- Impressive off-road capability
- Fun, clever interior design
- Great safety scores
- 2.0-liter engine limited to top-spec Badlands
- Lacks rear-seat USB ports
- No off-road package for lower trims
The Bronco Sport is the smaller, more affordable half of Ford’s two-pronged revival of the Bronco nameplate, but between the two it’s the one we’d rather take home. Despite sharing its running gear with the thoroughly underwhelming Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport is a desirable little SUV.
We’ll start with its character: The Bronco Sport seems to offer 95 percent of the fun, whimsical aspects of its larger sibling with none of the setbacks to build quality or daily livability. There are constant reminders you’re driving something more than a beefed-up Escape. Multiple judges commented on the commanding view over the boxy hood, the Bronco-specific graphics in the infotainment system, and the Abraham Lincoln’s top hat worth of front and rear headroom afforded by the elevated stepped roof. The Bronco Sport feels boxy and airy in a way no other small SUV matches.
Ford also packed the cabin with clever storage solutions. We especially appreciated the deep cubby below the infotainment display and the zippered compartments and side pockets integrated into the front seat backs. Design is a strong point, too, with textile- and leather-trimmed seats and rubberized trim pieces.
Some judges pointed out a heavy reliance on interior plastics, but Ford avoids cheap monotony by switching up the textures and colors for different trim pieces. That said, the bargain-basement steering wheel in the $36,000 Badlands model is a disappointment, and multiple judges were displeased by the rear seat’s lack of USB charge ports.
You forget those misgivings if you take the Bronco Sport away from pavement. Across the board, judges praised the pint-sized Ford’s confidence and capability in the sand on the powersports course, and multiple staffers took to the trails after the competition to spend more time off-road with this baby billy goat of a rig. We do, however, wish the Badlands’ lockable rear axle, knobby tires, and additional drive modes were optionally available on lesser three-cylinder models.
Speaking of the three-cylinder, judges were split on the turbo-triple as a base engine. Some felt it was perfectly adequate for the segment and commented on its surprising refinement at idle, while others called it underpowered and worried about its suitability for propelling a Bronco Sport full of passengers and cargo. Praise for the 2.0-liter turbo-four was near universal, beyond the test team’s complaints about engine noise and turbo lag, but we wish it wasn’t limited to the top-spec Badlands.
The Bronco Sport nails our criteria. It offers value among subcompact off-roaders, decent efficiency numbers, impressive safety (with standard driver assist features and the only IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating at SUV of the Year), rugged but whimsical design, impressive engineering benefits over its Escape underpinnings, and fantastic execution of its intended function as an accessible, character-filled off-roader. Not quite our SUV of the Year, but dang close.
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