2021 Bronco Sport Base Review: (D)evolution of the 1st/2nd Generation Ford Escape

2021 Bronco Sport Base Review: (D)evolution of the 1st/2nd Generation Ford Escape

I got the opportunity to drive a 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Base for 3 days as a rental car. Since 2020, I’ve been eyeing the Bronco Sport as a possible new car to get if I need to replace my 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid since the Bronco/Bronco Sport was announced and was able to compare the vehicles based on an extended test drive of 430+ miles over 3 days.

bronco sport escape hybrid

The Ford Bronco Sport is unofficial spiritual successor to the sporty design of the 1st and 2nd generation Ford Escape. Ford gradually rounded the vehicle bodies in the 3rd and 4th generation of the Escape to create room in the lineup for this Bronco Sport. I really wanted to like the Bronco Sport and was excited to drive what I saw as my future upgrade from the 1st generation Escape Hybrid.

For those in the same figurative or literal vehicle as me, the short answer to how the Bronco Sport compares to the 1st generation Escape Hybrid is

The Bronco Sport does everything the 1st generation Escape Hybrid does — only worse.

This review is biased from my point of view as a happy 1st gen Escape Hybrid driver. I believe the designers of the 1st gen Escape got the size and proportion spot on. You can fit a dryer and washer in perfectly in the back of that Escape and the cabin has enough length to transport a multiple 8ft long 2x4s without needing to hang the wood planks out of a window, among many other things that the Escape performs above average at.

I don’t understand why almost every Bronco Sport review mentions the “ground-breaking” built-in bottle opener in the tailgate. The obligatory bottle opener mention has to be a joke or contractual condition to get a complimentary Bronco Sport review model. Maybe I don’t pop a cold one often enough while sitting in the trunk, but can’t you just put any bottle opener in a side pocket of the vehicle or bring your own opener?

Looking past the inclusion of new driving and safety features that are standard in vehicles manufactured in the past 5 years, the Bronco Sport pales in comparison to the 1st generation Ford Escape Hybrid for a modern car that is ~$30k MSRP. The Bronco Sport sacrifices usability in pursuit of form over function. A couple specifications that you won’t find directly compared elsewhere:

bronco sport escape hybrid

Feature 2021 Bronco Sport Base 2007 Escape Hybrid
Length 172” 174”
Ground clearance 7.8” 8.5”
Turn radius 18.7’ 18.35’
Trunk space 32.5 cuft 27.6 cuft
Trunk space (rear seats folded) 65.2 cuft 65.5 cuft
Fuel economy (highway 60-80 MPH on I-95) 30-32 MPG (1.5L 3 cylinder) 26-32 MPG (electric, 4 cylinder)
Fuel economy (city, low traffic) 22-30 MPG? (did not test enough) 28-35 MPG
Transmission ✔️ (8 speed) ✔️ (eCVT)
Auto lights ✔️ ✔️
Front view space over hood ❌ (bronco sport hood has giant useless ridges and blocks view of critical corner areas)
Side view side for turning ✔️ (rear right window is smaller)
Rear view window ❌ (rear window glass is larger but viewport opening is tiny, why even have window glass that spans side to side when it covers so much plastic?)
Rear window glass opens ✔️ (motor housing obstructively mounted to the bottom of window opening = less space in the window opening)
Rear tailgate mounted dome lights ✅ (activated by side mounted button in the trunk)
Rear seat folding ❌ (seats do NOT fold flat, level with the trunk floor, rear leg area is wasted)
In-trunk clips / covers ✔️ (not sure how long the plastic mounting clips would last with daily use) ✔️
Analog speedometer and tachometer ✔️ ✔️
Physical climate controls ✔️ ✔️
Adaptive (radar) cruise control ❌ (none on Base)
Lane keeping assist (LKA) ✅ (conveniently adjustable with a button on the blinker knob)
Forward collision detection
Rear backup camera
Rear backup object detection ❌ (does not beep or detect when you are physically close to an object on Base model)
Remote start ❌ (none on Base model)
OEM Apple CarPlay / Android Auto, Bluetooth, USB ports
Driver seat adjustment ✔️ (manual) ✔️ (power)
Front seat back storage pockets ❌ (2 inch deep side pocket on the driver seat that barely holds an ID card)
Side door storage space ✅ (fits a hydroflask) ✔️
All wheel drive (AWD) (nonlocking differential) ✔️ ✔️
Legend Symbol Meaning
✔️ Exists, not better, not much worse
Not available / Much worse (if in direct qualitative comparison)

Bronco Sport Disadvantages

I missed many practical features from the 1st gen Escape Hybrid in the Bronco Sport Base. Lack of seat pockets, rear seats that fold level with the trunk, and bottom mounted rear wiper motor are just a few examples that I noticed in my short time with the Bronco Sport.

Front visibility is made drastically worse by a flat hood angle with sporty ridges on it that seem to serve no practical purpose. The flat hood angle and sharp edge at the front of the hood obstruct view of precious space in front of the driver. I didn’t measure the decreased viewing distance, but it feels like I lost about 3-5 ft of viewing distance from the front of the car compared to the gently sloping hood of the 1st gen Escape. The ridges do not accurately signal where the front corners and wheels are and are much more pronounced than they need to be. The best way to describe how bad they block the view is to put a 2x2 on each side of your hood. A subtle depression or raised edge on each side could signal just as effectively without getting in the way.

The Bronco Sport rear visibility is reduced compared to the Escape, I’ve already described why in the direct comparison above.

Engine and Transmission

The 1.5L 3 cylinder engine equipped in the Bronco Sport Base sips fuel on the highway, maintaining low sounds and 1500-2000 RPMs even at 80 MPH. The engine and 8 speed transmission are much rougher than the Escape Hybrid’s eCVT and all electric drive at low speeds. Despite the current generation hybrid and plug-in EV trim Escape and Maverick using a similar frame and powertrain to the Bronco Sport, there is no hybrid or EV model for the Bronco or Bronco Sport in 2022. There are some reports that a hybrid/EV Bronco/Bronco Sport may be released in 2024. That would drop at the same time or after the next generation Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Recon which are expected to have hybrid or EV options. As a hybrid vehicle owner I am also interested in the 4Runner and Recon as possible upgrades to my 2007 Escape Hybrid.

To get the more powerful and possibly more reliable 4 cylinder engine in the Bronco Sport, one needs to choose the more expensive Badlands trim which includes a the 4 cylinder engine and a differential which is capable of simulating some level of locking.

Many people hate on CVTs, but it’s a matter of the right tool for the job. Ford got the CVT right in the 1st gen Escape Hybrid. The chunky eCVT in my 2007 Escape Hybrid has been driven over 230k miles including towing lightly loaded trailers up I-95 from South Carolina to Maryland without issues. This particular eCVT transmission fluid can be changed with a flush and fill procedure much like the engine! When driving on the highway at 70 MPH, eCVT makes loud noise audible in the Escape Hybrid cabin but I think it’s more due to inferior, compressed sound damping from the year 2007 than the eCVT. I’ve driven newer Subaru Foresters with CVT and the cabin is as quiet as any other car.

Offroad Sand Performance

I took the Bronco Sport Base to the beach and tried driving it on the sand in the stock configuration. No special tires or airing down was done for this test to simulate the typical crossover user who just wants some light off roading. I set the GOAT mode to Sand and drove around in soft beach sand and the vehicle bottomed out during the 3 point turn and got stuck for a few tense seconds before barely working its way out. The Bronco Sport did as well as I would expect my Escape Hybrid to do under the same circumstances.

Without a locking differential and offroad tires, I just don’t see much advantage of the GOAT modes over the standard AWD/ABS setup of the Escape or other SUVs since the vehicle is physically limited in power distribution between the front and rear wheels. It’s hard to solve physical limitations with software so GOAT mode is a wash for most drivers with lower spec Bronco Sports.

The Bronco Sport has soft skid covers on the bottom but has lower ground clearance than the 1st gen Escape and other crossover competitiors on the market unless you get the premium Badlands trim.

Bronco Sport Advantages and Conclusion

The ride feels smooth and turning is sharp with a small turn radius in the Bronco Sport. I can feel the road; bumps and shocks are well dampened by the suspension and shocks. Non-adaptive cruise control works how you would expect and the car does not turn into a screamer when going up hills on the highway. The cruise control does not seem to allow the current speed to dip below the set speed. It would be nice if the cruise control in ECO drive mode would allow a few MPH decrease in speed when encountering a brief hill for fuel efficiency and noise.

The Bronco Sport driving range calculation is more accurate than my Escape’s calculation because the Bronco Sport appears to use the correct fuel volume in its calculation. The 1st gen Escape driving range calculation uses a 15 gal fuel tank volume but the fuel gauge actually measures ~13.5 gal, thus underestimating driving range and over reporting fuel economy because its 0% fuel level cannot measure the remaining 1.5 gal “reserve” fuel volume of the official capacity.

The Bronco Sport also retains physical climate controls that the driver can manipulate with knobs and buttons by feel without taking eyes off the road. The vehicle’s 4 analog dials for speedometer, tachometer, engine temperature, and fuel are a relief because the dashboard isn’t taken over by an iPad. There is a small digital pixel screen in the top half center but it’s sized small to show information and not demand your attention. Digital pixel screens with skeumorphic interfaces look dated a few years after release and never get updates. I prefer dot matrix and 7 segment displays that are are fully utilized by the displayed info and never go out of style.

The Bronco Sport does have a couple improvements to the 1st gen Ford Escape. The addition of new driving and safety technology such as Lane Keeping Assistance, Forward Collision Detection, and Adaptive Cruise Control (not available on base model) make long distance driving more enjoyable. Apple CarPlay allows the driver to use their phone as if it is part of the car. These improvements should be taken as granted in 2022 as all newer competitors in the Bronco Sport’s price range of $30-40k come standard with these quality of life and safety features.

The upgrades I want most in the next vehicle after my 2007 Escape Hybrid are Adaptive Cruise Control and CarPlay. The baseline features are what the 2007 Escape Hybrid already has. The Bronco Sport only checks one of the two wants at a reasonable price below $40k and does not have a hybrid model available.

Ford’s high pricing and holding back features such as Adaptive Cruise Control (marketed as copilot 360+) from the lower models and forcing them to be bundled into add-on packages with features that most drivers don’t actually want is unfriendly to customers who are interested in the Bronco Sport but don’t want to spend Bronco level money ($40-60k) on a less capable, reborn 1st/2nd gen Escape — the Bronco Sport. The comparable CX-5, Forester, RAV-4, and CRV crossovers either come standard or at a lower price point with a majority of the Bronco Sport’s optional features.

I was glad to drive the Bronco Sport for a couple days and evaluate it as a potential buyer. It had sporty exterior styling and modern quality of life features. The Bronco Sport is a good buy for someone who likes the off-road looks and needs a hatchback for all around use. It’s a vehicle that would do well in inclement conditions but should probably stay on paths that are made for vehicles. The Bronco Sport doesn’t need to stay on the pavement but definitely isn’t going to blaze its own path like a properly equipped and tired offroad vehicle or dune buggy.

If we are being honest, I really want to buy the Bronco Sport as a daily driver for the exterior looks and driver assistance/quality of life features. But it’s a hard sell compared to just as capable Ford Escape models for less money, more powertrain options, and more practical features. The Bronco Sport is the Ford Escape in disguise that you pay a premium for looks. I want to see a hybrid/plug-in EV Bronco/Bronco Sport line in upcoming years and hope to keep driving my 2007 Escape Hybrid until the “right” model is released in a few years.

Anson Liu