The Ford Bronco is back, and this time, it’s a whole family of SUVs. The old Bronco was only available as a two-door, truck-style body-on-frame SUV. The new ones come in three versions. For those looking for a dedicated off-roader, there’s a two-door and four-door Bronco ready to battle the Jeep Wrangler head on for supremacy in the relatively-affordable off-road SUV segment. And there’s a new Bronco Sport, the smallest in the Bronco family. It has styling cues from its larger siblings, but is related to Ford’s car-based Escape crossover.
Ford’s original Bronco dates back to the mid-1960s. But for many, the Bronco is best known for an infamous ride around southern California in the summer of 1994. With the reintroduction of the Bronco line, Ford is probably hoping you’ll forget all about that.
Everyone is crazy for the new Ford Broncos – myself included
After the launch of the new Broncos last week, based on the level of excitement in the industry, those Broncos of the mid-1990s will soon be forgotten completely in favor of the new versions. Over on Car Twitter, the Bronco dominated my personal feed for days after the launch. I was so excited, I personally tweeted or retweeted something Bronco-related 24 times (and counting) – and I’ve never even gone off-roading.
So far, it would appear that Ford’s launch of the new Bronco line is a smash hit. I collected some data in the most highly scientific way possible: Twitter surveys. In the first, if money were no object, I asked whether one would choose the new Bronco, the Jeep Wrangler, or the Land Rover Defender (a slightly more expensive but similarly purpose-built SUV). Granted everyone was Bronco-drunk at this point, but here was the result.
In the second survey, I asked simply whether the new Broncos lived up to the years of hype. I’ll share the equally definitive response here.
Let’s talk Ford Bronco Sport
The new Broncos just might be the biggest new vehicle launch we’ll see this year. But in the rest of this post, I’m going to focus only on the smaller Bronco Sport for a few reasons.
First, I expect the Bronco Sport to outsell the larger Bronco by a considerable margin. The more rugged Broncos will likely have a halo effect on the rest of the Ford lineup. Customers will be drawn into the showroom to see them, but they’re more likely to select the more affordable and practical car-based Bronco Sport. It has similar styling, but fewer of the compromises that would be required of driving such a focused off-roader like the larger Bronco day to day. I believe the Wrangler has a similar effect over at Jeep. Many shoppers are drawn to the Wrangler’s aura, but end up driving home in a smaller Renegade, Compass, or Cherokee.
Second, as far as what I do in making vehicle recommendations, it’s conceivable that I could eventually recommend a Bronco Sport to a client. I think it’s unlikely that I’d ever need to recommend a standard Bronco. It has such a dedicated purpose, and those interested in it are unlikely to need services like mine. They already know what they want, and probably wouldn’t need help making that decision. However, the Bronco Sport is likely to have a broader appeal.
Yay #1: The Ford Bronco Sport is geared for outdoor adventures
The Ford Bronco Sport may be related to the car-based Escape crossover, but unlike many car-based SUVs, it should be able to tackle more than just the Costco parking lot. All Bronco Sports will have standard four-wheel drive, and different drive modes depending on the type of terrain. Ford calls them G.O.A.T. modes – G.O.A.T. modes! It’s an acronym for “goes over any type of terrain” and there are settings for normal, eco, sport, slippery, and sand. Also, Ford will offer 100 accessories to perfectly outfit your Bronco Sport for your specific active lifestyle. There will also be four different accessory bundle packages: bike, snow, water, and camping.
The Bronco Sport will have some innovative features for off-road driving, too. The available Trail Control system works like a low-speed traction control. If you’re driving on a challenging trail, the vehicle will control the throttle and brakes and you only need to focus on steering. There’s also an optional front-view camera with washer, which will display a view of the trail ahead on the center dashboard screen, giving you a better view of potential obstacles directly in front of the vehicle.
There are a few more cool touches. There’s a Cargo Management System with a work table that slides out from the cargo area, ready for preparing or cooking a meal while camping. A 400-watt power inverter will let you use some household small appliances or tools while out on the road. Flood lamps in the rear hatch will allow you to illuminate up to 129 square feet while it’s open, and should help you find and use the bottle opener built into the rear hatch opening.
Yay #1.5: Two trims will be especially capable off-road
Two trims of the Bronco Sport will provide additional capabilities. The Badlands and First Edition (more on the different trims later) will have a beefier four-wheel drive system with a differential lock for the rear axle. It will enable the engine’s power to be sent to either rear wheel, depending on which has traction. They will also use an off-road tuned suspension, and have two additional G.O.A.T. modes for mud/ruts, and rock crawling. And they are also capable of driving through almost two feet of water. There’s rubber flooring for easy cleaning, and some dashboard switches are sealed in silicone for protection. For secure storage of dirty or wet items, there’s a bin built into the bottom of the rear seat.
Yay #2: Ford Bronco Sport styling
I think the Bronco Sport looks awesome. Ford did a great job with the styling, drawing inspiration from the larger Bronco, and using classic, old-school SUV lines. While it looks tough, the car-based roots mean the Bronco Sport shouldn’t be punishing in day to day driving. But Ford didn’t only focus on form. The square lines have some functional benefits, too. The long, flat roof is ready for any size roof rack accessory you can think of, like a cargo storage box, or roof-top tent. And thanks to the large, rectilinear cargo area, you can fold down the rear seats and carry two mountain bikes inside the Bronco Sport.
Ehh… The R word: Reliability
The single biggest factor that would prevent me from recommending the Bronco Sport will be, potentially, reliability. I give Ford credit for being quick to embrace new technologies and engine and transmission designs. But typically, reliability data indicates that those who buy new Ford products in their first few model years end up helping Ford troubleshoot and work out the kinks.
One of Ford’s latest SUV introductions, the Explorer, has had some issues (click here to read more). And the Escape, upon which the Bronco Sport is based, currently has a less-than-average reliability rating according to Consumer Reports.
I want to see Ford get things right with the new Broncos, but I’ll need to wait and see reliability data first before I can recommend them.
Bronco Sport trim levels
Bronco Sport Base
The base model Bronco Sport starts at $28,155 including the destination charge. This is higher than some competitors, but that gap narrows once you factor in that four-wheel drive is standard on the Bronco Sport unlike most others in the segment. It is powered by a 1.5-liter EcoBoost (turbocharged) three-cylinder engine, which makes 181 horsepower – a great power figure for such a small motor. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard. It has five selectable G.O.A.T. modes, and even the base trim looks cool with the black grille and standard alloy wheels. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, along with an eight-inch touchscreen. Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 advanced safety features are standard, too. This includes: forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic warning, lane keeping assistance, and automatic high beam headlights.
Bronco Sport Big Bend
The Big Bend adds more rugged features over the Base, with a $29,655 starting price. The seat upholstery is easier to clean, and there’s a rubber cargo area floor. This trim comes with a gray grille and gray alloy wheels. You also get smart keyless entry and push-button start.
Bronco Sport Outer Banks
The Outer Banks trim is for those who want some luxury features in their Bronco Sport. It starts at $33,655. You get heated power leather seats, a heated steering wheel, digital instrument panel, and remote start. It has a black roof for a two-tone look, and uses tires geared more for on-road comfort.
Bronco Sport Badlands
It sounds like the Badlands trim will be among the most capable car-based SUVs off-road, for $34,155 to start. It uses the upgraded off-road suspension and four-wheel drive system, and has skid plates to protect the undercarriage from rocks. This trim level has the cool front trail camera I mentioned earlier, too. A larger engine is used: a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 245 horsepower. The Badlands gives you the option of the best alloy wheel choice too, in my opinion. They look like rugged steel wheels! See below.
This trim has the luxury features from the Outer Banks already, but even if you go crazy with additional options, the Badlands will still be under $40,000.
Bronco Sport First Edition
This is a special edition of the new Bronco Sport, available only at launch. It carries a $34,155 price – the same as the Badlands – but has some black graphics and largest available tires on a Bronco Sport, to set it apart. There are extra luxury touches, too. Special leather trim, a power moonroof, and Bang and Olufsen premium sound system come standard. It will use the 4-cylinder engine found in the Badlands trim, too, along with the rest of the off-road-focused goodies.
But if you want a First Edition, you might be out of luck. Ford is only making 2,000 of them, and they were all spoken for within a couple days. Sorry!
Clearly, I’m pretty excited about the new Broncos. To me, Ford’s lineup has been stale for a while, and the Bronco and Bronco Sport are a breath of fresh air. I have been critical of Ford models in the past (click here to read why the small Ford EcoSport is one of the five 2020 models to avoid) but I want the new Broncos to be successful. My fingers are crossed that they won’t be riddled with first-year gremlins that will tank their reliability ratings. With all the positive buzz around the Broncos industry-wide, quality issues would temper that excitement like the biggest, wettest blanket.
If you want a Bronco Sport, Ford is taking reservations online for $100. Otherwise, the Bronco Sport will be on sale by the end of the year, with the larger Bronco following in 2021.
Thank you for reading!