Maverick Two powertrains are offered, including an incredibly efficient hybrid.Ford

The Maverick interior is somewhat simple and utilitarian, with materials and surfaces that favor function over form. The doors have large pockets that can hold a one-liter water bottle, and there are cupholders to hold up to 18 beverages, plus store a tablet or notebook. Base trucks are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-ready with a 8.0-inch touch screen for infotainment and ride on painted 17-inch steel wheels. Uplevel trucks get a few extra goodies, with wheel options that include 18-inchers. The five-passenger, four-door truck has a clever and deep stowage well under the rear seat that can even hold a fully-inflated basketball. The compact truck is projected to get better fuel economy than a Honda Civic; Ford says the hybrid can achieve up to 40 mpg city and has a 500-mile-long range on a single tank of gas. During our day-long drive exercises, we actually had a slightly higher rating.

There are a number of standard safety features onboard with Ford Co-Pilot 360, such as Pre-Collision Assist with Emergency Braking and Automatic High Beams Headlights and a list of optional safety technologies that includes Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Blind Spot Information with Cross Traffic Alert and more.

Trending News