Review update: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands will make Jeep (Compass) buyers reconsider

Subaru and Jeep should be nervous. Ford’s done its homework. The Baby Bronco has arrived to make shoppers question their brand loyalties.

No, this isn’t the Ford Bronco. That’s the most common question people asked me about the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands. It’s the Baby Bronco, the Bronco Sport, and while it’s less capable than its big, bad brother, it’s endearing in its own way with its perky turbocharged engine, creative packaging, and terrific style.

I spent a week living with the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands in suburbia to see exactly where it hits and misses off the trail and in the day-to-day world of Dad life.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Hit: A kick in the pants

A lot of Bronco Sports will be powered by the base 1.5-liter turbo-3 that makes 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. West coast editor Brian Wong said it’s enough power for day-to-day living. My Badlands tester had the hotter 2.0-liter turbo-4 with 250 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Also on board was a twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system (related to the system that was in the Ford Focus RS, may it RIP) and an 8-speed automatic transmission. With the turbo-4, the Bronco Sport scoots from a stop. The power comes on quickly as the turbo spools up to deliver full torque at about 1,600 rpm. The transmission shifts quickly, and there’s more than enough power for passing or any other need given the Bronco Sport’s size. It makes the Jeep Compass’s archaic 2.4-liter inline-4 seem more anemic than it already is.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Miss: The steering wheel

My Badlands tester had a sticker price of $35,745, which isn’t cheap for a small crossover SUV. The price felt justified given its capabilities, thoughtful features, and punchy turbo-4. However, every time I touched the steering wheel I felt like Ford was cutting corners. The cheap-looking, cheap-feeling, polyurethane steering wheel seemed like it was pulled out of the bin of leftover base Fiesta parts. To get a leather-wrapped steering wheel buyers need to pony up $2,595 for the awkwardly named Badlands package (on the Badlands model), which also adds such niceties as a B&O audio system, body-color door handles, and a sunroof. There is no way to option out of the cheapo steering wheel without the entire Badlands package, which adds things buyers might not need, or even want, for more money than they may want to spend.

Hit: Looks like a Bronco

It doesn’t matter that the Bronco Sport is based on the Escape. Its looks say Bronco, just like the lettering on the front and back of the SUV. The squared off shape, the round headlights bisected by horizontal daytime running lights, and even my Badlands tester’s 17-inch carbon gray painted aluminum wheels that mimic steelies are all Bronco cues. It’s cute in a rugged kind of way, and it’s endearing.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Miss: Rolls around corners

Coming from an Escape? Prepare for some sloppy handling and body roll. Coming from a Jeep Compass? You’ll feel right at home albeit with more engaging steering. The off-road-oriented Badlands model features monotube rear shocks, softer springs, and 8.0 inches of ground clearance. It rides soft, and Midwest highway expansion joints and broken pavement do little to upset it, but around corners weight shifts and presses on the soft shocks to create body roll. The soft suspension is quite comfortable, but the floatiness might surprise buyers coming out of street-oriented crossover SUVs.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Hit: Creative thinking

Kudos to the Bronco Sport’s design team. They really did their homework and thought of things from new angles. My Badland’s tester featured rubber floors that would be easy to wipe down, a snap-in rubber liner for the rear cargo area, hooks in the rear cargo area, adjustable LED lighting in the tailgate to read maps while out on a dark adventure, and even zippered pockets on the front seatbacks and on the side of the front passenger seat toward the driver. This is just smart stuff. Webbing on the front seatbacks also provides a place to clip gear for easy access.

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2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Miss: It’s not efficient

My Badlands tester wasn’t exactly frugal despite being small. That turbo-4 drank gas at an average rate of 23 mpg in mixed suburban driving over the course of 340 miles. The design that makes the Bronco Sport so appealing also turns it into a brick that pushes through the air, which means the turbo is often spooled up and in use. The fuel economy I experienced is in line with the EPA ratings of 21 mpg city, 26 highway, and 23 combined. The Escape offers a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid, and both would improve the Bronco Sport’s efficiency.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Hit: It has opening tailgate glass and a built-in bottle opener

A bottle opener is hard-mounted to the rear end on the passenger side. The tailgate has to be open to use/expose it, but it’s still a simple and useful feature. The tailgate glass can also be opened independently of the tailgate. This feature has disappeared from a lot of SUVs including Ford’s own Explorer and the Jeep Grand Cherokee (after 2013). It’s an incredibly functional feature that’s welcome on the Bronco Sport.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Miss: Wind noise prevails

Jeep Wrangler drivers are used to wind noise, but most people aren’t. The Bronco Sport’s square shape creates noticeable wind noise at highway speeds. It’s not atrocious, but it isn’t as quiet as the Escape, and that might catch some people by surprise during a test drive.

Not everyone is going to need, or want, a Ford Bronco. For those who want a vehicle that is smaller, yet still impressively capable and fun, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport fits the bill while making the Subaru Crosstrek and Jeep Compass seem hopelessly underpowered.

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2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
Base price: $28,155
Price as tested: $35,745
EPA fuel economy: 21/26/23 mpg
The hits: Looks like a Bronco, punchy turbo-4, creative features
The misses: Inefficient, body roll, wind noise

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