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Head-to-Head: 2021 Ford Bronco vs Ford Bronco Sport

For fans of off-road fun with a big nod to the past, “My cup runneth over!” is the phrase of the day in this Ford Bronco vs Ford Bronco Sport comparison.

Off-Roading in Style

ford.com
ford.com

Resurrecting a vehicle nameplate as famous and revered as the Bronco is not a task to be taken lightly. Ford knows this and appears to have absolutely nailed it if the frothing masses begging the Blue Oval to take their money is any indication. In fact, Ford has gone further and brought a baby Bronco Sport into the mix to broaden the Bronco brand reach. Both models offer good looks with more than a hint of vintage styling and legit off-road chops, so in a Ford Bronco vs. Ford Bronco Sport comparison, which one is the best bet?

50 years ago, Ford’s Bronco went head-to-head with Chevy’s classic K5 Blazer for off-road dominance, a comparison you can read here. Today, the Blazer name lives on but not as a 4×4 brute. Instead, Jeep’s Wrangler is the mainstay of that segment making it the target of this all-new Bronco. We put those two side-by-side here, but what if you want to keep in the Dearborn family? Bronco Sport is always going to play the baby brother fiddle but it’s not without merit as it relates to getting off the beaten path. So let’s take a look to see which one does Bronco best.

Specs

2021 Ford Bronco 2.7L V6 - carsforsale.com
2021 Ford Bronco 2.7L V6 - carsforsale.com

Offered with two doors or four, the Bronco can be fitted with either a 2.3L EcoBoost inline-4 or 2.7L EcoBoost V6. The four-cylinder makes 270 hp and 310 lb-ft mated with a 7-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission. Opting for the V6 brings 310 horses and 400 torques but only the 10-speed. Regardless of powertrain, 4×4 is lineup standard with an electronic shift-on-the-fly 2-speed transfer case offering 2 High, 4 High and 4 Low ranges.

Fuel economy ranges widely based on engine, body configuration and tire size – 35 inchers are factory options. In city driving, expect between 16 and 20 mpg and from 17 to 22 mpg on the highway. With a max tow rating of 3,500 pounds, you can easily take a travel trailer or small watercraft on your next adventure.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport 1.5L I3 - carsforsale.com
2021 Ford Bronco Sport 1.5L I3 - carsforsale.com

Bronco Sport is a four-door SUV that isn’t too far off dimensionally from the two-door Bronco, at 173” in length versus 174” for big brother. Four-wheel-drive is also standard here though the engines are smaller. Most models make do with a three-cylinder EcoBoost displacing 1.5 liters to produce 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. Badlands and First Edition models receive a 2.0L EcoBoost inline-4 that puts downs 250 horsepower and 277 torques.

In either case, an 8-speed automatic handles shifting duty with the little Bronco running in 4WD at all times, albeit without low-range capability. Towing is capped at 2,200 pounds but fuel economy is noticeably better in comparison with the full-size Bronco. Equipped with the 1.5L EcoBoost, expect 25 mpg in city driving and 28 on the highway. Those figures drop to 21 and 26, respectively, on the Badlands and First Edition models with the more potent four cylinder.

Driving and Performance

2021 Ford Bronco - ford.com
2021 Ford Bronco - ford.com

Behind the wheel is where these two SUVs diverge most dramatically. Based on the Ranger pickup platform, the Bronco uses body-on-frame construction while the Escape-based Bronco Sport is a unibody setup. Both Broncos feature fully independent suspension but the Sport is naturally going to handle better on paved surfaces so keep that in mind if you’re looking for a daily driver. Of course, the big Bronco makes no bones about its off-road intentions with a wide range of equipment designed to get you out there.

G.O.A.T stands for Goes Over Any Type of Terrain, which is not only short a second “T”, it’s Fordspeak for drive mode selector. Up to 7 styles can be chosen, on either Bronco, from Eco and Sport to Rock Crawl and Baja depending on how you’d like the transmission and motor to respond. Something the big Bronco has that Sport models do not are available Position Sensitive Dampers from Bilstein that use external reservoirs and trick valves to allow even more off-road prowess. Trail Control, which is basically cruise control for low-speed rough roading, can be found on both models, however only the Bronco offers Trail Turn Assist. This system brakes the inside rear wheel to reduce turning radius in tight areas.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport - ford.com
2021 Ford Bronco Sport - ford.com

This is not to say the Bronco Sport is just a gussied-up Escape. It is a highly competent off-roader with available steel bash plates, all-terrain rubber and 8.8” of ground clearance. Not to mention a maximum 23.6” of water fording capability and torque-vectoring system that mimics a locking rear differential. It just doesn’t compete off-road with the regular Bronco that can drive through nearly 3 feet of water thanks to almost 12 inches of ground clearance when equipped with the Sasquatch package. Other 4×4 goodies found only on the full-size Bronco include beadlock-capable wheels, front and rear locking differentials, and stabilizer bar disconnect.

Comfort and Interior

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If you’re between a 2- or 4-door Bronco, know that both offer virtually identical rear legroom. It’s the cargo space that benefits from a 16” longer wheelbase on four-door models with 83 cubic feet of storage versus 52 on the two-door. Bronco Sports stand tall in this respect with about 1” more rear legroom than either of the big models and a healthy 65 cubic feet of storage with the back seat down.

Base Broncos are upholstered with cloth but marine-grade vinyl seating is available further up the trim ladder. Combined with a rubberized floor and drain plugs, this is a vehicle happy to get dirty. Keep in mind, the Bronco comes with a removable roof and doors so don’t expect to hear a pin drop in the cabin. Of course, you can’t beat it for warm weather fun. Though it is an off-roader first, the Bronco can be optioned with amenities like heated seats, additional sound deadening and ambient lighting.

You won’t be removing the doors and roof on a Bronco Sport but the tradeoff is a high level of available creature comforts like a moonroof, two-tone leather upholstery, heated steering wheel and dual-zone climate controls. Plus, the liftgate glass can flip up independently to let the outside in. There is also the safari-style roof that bumps up out back to allow storage for up to two bikes or the heads of your tall friends.

Trims and Features

2021 Ford Bronco Black Diamond - ford.com
2021 Ford Bronco Black Diamond - ford.com

A choice of 7 trim levels and dizzying array of features greet Bronco buyers, however the top line, $57,000 First Edition is already sold out. Base Broncos start at $28,500 and come with classic steelies wrapped in 30” tires. An 8” digital gauge cluster sits beside the 8” infotainment touchscreen running Ford’s SYNC 4 software that includes wireless Apple and Android smartphone integration. Pre-Collision Assist with Automated Emergency Braking is the only standard driver aid.

Off-roading prowess improves with the Big Bend that brings beadlock-capable rims and 32” all-terrains or go even further with the $36,000 Black Diamond. It features a heavy-duty modular front bumper, underbody bash plates and rock rails with auxiliary switches inside pre-wired for accessories. Outer Banks Broncos are a touch fancier with heated front seats and signature LED lighting. Tack on the High package for a 12” touchscreen and 360° camera view.

Bronco Badlands is the most off-road capable model with 33” tires, a front stabilizer bar disconnect and the Bilstein suspension system. For $47,000, Wildtrak Bronco sports the full complement of Sasquatch components, a package available on the other trims. It includes 35” tires, high clearance fenders and a locking differential on both ends. If you got your hands on a First Edition, it contains all the best content available as a package normally, including a high-end B&O stereo, adaptive cruise control, navigation and more.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks - ford.com
2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks - ford.com

The Bronco Sport cuts trim options down to five with the same names and a lower price tag. For $27,000, base models feature 17” alloys, cloth seating and SYNC 3 infotainment software run through an 8” screen. Standard driver-aids are more robust here with lane keeping, blind spot monitoring and cross-path detection. Next up, Big Bend trim adds automatic HVAC control, a rubberized cargo floor and the option for heated front seats. An Outer Banks Bronco Sport is nearly $33,000 and comes with a black roof, heated steering, leather seats and digital gauge cluster screen.

Aside from the sold out First Edition, only Badlands trim offers the bigger Bronco Sport motor. It also sits 1” taller, features Active Orange interior trim and a 180° front camera. Options here include a B&O audio system, moonroof and wireless charging. For $38,610, the reservation-only First Edition model blends Badlands off-road gear with Outer Banks lux and then some. For a more in-depth review of the Bronco Sport, check out this article.

Conclusions

2021 Ford Bronco - ford.com
2021 Ford Bronco - ford.com

In this Ford Bronco vs Ford Bronco Sport comparison, it’s clear that both SUVs are compelling. The big Bronco certainly is more capable off-road, as it was designed to be. Whereas the Bronco Sport is more livable day-to-day with its unibody construction and quieter cabin. However, the fact that you can get into a full-size Bronco with steel wheels, a removable top and manual transmission for under $30,000 makes it the winner here.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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