It all started way back in 1966, when Ford Motor Company introduced a “sport utility” vehicle called the Bronco. It had three models, the Roadster, the Wagon, and the Sport Utility. It did really well and over the years, Ford has gone through five major redesigns of the vehicle, ending its production run in 1996 as it was replaced by the Ford Explorer and then the Expedition. Until this year, when Ford announced it was bringing back the Bronco after a thirty-year hiatus, completely redesigned, remodeled, and with all the modern tech features. Fans were psyched, and with good reason; The Bronco is like a slightly smaller Ford Explorer, and at a reasonably affordable starting price of under $40K too.
It’s no surprise, then, that when Ford asked if I’d like to have some time behind the wheel of the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport First Edition 4×4, I was most intriguied. Would the drive experience be retro? Would it be a two-door as the older models famously were back in the day? Worth noting is that I owned a Ford Explorer “Eddie Bauer Edition” many years ago and really liked it. Great for towing, comfortable for four with lots of gear, and not a behemoth that was hard to drive and park. How would the Bronco Sport compare to that?
REVIEW OF THE 2021 FORD BRONCO SPORT FIRST EDITION 4×4
Turns out that the Bronco Sport is great. It’s really fun, and while there are some definite problems I’ll explore in this review, there’s a lot to like about it, particularly the exterior styling and the driver’s comfort. Let’s start with an exterior of this Cactus Gray Bronco Sport First Edition sporting a Navy Pier Leather interior:
The vehicle was an eye-catcher for sure, with a number of people coming over to see it and chat about the design and rebirth of the Bronco line at Ford. The front is a bit controversial according to a few of my Facebook friends, but I really like it, with its clean, simple and aerodynamic lines. Seems like there are two major areas where car manufacturers are showing their design chops nowadays: The front grill and the gear shift mechanism. In this instance, both are simple and straightforward.
The details of the hood indents are reminiscent of the Land Rover and other, more rugged off-road vehicles, something I appreciated a lot. In fact, it looks ready for an African safari or other rugged, off-road adventure. It’s hard to see, but there are tow hooks on the front too if this is the dream car you want to tow behind your big RV.
2021 FORD BRONCO SPORT FIRST EDITION INTERIOR DESIGN
The interior features a bucking bronco front-and-center on the steering wheel, instead of the Ford logo, which is fun. In fact, there are a number of so-called Easter Eggs throughout the car, nods to the original design or just fun quirks to remind owners that cars don’t have to be boring to be good.
The infotainment screen is entirely functional without being a massive display (I’m looking at you, Tesla) that is akin to having a TV in your vehicle, though I was a bit surprised that it lacked a nav system of its own. Then again, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plugging in your phone produces a big, bright, full-screen map and navigational system that worked just fine on the display. While I’m used to have a nav system included with the vehicle, I didn’t find it a problem since I tended to plug in my phone anyway. I’m sure you can pay for an upgraded infotainment system that would include maps and directions, as desired, however.
There are no surprises in the dashboard design, nothing really retro or “classic” in appearance, which is probably good. People might like the look of nostalgic electronics, but they expect full functionality and usability at the same time. One design touch that did surprise me was the climate controls. Here’s the design:
Having the target temperature as a tiny display in the dials is pretty smart, even if it ended up a strange mash-up of older buttons, newer buttons with LEDs embedded, and tiny displays to convey information. Also note that the Ford has three levels of Auto with the climate controls, a feature I really like. It’s great to be able to change fan speed without losing the rest of the automatic temperature control features and capabilities!
Immediately below it you can see that the Bronco Sport also has a USB-3.0 plug, USB-C plug, 12V “cigarette” plug, and Qi wireless charging area on the lower left. I didn’t find the wireless charger to be reliable if I had my iPhone case on, however, something that’s never been an issue with any other vehicle I’ve driven recently.
While we’re looking around, it’s worth mentioning that the gearshift on the Bronco might not be to everyone’s liking:
Yes, it’s a dial. Fortunately, it includes Park as one of the options, so it’s quite easy to work with, but still, I miss a more traditional gearshift stick as was available in the original Bronco design. Notice that the driving modes are referred to as GOAT MODES, in a nod to the original Bronco acronym of “Goes Over Any Terrain”. Between the various controls you get eight modes (the last three are because it’s a first edition, not just the regular Sport model): Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, Sand, and Baja, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl.
You’ll spend a lot more time looking at the main gauge display, however, and it’s clean and easy to understand:
Notice in particular the fuel efficiency: 24.2 mpg. It’s not bad for an SUV of this size but, of course, I would have liked to see that be 10-15mpg better. But it’s a trade-off because the 2.0L Ecoboost engine with its 8-speed automatic delivers a punchy, fun driving experience and has a towing capacity of 2,200 pounds, something you can’t quite pull off with a smaller engine. My unit’s Monroney didn’t include EPA numbers so I can’t quote the official figures, but it’s reasonably acceptable for 2021.
2021 FORD BRONCO SPORT FIRST EDITION 4×4 EXTERIOR
Moving around to the back, you also get a glimpse of the full cabin:
The mats are great and it’s easy to lift and lower the back seats in a traditional 60/40 split so you can haul cargo while you’ve got a kid in the back seat.
Well, as long as they don’t have big legs. In fact, I found the rear leg room pretty lacking:
I’m. tall driver – 6’3″ – so I move the seat back, but still, if you’re going to have teens or adults in the back seat, be aware that you might long for a bigger cabin design as you would find on the Explorer or similar.
EASTER EGGS IN THE FORD BRONCO SPORT
Remember earlier I was talking about those fun design touches? One of ’em is on a window, a sort of “hidden bronco”:
Another one can be seen if you look closely at the luggage tie hook on the back cargo area. This pic also shows off the power options in the back cargo area too:
See it? That lasso graphic? Fun! I wish more car manufacturers had a sense of whimsy like this for their vehicles too.
And, finally, another exterior shot of the Bronco Sport in Cactus Gray:
I really liked the 2021 Bronco Sport, from the design to the drive experience. Ford’s done a great job bringing this vehicle up to modern tech and design standards while still delivering the experience of a “smaller Explorer” (this model already has the nickname “baby Bronco”). The biggest limitation is legroom for rear passengers, but if, like me, you’re driving solo or with a single passenger 90% of the time, it’s not much of a problem. If you’ve got a crew, however, you’ll definitely want to go into the showroom with everyone to try out how everyone fits therein.
CONFIGURATION: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport First Edition 4×4, Cactus Gray with Navy Pier Leather interior, powered by a 2.0L Ecoboost engine with 8-speed automatic transmission. MSRP: $38,160. OPTIONS ON THIS MODEL: Equipment Group 410A. AS DRIVEN: $39,655.
Disclosure: Ford Motor Company loaned me the Bronco Sport so I could produce this write-up and drive experience report. Thanks, Ford!