2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks First Test Review: Three-Pot Strong
We at MotorTrend could probably print a thick special edition issue—or fire up a standalone website—featuring nothing but our Ford Bronco Sport coverage, so intense has public interest been in this bite-sized trail-bruiser. The only thing left to comment on now is how the compact crossover with the big name compares against its competitive set. We’ve pitted a top-spec four-cylinder Bronco Sport Badlands against its rival Jeep Compass Trailhawk, and soon we’ll gather a gaggle of less pricey, less capable compact utes for comparison with a more basic Bronco Sport. We just got the chance to slap our test gear on a well-equipped 2021 Bronco Sport Outer Banks model with the entry-level three-cylinder engine, so let’s start by bench-racing it against its competitive set.
How Quick Is the 2021 Bronco Sport Outer Banks?
Despite its cylinder count trailing that of nearly every competitor, the mainstream, three-cylinder Bronco Sport delivers solid mid-pack performance, dashing to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds and on through the quarter mile in 16.4 seconds at 84.5 mph. That is, if you venture into the setup screen to disable traction control, set the “GOAT mode” dial to Sport, give it a moment of brake torque to spool up the turbo, and release the brake to provoke a moment of front wheelspin. You only add a couple of tenths of a second and knock 1.5 mph off the trap speed for just mashing the pedal in Eco or Normal mode, as you might from a green light to jump out and get over to a turn lane.
Comparing all-wheel-drive utes of similar size and price (the Outer Banks trim starts at $33,655), we find the Honda CR-V in EX-L trim to be quickest at 7.6 seconds to 60 and 15.9 at 87.7 mph in the quarter, with the 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder Jeeps bringing up the rear. Low-spec Cherokees with this engine align on price and take 9.5 seconds to hit 60; 17.2 for the quarter. The 2.4-liter Compass Trailhawk we ran against our Badlands model needed 10.4 and 17.7 seconds.
In the sibling rivalry category, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder Bronco Sport Badlands whizzes to 60 in 6.5 seconds, besting our last Escape Titanium 2.0-liter by 0.4 seconds, though by the quarter-mile mark the Escape was pulling even (15.3 seconds for each) at a faster trap speed (89.3 versus Bronco Sport’s 87.8 mph). The only 1.5-liter Escape we’ve tested, a front-drive model weighing 266 pounds less than our Bronco Sport Outer Banks, was two tenths quicker to 60 mph (8.4 seconds) but gave up the same interval at the quarter mile (16.6 seconds at 84.5 mph).
How Well Does It Stop?
This particular Bronco Sport is kitted for optimal braking and turning, as the Outer Banks model gets the lineup’s only standard 18-inch wheel choice (they’re optional on Big Bend). They come wrapped in 225/60-series tires versus the rest of the lineup’s standard 225/65R17s. As such it whoas to a halt from 60 mph in a highly consistent 115 feet (just 3 feet separated our five panic stops). Among the competitive set we’re considering, only the Kia Sportage EX and Nissan Rogue Platinum brake shorter at 114 feet. It’s interesting to note that the Ford Escape SE 1.5 on 225/60R17 variants of the same tire model (Michelin Primacy A/S) needed 128 feet to stop, ranking it next to last in the class. Brake feel is also exemplary on the new Bronco Sport. The Badlands model on optional, knobbier, more off-road-oriented 235/65R17 Falken Wildpeak A/T tires needed 123 feet—same as our Escape Titanium on 225/55R19 Bridgestone Ecopias.
What About Cornering?
Here again we expect this example to be the fleetest handling Bronco Sport, owing to its grippier, lower-profile tires and its lighter and slightly better distributed weight. Sadly, our wintry week with the test vehicle in Michigan kept our skidpads damp or covered in snow the entire time. We sought out the flattest freeway cloverleafs we could find and measured grip in the 0.83-0.85g range, but they all still included at least a couple degrees of banking. This has to have increased our measured lateral-g result, probably by more than the ample coating of salt dust reduced it. Still, it’s safe to say that the result should be at least a bit better than that of our lighter Escape SE on the same model of taller-sidewall tires (which required more space to stop from 60 mph). An educated guess of 0.79g would put the Bronco Sport once again in the middle of its pack.
So What Do the Numbers Tell Us?
It’s possible that I, like many others, harbor an unconscious bias against three-banger engines. They sound funny, and like three-lug wheels, they just seem wrong, insufficient. The numbers suggest otherwise, slotting the entry Bronco Sport powertrain comfortably into the upper middle of its highly competitive class in terms of straight-line acceleration, and in the lower middle of the class for fuel economy. So don’t buy it based on either of these criteria; buy it because it looks cool, incorporates myriad surprise and delight features throughout, and because it’ll venture farther off the beaten path than most of the competitors we’re considering here.
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