The badges shout Bronco, but everything else about Ford’s new small crossover screams 2001 Escape. The Bronco Sport has the same Lego-brick styling, a 60-mph time in the eight-second range, and surprisingly competent road manners, just as Ford imagined 20 years ago. “Looks like a truck, drives like a car,” we wrote of the original Escape on our July 2000 cover. Ditto the Bronco Sport. At Car and Driver, that’s a compliment.
We recently tested the Bronco Sport Badlands, which comes with all-terrain tires, bash plates, and a 250-hp turbo-four that’s good for 5.9 seconds to 60 mph. With its 181-hp inline-three and touring tires, the Outer Banks trim reviewed here is closer to what most buyers will end up with. Riding a puff of turbocharged torque in suburban stop-and-go, the three-cylinder feels quicker than it is—until you find yourself pulling away from a red light with no traffic ahead to set the pace. The eight-speed automatic’s shifts are unhurried and smooth, while the grizzly and gristly engine note sounds right at home in something this butch.
Unfortunately, you can’t get the four-cylinder without the off-road gear that you probably won’t use. But if you’re patient enough to tolerate the base engine, there are upsides to the Outer Banks. At a constant 75 mph, this Bronco Sport averaged a commendable 33 mpg. And at any speed, it rides and corners with impressive civility. The suspension is noisy, but impacts are felt only as subtle knocks and taps. The steering has a just-right heft, and the balanced handling makes the vehicle feel livelier than its 0.79 g of lateral grip.
At $36,305, this model costs about the same as the Badlands one we drove, yet it feels significantly more expensive inside. That’s because it trades away bash plates, all-terrain tires, and a torque-vectoring rear axle for luxuries like leather and, uh, carpet. If you care about rear-seat riders’ comfort, the same amount of money gets you a Honda CR-V or a Volkswagen Tiguan.
There’s nothing here to suggest an Outer Banks model will be more capable than the competition in mud, over rocks, and through sand. Without the Badlands equipment, the Bronco Sport is best suited for off-road cosplay in the Target parking lot. Based on how good it is to drive, we won’t judge anyone who wants to play dress-up. Countless Jeep Wrangler drivers could be living happier lives behind the wheel of a Bronco Sport.
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