The headroom in the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is competitive with most cathedrals. And the squared-off shaping of its hood and forward sight lines can make one feel as if they’re in something bigger. On the inside, the color and trim carry a uniquely adventurous, American flair. And the digital graphics that display on the instrument panel as well as the center screen are as modern as we’ve seen. In many cases, it’s difficult to believe that the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport shares the same C2 architecture as the Ford Escape; a far more pedestrian offering in the same vehicle segment that sold over 241,000 units last year in the US Market.
The engine offerings are the same between the Ford Escape and Bronco Sport: a 1.5L turbo EcoBoost three-cylinder engine as standard, with a 2.0L EcoBoost available on higher trim levels. Yes, the three-cylinder may seem like it would be anemic at face value, but with 181 horsepower and 191 lb-ft of torque sent through a well-geared 8-speed transmission that we experienced in a Bronco Sport Outer Banks, it fooled us into thinking it was indeed the upgrade found in the range-topping Bronco Sport Badlands trim.
On coarse dirt roads outside of Holly Oaks ORV Park, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks and its standard all-wheel-drive gave us the feeling like we were pre-running a backwoods rally stage in the Upper Peninsula, with the traction setting in Sand mode for maximum sliding. The higher-end Bronco Sport Badlands and First Edition models offer torque vectoring through the AWD system, which optimizes traction even more so. The Outer Banks doesn’t currently offer this feature, but after enough backroad bombing, followed by storming the off-road trails at Holly Oaks ORV Park, we can say that this mid-pack, well-equipped Bronco Sport Outer Banks doesn’t necessarily need it. And that speaks to the capability of more equipped models more than anything.
In the right hands, this rather modest unibody utility vehicle can reach deeper into the wilderness than 95 percent of what’s available on dealer lots today. Look no further than its participation, and a class win, in the 2020 Rebelle Rally, as a proof point.
We’ve heard the names. “Baby Bronco,” to “Beta Bronco,” to “Not-A-Bronco.” It’s a damn shame, considering what this thing can do. These names are like if UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones were to call undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov a “beta” because he weighs in a full 50 pounds lighter. They can both be great, you know. Pound-for-pound, it’s anybody’s argument.
Around the Holly Oaks Endurance Trail, the midrange Bronco Sport Outer Banks scaled sandy slopes, descended muddy hills, forded still water, and flicked out rocks from its tires as easy as it is to order a pizza. Never mind the ‘Beta Bronco’ BS. This thing can handle plenty.
Which circles us back to the Ford Escape. It’s not as cut out for this type of work.
Why focus on this point? The vehicle segment between the Ford Escape and Bronco Sport is the same.The hotly contested, high volume C-segment utility vehicle space. Big movers and shakers here are the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, plus well-done offerings from Chevrolet, Hyundai and Kia. The Bronco Sport’s true competitor on paper, the Jeep Cherokee is also there. But there seems to be an aural buzz and curiosity around the Bronco Sport that we can’t recall being around the little Cherokee. Maybe it’s because it’s new, but we’re betting that there’s more to it than simply being the new kid on the block.
It brings to the table everything that the Escape does, and more. The price difference? $1,775 between base models. Select the $1,500 AWD for the Escape, and that difference shrinks to just a few hundred dollars. Did I mention the Bronco Sport can come with a roof-mounted Yakima tent from the dealership? Because, there’s that.
The Ford Bronco Sport seems to bring more value to the table than the Escape, for basically the same price. As such, it will likely do better in the market than most people think. And should that be the case, the company might have a tough decision to make about the Escape in the future. Ford showrooms are saturated with nothing but trucks and utility vehicles right now. The only passenger car left for the 2021 model year will be the Mustang. Everything else is a truck, SUV or a van. And the Escape doesn’t appear to be the only vehicle in the Ford lineup looking vulnerable; the Ford Edge is likely on its way out by 2023. Likely in no small thanks to the emergence of the all-electric Mustang Mach-E, and the go-anywhere 2021 Bronco 2-Door and 4-Door.
The thought is that customers flocked to crossover utility vehicles from sedans because of their superior cabin space and storage for the money, which the Ford Escape has. But now, with the rise of the Bronco Sport, customers will get all of that, plus the ability to go well, well off the beaten path. Yes, the new baby Bronco is good. But for the sake of the Escape, it might be too good.