2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands Review – The Little SUV That Can


2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands Fast Facts

2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (245 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm, 275 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive

21 city / 26 highway / 23 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

11.1 city / 8.9 highway / 10.1 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $32,660 (U.S) / $41,044 (Canada)

As Tested: $35,745 (U.S.) / $44,089 (Canada)

Prices include $1,495 destination charge in the United States and $2,195 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Ford’s full-size Bronco has been hogging the spotlight all year long, but the smaller Ford Bronco Sport, which actually rides on the Escape platform, is doing all it can to get some attention.

Exhibit A: The off-road chops of the Badlands trim – which is meant to spend time in the dirt. This little ‘ute is pretty dang good on pavement, but it also did things that shocked and surprised me when I took it to the Badlands Off-Park in Attica, Indiana. The name is just a coincidence.

Before I get to the Bronco Sport’s surprising feats, let’s back up and go over the vitals. Opting for the Badlands trim gets you the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. It mates to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and this bad boy has four-wheel drive, naturally.

On-road, the Bronco Sport is fairly delightful to drive, which I chalk up to the Escape’s underpinnings. I’ve found the current Escape to be a good handler with a generally pleasant ride, and that translates to the Bronco Sport, even with the latter’s focus on off-road ability. The Bronco Sport handles corners better than one would expect from a short, tall SUV, although body roll does come in after a certain point. Switching to Sport mode livens up the proceedings somewhat, but we’re still talking about a tall crossover, not a sports car, here.

It’s also a composed freeway cruiser. Both the front and rear suspension are independent, with the front being a MacPherson strut setup and the rear being a double-lateral link with semi-trailing arms. Badlands trims get front struts with hydraulic rebound stops and softer coil springs and anti-roll bars. The rear suspension has 46-millimeter-diameter shocks.

My biggest beef on the long freeway jaunt to the Badlands was that wind noise, especially around the A-pillar, could be a bit loud.

The suspension setup may work well on the freeway, but it’s off-road focused. So, too, are the G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Terrain) drive modes – Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl. The latter two are not available on trims with the 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine.

The Badlands park offers a variety of terrain – there are wooded dirt trails (some of which become quite soupy with mud when it rains), sandy hills, and areas for rock climbing. One can even ford streams (or ride along with them) in the right vehicle.

The Bronco Sport isn’t the right vehicle to do everything the Badlands offers – I avoided any serious mudding – but it handled the sandy hills and wooded trails mostly with ease, though the day I went was a bit chilly and some of the dirt was nicely packed thanks to the cold weather. Had it been slick mud, I’d have been more hesitant to attempt some trails, mostly because of the tires. Indeed, it was much warmer on a later trip I took with a 1.5-liter Bronco Sport, and I begged off some of the same obstacles I conquered with ease in the Badlands trim.

I even managed some light rock-crawling, though I did worry about one serious bang/crunch I heard. Thankfully, the skid plate saved me from making an embarrassing phone call while also saving the rig from any expensive damage.

All of the G.O.A.T modes I used worked as advertised. Indeed, if I forgot to flip the switch to the correct mode after switching terrain, the Bronco sometimes struggled a bit until I put it in the right mode, at which point it came to life and vanquished whatever terrain I was on.

To be clear, the Bronco Sport Badlands can’t do what a Jeep Wrangler or a full-size Bronco can when it comes to off-roading. But it gets a good percentage of the way there, and I suspect it could do even more with appropriate aftermarket rubber. I’d avoid serious mud and keep the rock-crawling to a minimum, but if you like to off-road on weekends, you should be able to handle most wooded trails and sandy surfaces, and perhaps even ford some streams.

Other off-road features on the Badlands trim include four skid plates, as previously noted, and front tow hooks. The ‘ute can ford water up to 23.6 inches deep, and the flooring is rubber for easy cleaning. The seats are also meant to be easy to clean after a day of muddin’.

The biggest letdown with the Bronco Sport is the interior. Even in top-trim, it feels a bit cheap, and you’re saddled with a tacked-on infotainment screen running Ford’s much-maligned Sync system. The seats also get a bit stiff on longer stints behind the wheel. The Badlands trim does, at least, offer a fair amount of creature comforts (although you need to order the Premium package, which costs over $2K and my tester did not have, to get things like dual-zone climate control, leather seats, heated steering wheel, and premium audio), and the controls are easy to use. I especially liked how the (sometimes obnoxious) lane-keeping system could be shut off with a quick flick of a switch on the turn-signal stalk.

That aside, the Bronco Sport remains near the top of my list when it comes to compact, five-seat crossovers. It’s not quite as well-rounded as the Toyota RAV4 – which has a nicer cabin – but the RAV4 can’t play in the boonies on the same level, not even in TRD Pro trim. Honda’s CR-V is the other top entry in this class, in my view, but it’s even more on-road-centric than the Toyota.

The Bronco Sport’s off-road ability, which is better, in my view, than the RAV’s or CR-Vs, even in the lower trims (which lose two G.O.A.T drive modes and some of the other off-road goodies), makes up for the chintzier interior.

Standard or available features include active grille shutters, LED fog lamps, LED headlights, separate glass opening for the liftgate, LED taillamps, tow hooks, two USB ports, tilt/telescope steering, front camera (180 degrees), paddle shifters, Sync 3 infotainment, keyless entry, and satellite radio. Co-Pilot 360+ replaced Co-Pilot 360 and added adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane centering, navigation, speed-sign recognition, and evasive steering assist.

Standard across the Bronco Sport board is Co-Pilot 360, which includes pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, forward-collision warning and dynamic brake support, blind-spot information system with cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping system, automatic high beams, and a rearview camera.

Base price was $32,660, and with Co-Pilot+ ($795) and 17-inch wheels ($795) and $1,495 for destination, the price was $35,745. Fuel economy is listed at 21/26/23.

It is a bummer that Ford makes you buy the Badlands trim (or First Edition, which does not carry over into the 2022 MY) for the 2.0-liter, and it’s also a bummer that you can’t get the Badlands off-road equipment with the smaller engine. It’s annoying that if you want the extra power of the 2.0-liter, you must spend extra on off-road gear you might never use.

Yet, should you actually use this stuff, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Heck, even if you don’t, you’ll find the on-road manners to be surprisingly good, relative to this class, anyway.

I don’t, at present, have a need for a five-seat compact crossover. Nor do I venture much into the great outdoors (something I probably should do more of). That said, if I was shopping in this class, I’d have a hard time being talked out of a Bronco Sport.

Yes, the RAV4 is better all around, and the CR-V is better for those who never leave the pavement. But there’s something about the Bronco Sport’s can-do attitude and abilities – especially how those abilities manifest themselves in the boondocks – that place the Bronco Sport high on the list.

What’s New for 2021

The Ford Bronco Sport is all-new for 2021, sharing a platform with the Ford Escape. It’s positioned as an adventure-ready, five-seat compact crossover that uses the famed Bronco name, despite being different than the full-size Bronco.

Who Should Buy It

The outdoorsy person who needs/wants a small, five-seat crossover than has true off-road chops. The city-dweller who likes the boxy shape also might want the Bronco Sport, but if he/she never leaves the pavement, there’s probably no need for the Badlands trim, unless engine power matters a lot.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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