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.

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Domino's and Nuro announced their partnership in 2019 — and now the robots are hitting the roads.

Photo courtesy of Nuro

After announcing their partnership to work on pizza deliveries via self-driving robots in 2019, Dominos and Nuro have officially rolled out their technology to one part of town.

Beginning this week, if you place a prepaid order from Domino's in Woodland Heights (3209 Houston Ave.), you might have the option to have one of Nuro's R2 robot come to your door. This vehicle is the first do deliver completely autonomously without occupants with a regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a news release.

"We're excited to continue innovating the delivery experience for Domino's customers by testing autonomous delivery with Nuro in Houston," says Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president and chief innovation officer, in the release. "There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations."

Orders placed at select dates and times will have the option to be delivered autonomously. Photo courtesy of Nuro

Nuro Domino's delivery vehicle

The Nuro deliveries will be available on select days and times, and users will be able to opt for the autonomous deliveries when they make their prepaid orders online. They will then receive a code via text message to use on the robot to open the hatch to retrieve their order.

"Nuro's mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we're launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino's," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We're excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino's customers in Houston. We can't wait to see what they think."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

You can find out which self-driving vehicles are being tested in your neck of the woods by clicking here.


This article first appeared on AutomotiveMap's sister site InnovationMap.

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The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 is on sale now.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG
The all-electric range of the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 has been confirmed. The model is the first modern electric Volkswagen to be sold in the U.S. and a model that the German automaker is resting a lot of hopes on for the future of sales in the country.

The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro with all-wheel drive will achieve an EPA-estimated 260 miles of all-electric range on a full charge. The ID.4 Pro S and 1st Edition, which have more features and equipment and therefore weigh more, achieve an estimated 250 miles of range.

The EPA-estimated fuel economy for ID.4 Pro RWD is 107 MPGe in the city; 91 MPGe on the highway, and 99 MPGe combined. The ID.4 Pro S and 1st Edition does slightly worse achieving 104 MPGe in the city, 89 MPGe on the highway, and 97 MPGe combined.

2021 Volkswagen ID.4: Exterior The "1st" badging denotes the vehicle as a first edition model. Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

These new numbers come as part of a second round of EPA testing. Original testing found that the model did not quite hit its target.

How does that compare to other EVs? The Nissan Leaf Plus offers 226 miles of all-electric power. The Hyundai Kona Electric delivers 258 miles. Volvo's XC40 Recharge has just 208 miles of all-electric range but the Tesla Model Y can go up to 326 miles on one full charge.

First out of the Volkswagen gate will be ID.4 models with an 82-kilowatt-hour battery and rear-mounted AC permanent-magnet synchronous motor. That system delivers 201 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque.

At a public DC fast-charging station with 125 kW charging, the ID.4 can go from five to 80 percent charged in about 38 minutes. With purchase, ID.4 owners receive three years of unlimited charging at Electrify America DC Fast Chargers at no additional cost.

The 2021 ID.4 is on sale now, with pricing for the rear-wheel-drive ID.4 Pro starting at $39,995 MSRP, before a potential Federal tax credit of up to $7,500. The Pro S carries an MSRP of $44,495. The limited-run ID.4 1st Edition, which sold out the day the vehicle was launched, carried an MSRP of $43,995.

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