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First Drive Review: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport deserves all its engineering accolades

The verdict is in on the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. Its engineering is a winner.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

It's the inevitable curse that comes with being a crossover. Buyers think you look okay and assume you're little more than a comfortable daily driver. Whatever pre-conceived notions you have about the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport being a crossover that just so happens to be lucky enough to wear the Bronco badge will be thrown out the window the moment you get into any sort of terrain off the paved road.

That's where the Bronco Sport shines. Unlike its closest competitors - among them the Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue - the Bronco Sport takes its off-roading chops seriously. For the model, its powers isn't just a drive mode or available all-wheel drive. The Bronco Sport is extremely capable.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport First Edition Ford allowed the Bronco Sport First Edition to be put through its paces at a former quarry outside of Detroit.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

That capability starts with a bunch of equipment the average buyer will never see. The Bronco Sport First Edition, the model's most capable offering, comes standard with an advanced 4x4 system that has a class-exclusive twin-clutch rear-drive unit with a differential lock - something you traditionally find on much larger SUVs and trucks. This system allows the SUV to have virtually all its rear axle torque delivered to either wheel making getting out of sand, through mud, or over rocks easier.

How much torque is allocated is managed by the Bronco Sport's G.O.A.T. Modes. Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand are offered as standard drive modes while Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl models come on the Badlands and First Edition model.

The drive modes work in conjunction with the SUV's High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension (H.O.S.S.). The Bronco Sport First Edition that was the tester was fully loaded with the system and the available Bilstein Position Sensitive Dampers. Ford developed the tech by test driving the prototype Bronco Sport SUVs on some of the roughest terrain in the U.S. and it's paid off.

In deep sand testing while in Sand Mode the Bronco First Edition maintained its stability at relatively high speed through a cone course without causing too much driver feedback. When crawling up rocks, the Rock Crawl mode performed as advertised.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport First Edition Even when encountering deep ruts and soft sand, the Bronco Sport was a champ.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Switching over to the experience in the less pricey 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks the stability followed suit onto the open road where the traditional jolting of Michigan-sized potholes was swallowed up by the system in Normal mode and not allowed to permeate the cabin. The same held true over rougher washboarded dirt roads covered in loose gravel. The Ford Bronco Sport might just be the smoothest ride on the market today.

The First Edition SUV also scored a win with its Trail Control technology, which allows the cruise control to be set going up to 20 mph forward and 6 mph in reverse for vehicle-controlled throttle and braking. On a steep incline, the system was very easy to control with moving the SUV's speed up and down proving to be an easy exercise allowing for 99.99 percent of the concentration to be on the terrain ahead. Maneuvering within the trail is easy enough thanks to connected steering and good wheel feel.

In the quarry cum off-road park where the Bronco Sport First Edition was tested, the fine dirt was a light brown color. The forward facing camera, in combination with the SUV's standard 8.0-inch infotainment screen, had difficultly displaying the nuanced differences in the terrain in bright sunlight driving rendering the camera fairly useless on a bumpy road. In the shadows it performed better, but contrast was still an issue The camera's picture display on the dashboard screen was also delayed to the point where the driver would need to be creeping along to use the technology effectively.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport First Edition The SUV's Trail Control technology made easing down this hill a breeze.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The First Edition's 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine delivers best-in-class 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. That means that the model has zero problem getting up to speed on the road and even less trouble keeping up on the trail. The Bronco Sport's eight-speed automatic transmission delivered the type of smooth shifts one would expect.

Ford could stand to give the Bronco Sport some additional top-end braking power.

As tested in the 2021 Bronco Sport Outer Banks, the smaller 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine proved up to the task as a daily driver power plant. Its 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque were more than plenty with two adults in the vehicle whether quickly pulling away from a stop or creeping through traffic, it's hard to see why most drivers would need more power on a regular basis.

Ford's biggest failure with the Bronco Sport is the line it walks between form, function, and aesthetics. In the high-middle grade Outer Banks model, the Bronco Sport isn't plush. It's also doesn't feel or look as rugged as the Jeep Wrangler's interior. Like the Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport's dashboard and center console components and materials feel a bit like afterthoughts made up of parts bin pieces in an effort to save money to pay for all of the model's the engineering. It looks much better in pictures than it does in person. The Jeep Cherokee, perhaps the Bronco Sport's closest competitor, has more aesthetically pleasing interior that appears hardier.

It's all okay - not great - but okay. There are technological highlights that will improve your impression of the cabin including the 6.5-inch driver information display and the infotainment touch screen, which are run by SYNC 3 software. That software operates as expected providing adequate responsiveness and easy-to-read graphics. The system is Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa compatible. Bronco Sport also has satellite radio.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport First Edition The Bronco Sport's interior is a blend of utility and parts bin buttons and knobs. It's not bad, it's just not great.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The seats in the Bronco Sport are comfortable and there's good enough room for four adults plus their cargo for a trip. It also has a good amount of thoughtful additions for buyers who want to take their Bronco Sport along for their adventure including liftgate LED flood lamps, MOLLE straps to carry extra gear, zippered seatback pockets, and a built-in bottle opener in the cargo area. Those are all little pluses that add up.

Ford has given the Bronco Sport lineup its suite of advanced driver-assist technologies called Ford Co-Pilot360 as standard equipment. Its roster includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning with dynamic braking support, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, lane keeping, automatic high beams, and a rearview camera. An upgraded version of the system, Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go and lane centering, evasive steering assist, and voice-activated touch screen navigation. Available Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist 2.0 technology adds adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-centering, and speed limit sign recognition.

Let's face it. Very few Bronco Sport buyers are likely to do any sort of real off-roading with their SUV. That doesn't mean that it's not exceptionally capable. Against the crossover odds, Ford has made a proven, true off-roader with its Bronco Sport that will appeal to drivers not just because of its name.

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2021 Ford Bronco review: Return of a legend

Several of the Bronco's body panels are removable.

Ford

Ford says its 2021 Bronco is 'Built Wild' like its wild-horse namesake and, as this iconic model returns to the U.S. market after a 25-year hiatus, it's ready to gallop to glory once again. Released from the Ford stables in 1965, the Bronco was America's first-ever "sport ute" and heralded as the first "4WD sports car" with both off-road capability and on-road competency; it was also dubbed the "G.O.A.T." (goes over any terrain). The all-new model is reincarnated as a modern-day midsize SUV with heritage-inspired styling; rugged engineering; and a collection of smart technologies for the backcountry and four-wheeling, as well as for a smoothish ride around town and on the highway. It marries the tough attributes of Ford's F-Series trucks with a fully-boxed steel-ladder frame and advanced 4WD systems to the performance spirit of the Mustang—and, once again, is nicknamed G.O.A.T! Larger than its stablemate, the Bronco Sport competes with vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee, while the Bronco is a direct competitor to the Jeep Wrangler. It goes on sale this summer starting at $29,995

Bronco Trims and Configurations


2021 Ford Bronco Two- and four-door versions of the Bronco are available.Ford


The new Bronco comes in 4WD only, and is available in a two-door version that seats four people or a four-door model with room for five, plus hard-top and soft-top options. There are two engine choices: A turbocharged 2.3-liter I-4 that offers up to 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque (best-in-class) is standard. It pairs with either a 10-speed auto or a 7-speed manual. The optional engine is a 2.7-liter V6 with a twin turbo that produces 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, which is also best-in-class. The V6 is available only with the ten-speed automatic transmission.

The manual transmission has six traditional gears, plus a "crawler gear" that has a best-in-class gear ratio of 94.75:1. There are seven Bronco models that include Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak and a limited First Edition that quickly sold out when order banks opened.

Bronco Features and Styling

The Bronco comes in a staggering number of exclusive color combinations that vary between models. The highly configurable off-roader is designed for both novice and hard-core 4WD experts, with easily removable roof panels, bumper sections and doors that can be stored in the trunk.

Though all-new, the latest Bronco takes its design cues from the proportions, square, boxy looks and flat sides of the original model. Large, open wheel wells are amplified by removeable bolt-on front and rear fenders, while the Bronco's fender flares sport quick-release fasteners to help with customization. Interior appointments vary by model but are designed to appeal to the heart and lifestyle of weekend warriors and 4WD adventurers with durable, with waterproof surfaces, an off-road performance app, and an available 12-inch LCD touchscreen paired with Ford's SYNC4 system touchscreen (an 8-inch is standard), among other communication and audio features. A 12-volt hook-up and USB power connections are at-the-ready to mount cameras, navigation units, phones or other devices.

Bronco First Drive Impressions


2021 Ford Bronco Several color combinations are available with various Bronco trims.Ford


We tried out 5 different models during our test drive that began in the urban environment of Austin, TX and took us to Ford's first Off Roadeo 4WD playground in Marble Falls. Our road-going drive was in a 2-door Outer Banks model with the manual transmission. On the plus side, the manual shifts smoothly, and we had the opportunity to use the crawler gear at a local boat launch. On a steep uphill over loose-surface terrain-we found it suitably impressive.

In general, there was good power, plenty of torque, and competent steering that carved the twisty roads with ease. The Bronco offers surprisingly smooth braking, although we'd like the brakes to be a bit "taller" for more aggressive stopping. Notable is the quietness of the cabin and comfort of the seats. Our only complaints were seatbelts that are not height-adjustable and a couple of ergonomics complaints for our 5'2" driver (although Ford is looking into making changes for both!).

We navigated our way through three off-road courses designed by 4WD experts that included rocky terrain, muddy motoring and dirt two-track with up and downhill climbs. We were impressed with Ford's Terrain Management System with G.O.A.T. (goes over any terrain) modes, which allow up to seven driver-selectable settings (Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, plus Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl for off-roading). Two 4WD systems include a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case and an optional two-speed electromechanical transfer case with an auto mode for on-demand selection between 2H and 4H. A Dana 44 solid rear axle and Dana independent front differential unit are both available, as electronic locking differentials-provide more grunt. Bead-lock 17-inch wheels compliment aggressive off-road tires.

We also tested the Bronco's Trail Toolbox, which is a suite of off-road technologies that includes Trail Control (cruise control for low-speed trail driving), class-exclusive Trail Turn Assist (tightens off-road turning radiuses through torque vectoring), and Trail One-Pedal Drive (aids in acceleration/braking control for precise and confident low-speed rock crawling).

The Bronco's four-wheel-drive attributes include:

  • Up to 11.5-inches of ground clearance
  • 43.2-degree approach, 26.3-degree breakover and 37.0-degree departure angles
  • Best-in-class water fording of up to 33.5 inches (w/ optional 35-inch tires that are available on every series)
  • Steel underbody armor to protect vulnerable parts and an available front bash plate
  • Heavy-duty modular steel front bumper w/ an integrated accessory winch mount
  • Side rock rails
  • Standard front and rear tow hooks
  • Sway bar disconnect
  • A 360-degree camera system with class-exclusive off-road spotter views for additional visibility in technical off-road terrain
  • Trail sites (a styling cue from the first Broncos) on the front fenders that also serve as tie-downs with a 150-lb. capacity for securing longer items, such as canoes.

The Bronco moves with ease at both slow- and high-speeds as a result of its class-leading front and rear suspension travel with a high-performance off-road stability suspension system (HOSS). Up front is an independent front suspension set-up with a solid rear axle with long-travel coil springs; suspension systems vary by model-for instance, the Sasquatch off-road package (available on all models) and standard on Badlands is long-travel position-sensitive Bilstein dampers, with end-stop control valves that allow more articulation, reduce harshness and bring durability.


2021 Ford Bronco The Bronco can be ordered with either a hard or soft top.Ford


After years of buildup and speculation, the Ford Bronco had to be good, and for the most part it accomplishes that goal. The combination of technology and off-road prowess, combined with a mostly reasonable price tag, should be enough for the Ford to put up serious competition against the Jeep Wrangler and other off-road SUVs.

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New Jeep Compass Coming Soon

The Compass gets a major update for 2022.

Stellantis/Jeep

The Chicago Auto Show is happening now, which means we've already seen a few new models and concepts. Just yesterday, Jeep introduced the new 2022 Compass compact SUV. It gets a new design inside and out, updated tech, and a load of new available driver aids. The Compass' refresh comes as new models from Ford, Subaru and others could cut into Jeep's off-road dominance.

As it was in previous model years, the new Compass is powered by a 2.4-liter "Tigershark" four-cylinder engine that makes 177 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It's good for up to 31 mpg on the highway in 2WD models and can deliver a max towing capacity of up to 2,000 pounds in 4WD models. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard for Compass Sport and Latitude 4X2 models, while all others get a nine-speed automatic transmission that can handle the 20:1 crawl ratio setting in the Trailhawk model.

An all-new Latitude LUX trim joins the Compass lineup for 2022 as well. It features leather upholstery, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, an eight-way power driver seat, a seven-inch full-color gauge cluster, and the larger 10.1-inch screen.


2022 Jeep Compass The new Compass is more upscale than its predecessor.Stellantis/Jeep


The Compass comes with a class-leading 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, but higher trims get an even larger 10.1-inch unit. It offers standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and runs Uconnect 5, a colorful, responsive infotainment system with advanced features and tech.

Several new safety features make an appearance, but most are added-cost options. The highway assist system offers a semi-autonomous driving feature, which Jeep says will become available later. Other tech includes traffic sign recognition, standard pedestrian/cyclist automatic emergency braking, a surround-view camera system, parallel and perpendicular parking assist, and a long list of more traditional advanced driver aids like blind spot monitoring and parking sensors.

The Compass lineup for 2022 includes five trims: Sport, Latitude, Latitude LUX, Limited, and Trailhawk. Pricing for the new Compass starts at $26,490, including a $1,495 destination charge. At the top of the lineup, the Trailhawk and Limited models both start at $32,890. It's expected to start arriving on dealers' lots in fall 2021.


2022 Jeep Compass New color schemes highlight the Compass' interior.Stellantis/Jeep

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