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A blue 2021 Ford Bronco Sport 4-door is shown from the side parked on the grass.

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport: Does It Share the Bronco’s Off-Road Prowess?

Are you anxiously waiting for the release of the all-new 2021 Ford Bronco? Rather than counting the days until Ford announces the completion of the Bronco and its arrival at Ford dealerships around the country, you could get behind the wheel of the rugged and adventurous 2021 Ford Bronco Sport today. But that begs the question, “What are the main differences between the SUVs, and is the Sport just a smaller version of the Bronco, a Bronco-Lite, if you will?”

Offering seating for five, four-wheel-drive and an affordable starting price of $26,820, the 2021 Bronco Sport has a lot going for it, especially since it’s designed for whatever life throws its way from thrilling trail runs to daily commutes and weekend getaways. But just how much thrill and adventure can it handle? Unlike the beefier Bronco, the Bronco Sport is not designed for extreme off-roading and rock crawling. In fact, the Bronco Sport isn’t much like the Bronco at all. So, if the Bronco Sport isn’t like the Bronco, then what exactly makes up the SUV? Let’s take a closer look.

Design and Capability

The first notable difference between the 2021 Bronco and the 2021 Bronco Sport is the chassis. The Bronco is designed off the Ford Ranger chassis, while the Bronco Sport shares a chassis with Ford’s popular crossover SUV, the Escape. Because of this, the Bronco Sport is considered a car-based SUV and is designed to deliver a comfortable ride while offering a rugged appearance. To put it bluntly, the Bronco Sport is ideal for drivers who want the option to venture off-road but not to the extreme that the bigger, bulkier, and more capable Bronco offers.

So, how capable is the Bronco Sport? Equipped with four-wheel drive across its entire lineup, the Bronco Sport is capable, but it pales in comparison to the Bronco that boasts off-road components like front and rear-locking differentials that optimize handling and traction on challenging terrain. These features are noticeably absent from the Bronco Sport, as are the Bronco’s impressive powertrains that deliver between 270 and 310 horsepower and 310 to 400 lb-ft of torque. The Bronco Sport shares the Escape’s powertrains and produces between 181 and 245 horsepower and 190 to 275 lb-ft of torque. So, the Bronco Sport is capable, but the Bronco is a little more fine-tuned to match its off-road prowess.

The Bronco Sport and the Bronco both share the same Terrain Management System and G.O.A.T. Modes that promise to “Go Over Any Type of Terrain.” The G.O.A.T. Modes give drivers the option to customize the Bronco Sport’s performance depending on the terrain. These options include Sand, Sport, Slippery, Eco, Normal, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl, the latter two of which are exclusive on the Bronco Sport Badlands. The Badlands trim also features an advanced four-wheel drive with a twin-clutch rear drive unit that adds traction and customizes torque to maximize control and performance.

Even with the G.O.A.T. Modes and the Terrain Management System, the Bronco Sport doesn’t come close to joining the Bronco as an off-road warrior. The numbers don’t lie. In the realm of off-road enthusiasts, stats like approach angle, departure angle, breakover angle, ground clearance, and water fording can mean the difference between going home with a vehicle fully intact or needing a new front or rear bumper! For example, the departure angle tells the maximum angle a vehicle can descend an obstacle without the rear dragging, and the approach angle tells the maximum ascent angle without the front dragging.

The two-door Bronco has a 43.2-degree approach angle, while the Bronco Sport’s approach angle is 21.7 degrees. The Bronco Sport’s 18.2-degree breakover angle is vastly outnumbered by the Bronco that offers a 29.0-degree breakover angle. The same is true for the departure angle, with the Bronco Sport sitting at 30.4 degrees and the Bronco at 37.2 degrees. The Bronco also sits higher with 11.6 inches of ground clearance compared to the Bronco Sport at 7.8 inches. Another remarkable difference is the water fording capability, with the Bronco Sport capable of driving through water up to 17.7 inches while the Bronco can cross streams up to 33.5 inches. If you want the best of off-roading prowess, you should wait for the full Bronco, but the Bronco Sport still won’t let you down.

A blue 2021 Ford Bronco Sport 4-door is shown from a high angle driving next to a river with kayaks on the roof.

Plenty of Options

While the Bronco Sport isn’t anywhere close to tackling off-road races like the Baja 1000, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great option for drivers looking for less demanding adventures and plenty of interior comfort and convenience features. That’s where the Bronco Sport’s many trim options come into play. Like the Bronco, the Bronco Sport’s trims are designed to meet a variety of needs. However, the Bronco Sport is far more affordable, with the trims ranging between $26,820 and $38,160 compared to the Bronco at $28,500 and $57,410.

The Bronco Sport Base ($26,820) model is equipped with four-wheel drive and a Terrain Management System with five G.O.A.T. Modes with a distinct safari-style roof. Drivers looking for more than just the basics can upgrade to the Big Bend ($28,320), which offers a flexible setup for hauling gear and cargo thanks to its MOLLE strap system. The Big Bend is also equipped with rear floodlights to enhance visibility in any condition and an easy-to-clean interior complete with cloth seats and a rubberized cargo floor that begs to be covered in mud, sand, and dirt from the trail.

The Outer Banks ($32,320) takes the Bronco Sport’s ruggedness and sophistication up a level with a distinct exterior that begins with 18-inch machined aluminum Ebony black wheels. The model also features a bold black grille and a Shadow Black roof, as well as a premium leather interior that offers top-tier luxury. Next in the lineup is the Badlands ($32,820), which is designed for drivers looking for an off-road-ready SUV that offers capability and comfort. The Badlands sits on 17-inch Carbonized Gray low-gloss aluminum wheels with off-road tires and is equipped with metal bash plates that protect the undercarriage from debris. Drivers also benefit from seven G.O.A.T. Modes as well as advanced four-wheel drive and Trail Control.

When you combine all the best features of the Bronco Sport into one trim, you get the Bronco Sport First Edition ($38,160). Offering the capability of the Badlands and the sophistication of the Outer Banks, the First Edition is one of the most popular trims in the lineup and sold out in record time. The lucky few who landed a First Edition will find the model outfitted with a Carbonized Gray front grille with black Bronco lettering, Shadow Black graphic decals, and every bell and whistle Ford offers.

A close up shows the black interior and infotainment screen in a 2021 Ford Bronco Sport.

It’s a Matter of Choice

While the Bronco and the Bronco Sport share a common name and a few features, the models are drastically different from one another. In fact, it’s pretty clear that the Bronco Sport isn’t the “Bronco-Lite” or the “Baby Bronco;” it’s an SUV of its own kind. After all, the Bronco Sport isn’t exactly built for the same level of off-road adventures as the Bronco and, if you ask us, that’s exactly what Ford intended.

Knowing the Bronco would offer the ultimate in off-road prowess, Ford crafted a capable SUV that would satisfy the needs of the everyday driver wanting the option to venture off-road on a smaller scale without having to fully commit to an off-road vehicle like the Bronco. The Bronco Sport does exactly that. Drivers can enjoy the union of sophistication and capability with its rugged appearance without spending top dollar on a gas-guzzling machine that performs its best off the pavement.

With the Bronco Sport, you’ve got plenty of options. Sure, the Bronco can navigate daily commutes and errands around town, but to reach its full potential and truly enjoy its capability requires an excursion off the beaten path. The Bronco Sport is enjoyable in any environment, and it’s affordable and efficient. While it may never enter the Baja 1000, it doesn’t have to because it’s already won big as one of Ford’s capable, affordable, and efficient SUVs that give drivers everything they want and plenty more. So, if you thought you wanted to wait for the Bronco, but the 2021 Bronco Sport sounds like a better fit for you, visit your local Ford dealer to try one out.