What's in a Name?
“Look, it’s the baby Bronco,” I heard someone say at my local cars and coffee.
“You mean the Escape,” one of his friends responded. A few people chuckled––apparently, word has gotten around that Ford built the Bronco Sport on the same bland platform as the Escape.
It seems simple enough: the Bronco is the real 4x4 and the Bronco Sport is a mall-crawler for people who want an Escape with a boxy shape. But from Ford’s perspective, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. There has to be more to the Bronco Sport than meets the eye, right? I was lucky enough to get my hands on one to find out for myself.
Spec Sheet Racing
Some of you might be having trouble understanding why Ford bothered to split the Bronco family in half. The full-size Bronco is more powerful, more capable, and surprisingly close in price, after all. The answer is more than skin deep. To make the Bronco perform as well as it does off-road, Ford had to give it things like body-on-frame construction, a solid rear axle, and big, knobby tires. I love all of those things so much that I own them in the form of my daily driver. I also recognize that they make trucks a bit of a hassle in town. Having solid axles means that when one tire encounters a pothole, its twin on the other side of the vehicle is affected, too. A stiff ladder frame isn’t about to flex for such a thing, so any force the suspension can’t handle gets absorbed by––you guessed it––your body. If you don’t think a full-size truck with floaty tires can ride as rough as a slammed Miata, I have news for you.
Most people will never stray from the safety of their paved commute. In their world, the things that make the Bronco great would only make life worse for them. Enter the Bronco Sport.
The Bronco Sport does share a platform with the ho-hum Escape, but the changes Ford made are game-changers. Aside from looking different (and I think drastically better), the Bronco Sport Badlands Edition I tested got stronger control arms and steering knuckles, extended suspension travel, increased ground clearance, and wider fitment for those gorgeous wheels. The all-wheel-drive system, drive modes, and steering were also modified to improve off-road performance. I noticed that it had impressive approach and departure angles––far better than most street-oriented SUVs––and honestly not far off what I got out of my pickup with oversized tires.
Down and Dirty
Ford launched the Bronco Sport with press materials that lean heavy into an adventure-ready image. Drivetrain modes include ones designed to conquer sand, mud and ruts, slippery surfaces, and rocks. That was enough of an invitation for me to go sloshing through mud and rutted sand for a day.
The feeling of setting off down a narrow trail in an unfamiliar vehicle was about half thrilling, half unsettling. I wanted to test the Bronco Sport, but if it didn’t pass I would be stranded an awful long way from help. Between me and the next maintained gravel road were a few miles of loose dirt, mud, standing water, and heavily rutted sand.
The Bronco Sport happily rolled along without a hiccup, even when water was splashing over the hood, or its belly pan was getting drug through the sand. I was definitely able to feel the computer performing advanced calculus and exuberant throttle use was filtered out before making it to the wheels, but the little SUV had no trouble maintaining forward progress.
Anyone who’s driven a Subaru (besides the BRZ) would feel right at home driving the Bronco Sport off-road. I’d go so far as to argue that it performs better. Still, it gave me no illusions of having a transfer case and solid axles. A true off-roader? No, it’s not. A fun little SUV that can hold its own and take part in your wilderness adventures? You bet.
The Bottom Line
After spending a week with the Bronco Sport, a few things became clear to me.
Before I even took the keys, I was in love with the wheels. Timeless, tasteful, well-executed––every other manufacturer should be taking notes. I also appreciate the fact that Ford puts respectable tires on the Badlands Edition. If I had a dollar for every 4x4 truck I see on the dealer lot with flimsy little street tires, I wouldn’t be writing about a different car every month; I’d be buying a different car every month.
Buyers looking for a performance-minded SUV can keep on looking. The Bronco Sport does have a sport mode that livens the car up with the usual shift point and throttle response tweaking, but it’s no Porsche Cayenne or Mazda CX-5. That’s ok because those vehicles are no Ford Bronco Sport, either.
I bet Ford is going to sell these as fast as they can make them. You can buy a Badlands Edition with several options for less than $40,000. That’s not bad for a vehicle as well-rounded as this one. Base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks trim levels cost even less. Since I returned my Bronco Sport, I’ve noticed a handful in my neighborhood alone. Meanwhile, I’ve only seen two of the larger Broncos––both were at cars and coffee and one was a dealership car.
Marketing people will eventually ruin anything if you let them. Credit where it’s due: I think Ford does retro styling very well. Mustangs and Broncos look great. I even got a kick out of the touchscreen’s startup sequence that showed rocks rolling across the ground and into the air to form a Bronco emblem. But who, in the name of all that is holy, gave the go-ahead for GOAT mode? The acronym itself isn’t the target of my ire, it’s the meaning that drives me up a wall. GOAT stands for “goes over any type of terrain”––that’s two T’s for those of you keeping score. I understand why they didn’t name it GOATT or GOATOT mode, but I would love for someone to explain to me why “type of” had to be included. It adds nothing and makes the acronym nonsensical. Of course, if that’s the worst thing I can say about the Bronco Sport it’s a pretty good sign.
If you’re reading this with Ford’s website pulled up in another tab, go ahead and schedule some drive homework. Ask to take the muddy route while you’re at it.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Madison, Wisconsin. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.