2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks Review – One for the City


2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks Fast Facts

1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder (181 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM, 190 lb-ft @ 3,000 RPM)

Eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive

25 city / 28 highway / 26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

9.3 city / 8.3 highway / 8.9 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $32,160 (U.S) / $37,799 (Canada)

As Tested: $36,440 (U.S.) / $42,194 (Canada)

Prices include $1,495 destination charge in the United States and $2,095 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

A big part of the marketing push behind the Ford Bronco Sport since its launch has been centered around the vehicle’s outdoors/off-road capabilities.

What’s not being said is how one needs to buy the top-dog Badlands trim to really unlock those capabilities.

As I wrote earlier, the Bronco Sport Badlands is shockingly capable off-road. Slide down the trim ladder, though, and you’ll find yourself hitting the limits a bit earlier.

I know, because I tested the Outer Banks at the same off-road park I took a Badlands to earlier. And I wasn’t able to do nearly as much.

I’ll get to the trails in a second. First, let’s gaze at the spec sheet, where we’ll see that unless you order the Badlands (or MY21 only First Edition) trim, you’re getting the 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder that makes 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque and pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Outside of a hint of roughness here and there, the little three-banger is adequate for most on-road driving, and it wasn’t too much of a letdown off-road, though more grunt would’ve been appreciated at times when I was in the boonies.

Occasional uncouth behavior aside, the three isn’t a huge stepdown from the four-cylinder. It doesn’t even feel that much slower, despite the gap in power. Its noise level is roughly the same, at least according to my ears (we don’t do decibel-level testing). If I never, ever planned to do any off-roading that was challenging – if my only off-pavement excursions involved gravel or dirt trails that wouldn’t confound most SUVs/crossovers – I’d be fine with ordering a Bronco with this engine underhood. Although the four’s extra punch is always appreciated for passing.

That said, if you plan to go off-road for fun, or to reach some really remote campsites, you’ll need to squeeze out the extra cheddar for the Badlands. That’s because the Outer Banks lacks some key features one might need for true adventure. The 4×4 system in this trim doesn’t having a locking differential feature, nor does it have mud/ruts or rock-crawl drive modes, or skidplates, or tow hooks.

That last bit became a problem for me when I made a ham-fisted turn on a sand dune and sunk my front wheels. Thankfully, some friendly locals tugged me out without harming the vehicle mechanically or cosmetically, but it took some brainpower. With tow hooks, it would’ve been a breeze.

Similarly, I had to forego a rocky section of trail that the Badlands trim had conquered – because I knew that the Badlands had scraped its skid plate and the Outer Banks had no such protection.

The OB did manage some of the woodsier trails just fine, but I avoided some muddy spots – I didn’t trust the tires to handle the slick stuff. I think I’d have gone ahead had I been driving the Badlands trim, which has all-terrain rubber as opposed to all-seasons.

It wasn’t long before I concluded that the Outer Banks trim just wasn’t equipped right for a day of wheelin’ at the old off-road park and headed home.

Back on the freeway, I found the Outer Banks was back in its groove – the trucklet rides pretty comfortably for a 4×4. Perhaps this is because the Ford Escape platform on which the Sport rides is pretty good – the Bronco Sport Badlands was also a good freeway companion, even with the extra off-road gear – when it comes to on-road behavior. The Bronco Sport’s on-road ride and handling are generally pretty good, though occasionally you get a bit of tippiness. Not unexpected in a boxy, tall crossover.

Some wind noise at speed mars the experience, but it’s mildly intrusive as opposed to truly offensive. Slowing down a bit and/or cranking the stereo mitigates most of it.

Speaking of the cabin, the Bronco Sport’s biggest flaw, regardless of trim, is material quality – they just look and feel a bit too cheap for this price point. Sure, switchgear is easy to use, and that’s appreciated, but the materials don’t look and feel up to par versus the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.

The Outer Banks is the highest non-Badlands trim you can get, and it comes standard with features like LED fog lamps, LED headlamps, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, interior ambient lighting, Wi-Fi, keyless entry and starting, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB A and C ports, and Sync infotainment.

Options included wireless cell-phone charging, power moonroof, Bang and Olufsen audio, Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 Assist+ suite of advanced-driver’s aid systems ($795), the Rapid Red Metallic paint ($395), and the Outer Banks package (18-inch wheels, heated steering wheel, and more, for $1,595).

The base price was $32,160 and the final as-tested price, including $1,495 for destination, was $36,440. Fuel economy is listed at 25/28/26.

Overall, I dig the Bronco Sport. But the interior is a letdown across the board, and while this version of the Sport is just fine for around-town driving, you need to select the Badlands if you plan to go to the boonies. Or even if you just want more passing punch.

I’m sure Ford wanted to keep manufacturing simple, but I think the Blue Oval needs to offer the 2.0-liter in the Outer Banks trim, so those who never leave the pavement can get more power. I’d also like to see the Badlands package offered on 1.5s – some folks will find the 1.5 powerful enough for their needs, and why should they have to sacrifice off-road chops?

This is probably why I am not a product planner – I don’t have to make these decisions. I can just criticize Ford for their decisions without acknowledging cost and/or internal politics.

Were it my money on the line, I’d drop a few extra grand for the four-banger. Even if I never went off-road, it would be nice to have the extra power and the off-road features. But if that’s cost prohibitive, and if you need to do anything too difficult off-pavement, the Outer Banks Bronco Sport will work nicely.

What’s New for 2021

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is all new.

Who Should Buy It

The Bronco Sport intender who can live with less power and/or doesn’t need to do serious off-roading.

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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