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A red 2023 Ford Bronco Sport is shown parked near a lake.

Is the Sports SUV Coming for the Sports Car?

Sports car sales have been steadily declining for the past decade. Sports cars tend to be a younger person’s car, but with student loans, lower wages, and rising inflation, younger drivers get a bit of sticker shock when they see the price. Many manufacturers have discontinued sports car models as a result. Recently, Chevy announced its Camaro, an iconic sports car, would not be returning with a 2024 model. Let’s not panic too much. Sports cars won’t vanish completely. They are a fun ride and a status symbol. Increasingly, though, consumers are looking for affordability and utility. Sports cars don’t usually offer either.

Instead of sportier rides being forgotten, there’s been an interesting market shift to Sports SUVs. I know, I was doubtful when I first heard the term, too. It sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. The last thing you’d typically describe an SUV as is “sporty.” Classic SUVs like the original Ford Bronco weren’t exactly known for their sharp handling or fast acceleration, because that’s not what they were for. Times change, though. Manufacturers know that consumers would still love to have a sporty ride, even if that’s no longer their top priority. One need only look at the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport to see how manufacturers like Ford are trying to meet the market’s desire for sporty vehicles that are also spacious.

A white 2023 Ford Bronco Sport is shown parked off-road.

Putting the “Sport” in the Sport Utility Vehicle

With the caveat that it’ll still be an SUV, yes, you can have a high-performing SUV with a sporty look. Manufacturers know that SUVs are great for families and those who travel with a bit of luggage, but they also know they can have a mixed reputation when it comes to having a sense of cool. Certainly, as SUVs first took off, they weren’t exactly known for sleek exteriors. Rather than rest on their laurels, though, manufacturers like Ford have addressed these concerns. I’ve long been a sedan guy, but over the past few years I’ve seen more impressive numbers for SUVs in terms of both performance and fuel economy. SUVs are steadily shedding some of the reputation they gained in the early 2000s for being less than stellar in regards to power.

Still, even those who saw this trend coming wouldn’t have predicted there would be sports SUVs on the market. The idea is intriguing, however. Imagine having sports car power with the ability to manage some of the difficult terrain that SUVs are known for. That sure sounds like a best of both worlds situation to me.

Anyone who has followed developments in the automobile industry will have noted that the pace of technology has grown exponentially. What once seemed impossible now seems humdrum. There’s no reason that can’t apply to SUVs. Set aside preconceived notions, and you might just be surprised at what these sports SUVs can do.

What Exactly Is a Sports SUV?

For me, there’s a look to sports cars that I associate with them. It’s a little outdated, but usually it’s a Ford Mustang from the ‘70s or ‘80s. The sports SUVs, though, do have a cool look to them that sets them apart from other SUVs, even if it’s not entirely the same look as the sports cars of yore. Let’s use the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport as an example, since it’s one of the best Sports SUVs on the market. Ford seems to know this, too, as it has proudly stylized the word Bronco on the front, as if the vehicle announces itself wherever it goes. In fact, the front has a slightly classic look, reminding me of classic Fords from a few decades ago without ever feeling out of fashion.

Its structure also hints at its capability. It’s compact, allowing it to traverse both roads and the outback with ease. There’s no sense of cumbersome travel in the Bronco Sport. There’s also no sense of limit, either, as it has all-wheel drive. This actually puts it ahead of many sports car models as, with a few exceptions, all-wheel drive is not an element usually associated with sports cars. This is one way sports SUVs like the Bronco Sport end up outdoing sports cars. I never thought I’d write a sentence about a sports SUV outdoing a sports car, but here we are. I can’t deny it.

It’s the performance, however, that you’re really wondering about. That’s what makes or breaks whether we can really start calling some SUVs sports SUVs.

A red 2023 Ford Bronco is shown parked off-road with a roof tent attached.

Performance Still Decides

Let’s take a look at the Badlands trim for the Ford Bronco Sport. This trim is specifically designed for drivers who wish to maximize the sporty elements of the SUV while combining it with some of its off road abilities. Its 250 horsepower capability puts it well ahead of other compact SUVs. Combine that with 277 lb-ft of torque, and you’re seeing numbers that outdo other SUVs of this size, giving it a sportier nature. While these numbers are not as high as high-end sports cars, they don’t need to be. An SUV has a different feel, and the impact of the Bronco Sport’s horsepower will be felt when you’re behind the wheel.

The Bronco Sport’s high performance comes thanks to its 2.0L EcoBoost engine and its eight-speed automatic transmission, putting it well ahead of the SUV norm. With its all-terrain 17-inch tires, you’ll also have a sense of command that extends off the road. It’s a little bit of a different feel than you would have in a sports car, but it’s just as thrilling and empowering.

The Sports SUV Advantage

There’s no doubt that a Sports SUV will not feel exactly the same as a high-powered sports car. They’re different designs, and thus offer different experiences, even when they’re both aiming for high performance.

You can find some distinct advantages to a sports SUV, though, the biggest one being space. Sports cars are tight. You can’t fit too many groceries in them, let alone much luggage. A trip across the country in a sports car is not possible with more than two people, and even then it might get tight depending on how many suitcases you’re bringing with you.

A sports SUV solves this problem. Since they offer more room, you can bring along more passengers and more luggage. You can even do some light towing. This isn’t just practical, but also means you can show off your sportier ride to a bunch of people at once.

The other advantage concerns off-roading. A sports SUV will let you do a lot more than a sports car. You won’t have to worry about performance when you’re off the beaten path in the way you would in a sports car. For the adventurous, this means you can still enjoy a sporty ride if your destination is remote and requires some off-road driving.

A man is shown attaching a strap to the tow hook of a silver 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands.

Are Sports SUVs the Ride of the Future?

Anyone who’s done market research, looked into consumer considerations, and evaluated trends know it’s foolish to declare anything as certain. Yet,with SUVs more popular as ever, it makes sense that manufacturers will continue to put out sporty ones in order to have their vehicles stand out. A driver with a family won’t have to make a decision between high performance or space. If you’re a manufacturer, it’s a huge advantage to offer an SUV that won’t have drivers feeling like they’re sacrificing cool for utility.

As technology continues its rapid advance, I imagine we’ll see sportier SUVs with even better performance and fuel efficiency enter the market. In the past, you had to sacrifice something no matter what vehicle you purchased. Drivers today are more reluctant to do so, and they don’t have to Sports SUVs like the Bronco Sport show you really can have an SUV with high performance. It does not take a marketing guru to figure out that such SUVs will be in high demand once drivers are able to put aside their preconceived SUV notions.