Two weeks ago, Ford Canada invited us to their Toronto HQ to take a closer look at the new 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. A closer look did not mean a road test, at least not for now. Nevertheless, we accepted the invitation to go meet the model that was first introduced by Ford online a few weeks ago.
We also took the opportunity to test drive the new Toyota Tacoma pickup with a manual transmission in a slightly more substantial way; we'll be presenting you with a review of this vehicle shortly.
As for the Bronco Sport, while we liked some of the things we discovered about it, others left us more perplexed.
This is THE highlight of this new SUV. On this point, Ford's stylists have hit it out of the park. The Bronco’s design signature is a winner, and in that respect, it's a bit reminiscent of the kind of media reaction we saw when Jeep first showed the first images of its Renegade SUV in 2014. In fact, something else reminds us of that vehicle, but not for the right reasons; we'll get back to that.
The other positive note involves how Ford names the Bronco Sport’s versions. Quite frankly, we're getting tired of alphanumeric or simply alphabetic nomenclatures like XLT, SE, LE, etc. Who hasn’t? Here, with four variants that adopt as names Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks and Badlands, there’s no confusion. Good on you, Ford.
Staying with the design theme, the Bronco Sport features elements that will distinguish it in its category. For example, there’s the raised roof line at the rear that reminds us of what Land Rover used to do not so long ago. The roof rails, which are integrated in all variants and which can be used as a base for the installation of a tent on the roof, are also very interesting. On board, two mountain bikes can be placed in the cargo area. They can even be installed on racks specifically designed for this purpose, and they are among the 100 accessories already offered for the vehicle.
When you take a tour of the model, you'll discover this kind of attention and these types of features just about everywhere. It’s clear that Ford has designed its product for those who get their hands dirty on the weekends, not just for those who want to give the impression of living an active life.
Of the four versions, the Badlands is the attention-grabber. A single look at its face dsjhows it benefits from a different design, with its shield that allows greater angles of approach in off-road driving. In fact, while every Bronco Sport is equipped with an independent suspension and five adapted drive modes, the Badlands trim includes specific front struts designed to prevent occupants getting too shaken about during off-road rides.
In addition, heavier monotube rear shocks help increase vehicle responsiveness and provide more off-road comfort. Springs that are less stiff and anti-roll bars also provide better articulation for overcoming obstacles.
Beyond that, the Trail Control system allows you to take advantage of cruise control for off-road driving, while a front camera system allows you to see, literally, the obstacles ahead. And two other drive modes are available with this version, bringing the total to seven. Extra skid plates, tow hooks, oversized tires - in short, this is the variant to choose if you spend your weekends away from the city... and off the asphalt.
You can imagine we’re positively itching to put all this to the test, but in the meantime, we spend our time pouring over Ford’s offer. And it invites some criticism. While everything we’re presented with is interesting, the way in which the features are offered with the different trims may hurt the model.
Let's start with the engine choices. While the Badlands version benefits from a 2.0L, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine offering 245 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, that powerplant isn't even available as an option on the other three Bronco Sport models. Those are powered by a 1.5L EcoBoost 3-cylinder. The unit may show a capacity of 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque, but it's not one of the more muscular engines around.
We had the opportunity to test it with a new Escape model (the more-civilized cousin of the Bronco Sport), and frankly we're getting tired of its pushy character and screaming attitude.
And don't let the fuel economy argument convince you. EcoBoost engines have proven that they can be fuel efficient, but only when driven in a "grandfatherly" fashion. And to get anything substantial out of this 3-cylinder, with this size of vehicle, the throttle has to be abused.
Finally, the other element that puzzles us is the price range. To say that the Bronco Sport is not cheap is an understatement. The basic version sells for $32,199, to which $1,900 must be added for shipping and preparation. Including shipping and handling, the other three variants are priced at $36,099, $39,599 and $42,099 respectively.
If you want a Bronco Sport with a 2.0L engine, that last price is what you'll have to pay, not including taxes, which will bring you to the $50,000 mark.
That's why we're wondering about this new model, so important to Ford’s fortunes going forward. Will customers let themselves be seduced by the styling and undeniable capabilities of the model, to the point of overlooking the hefty price tag? With the big Bronco, we can say yes, for sure. But it's less certain that will happen with the Sport. Only the future will tell, but if ever the model fails to sell well, we’ll understand why.
And if it sells like hotcakes, we’ll do a mea culpa.