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2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks Review – One for the city

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks Fast Facts

1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder (181 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 190 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

25 city / 28 highway / 26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

9.3 city / 8.3 highway / 8.9 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Basic price: $32,160 (US) / $37,799 (Canada)

As tested: $36,440 (US) / $42,194 (Canada)

Prices include US$1,495 destination fee in the United States and US$2,095 for freight, PDI and climate tax in Canada and cannot be directly compared due to cross-border fitment differences.

Much of the marketing push behind the Ford Bronco Sport since its launch has focused on the vehicle’s outdoor/off-road capabilities.

What isn’t said is how to purchase the Top Dog Badlands disguise to actually unlock these abilities.

As I’ve written before, the Bronco Sport Badlands is shockingly capable off-road. However, if you slide down the trim ladder, you’ll find that you hit the limits a little sooner.

I know because I tested the Outer Banks at the same off-road park I used to ride a Badlands to. And I couldn’t do nearly as much.

I’ll get to the hiking trails in a moment. Let’s look at the spec sheet first, where we’ll see that if you don’t order the Badlands trim (or MY21 First Edition only) you get the 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder that produces 181 hp and 190 lb- ft delivers torque and mates with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Aside from a touch of roughness here and there, the little three-banger is adequate for most road riding, and it wasn’t too much of a disappointment off-road, although at times more grunt would have been appreciated than I was in my bones.

Aside from the occasional uncouth behavior, the three isn’t a huge step up from the four. It doesn’t even feel much slower despite the performance gap. Its noise level is about the same, at least to my ears (we don’t do decibel level tests). If I never planned on doing challenging off-road driving—if my only off-road excursions involved gravel or dirt roads that most SUVs/crossovers wouldn’t confuse—I’d be fine ordering a Bronco with this engine’s underbelly. Although the foursome’s extra punch for passing is always appreciated.

However, if you’re planning on going off-road for fun or hitting some really remote campgrounds, you’ll need to squeeze out the extra cheddar for the Badlands. That’s because the Outer Banks lacks some key features needed for a real adventure. The 4×4 system in this trim doesn’t have a limited-slip differential feature, nor does it have mud/ruts or rock-crawl ride modes, or skid plates or tow hooks.

The last bit became a problem for me when I made a crooked turn on a sand dune and dumped my front wheels. Luckily, some friendly locals pulled me out without damaging the vehicle mechanically or cosmetically, but it required some intelligence. With tow hooks it would have been a breeze.

Likewise, I had to forego a rocky section of trail that the Badlands trim had conquered—because I knew the Badlands had scratched their skid plate and the Outer Banks had no such protection.

The OB handled some of the more woody trails well, but I avoided a few muddy spots – I didn’t trust the tires to handle the slick stuff. I think I would have ridden further if I had been running the Badlands trim, which is all-terrain, as opposed to all-seasons rubber.

It didn’t take me long to conclude that the Outer Banks fairing just wasn’t kitted out properly for a day at the old off-road park and headed home.

Back on the freeway, I found the Outer Banks were back in their groove — the trucklet rides pretty comfortably for a 4×4. Maybe that’s because the Ford Escape platform the Sport rides on is pretty good – even with the added off-road gear, the Bronco Sport Badlands was a good freeway companion – when it comes to on-road behavior. The Bronco Sport’s on-road ride and handling are generally pretty good, although you’ll get a little wobbly on occasion. Not unexpected in a boxy high crossover.

Some high-speed wind noise detracts from the experience, but it’s mildly intrusive as opposed to downright abusive. A little slowing down and/or cranking up the stereo mitigates most of it.

Speaking of the cabin, the Bronco Sport’s biggest flaw, regardless of trim, is the quality of materials—they just look and feel a little cheap for this price point. Sure, the switchgear is easy to use, and that’s appreciated, but the materials don’t look and feel like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.

The Outer Banks is the highest non-Badlands trim you can get, and it comes standard with features like LED fog lights, LED headlights, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, courtesy lights, Wi-Fi, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB A and C ports and Sync infotainment.

Options included wireless cellphone charging, power sunroof, Bang and Olufsen audio, Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 Assist + suite of advanced driver assistance systems ($795), Rapid Red Metallic paint ($395) and the Outer Banks package (18-inch wheels, heated steering wheel and more for $1,595).

The base price was $32,160 and the final tested price, including $1,495 for destination, was $36,440. Fuel consumption is listed under 25/28/26.

Overall, I dig the Bronco Sport. But the interior is a disappointment across the board, and while this version of the Sport is well-suited for city driving, you’ll have to pick the badlands if you plan on heading into the pampas. Or even if you simply want more power.

I’m sure Ford wanted to keep manufacturing simple, but I think the Blue Oval needs to offer the 2.0-liter in Outer Banks trim so that those who never leave the pavement can get more power. I’d also like to see the Badlands pack offered for 1.5s – some people will find the 1.5 powerful enough for their needs, and why would they have to sacrifice off-road chops?

That’s probably why I’m not a product planner – I don’t have to make those decisions. I can simply criticize Ford for their decisions without acknowledging costs and/or internal politics.

If my money was on the line, I’d give a few grand more for the foursome. Even if I never went off-road, it would be nice to have the extra power and off-road capabilities. But if the cost is prohibitive and you need to do something too difficult off the pavement, the Outer Banks Bronco Sport will do just fine.

What’s new for 2021

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is all new.

Who should buy it

The Bronco Sports Director who can and/or doesn’t have to live with less power serious off-road.

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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