Ford teased a reborn Bronco off-roader for years, but it was worth the wait because the Blue Oval brought back the Bronco as not one, but two distinct vehicles.
The 2021 Ford Bronco is the direct descendent of the original Bronco, which went out of production in 1996. The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is a smaller sibling that is essentially a successor to the 1980s-era Bronco II.
The Bronco and Bronco Sport share exterior styling and a focus on off-roading, but under the skin, they are completely different vehicles. Here’s how the Bronco siblings compare.
While the Bronco and Bronco Sport share styling elements inspired by the first-generation Bronco of the 1960s, the similarities are superficial.
The Bronco is available in two-door and four-door configurations, both with a removable roof and doors. The Bronco Sport is only available in a more conventional SUV body style, and you can’t take its roof or doors off. Despite having four doors, the Bronco Sport is only about 1 inch shorter than the two-door Bronco, with a longer wheelbase. The four-door Bronco is both longer overall and has a longer wheelbase than both the Bronco Sport and the Bronco two-door.
Ford hasn’t released full interior dimensions yet, but the Bronco four-door’s longer wheelbase should translate into more comfortable second-row seating. Ford has said that two 27.5-inch mountain bikes can be stored in the back of the Bronco Sport, but hasn’t made any such claim for the standard Bronco.
Under the skin, the Bronco and Bronco Sport follow two different engineering philosophies. The Bronco has body-on-frame construction, commonly used for pickup trucks (the Bronco is actually based on the Ford Ranger pickup) but abandoned long ago by passenger cars. That’s because, while body-on-frame vehicles are great for off-roading and towing, they’re much harder to tune for on-road ride and handling.
The Bronco Sport has unibody construction, where the body and frame are one piece, yielding greater structural rigidity. A stiffer structure provides more secure mounting points for the suspension, improving ride and handling. That’s why all new production cars sold in the United States are unibody, as are most SUVs (the Bronco Sport is based on the Ford Escape).
The Bronco and Bronco Sport use different generations of Ford infotainment systems. The Bronco is one of the first Ford models to get the new Sync 4 system, which boasts wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, over-the-air updates, and more computing power. In addition, the Bronco’s navigation system comes with over 1,000 off-road trail maps pre-loaded. An 8.0-inch touchscreen is standard, and a 12.0-inch screen is optional.
The Bronco Sport uses the older Sync 3 system. It comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but not the wireless versions. All trim levels get an 8.0-inch touchscreen. However, Ford has confirmed that the Bronco Sport will be available with a long list of driver aids, including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automated lane centering, and lane-keep assist. Ford said the Bronco will get some driver-assist features from its Co-Pilot360 suite, but hasn’t offered any other details.
The Bronco and Bronco Sport both get Ford’s Terrain Management System, which includes driving modes for different surfaces. Ford calls them “G.O.A.T. modes,” short for “goes over any terrain,” and executive Donald Frey’s nickname for the original Bronco. Both models get Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, Mud/Ruts, and Rock Crawl modes, while the Bronco also gets a Baja mode.
Another tech feature shared by both models is Trail Control, which acts as low-speed, off-road cruise control. The Bronco also gets Trail Turn Assist, which uses torque vectoring to narrow the turning radius, and an off-road one-pedal driving feature.
The Bronco comes standard with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. A 2.7-liter turbocharged V6, with 310hp and 400 lb.-ft., is optional. Transmission choices include a 7-speed manual and 10-speed automatic. The Bronco Sport’s base engine is a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder, with 181hp and 190 lb.-ft., while a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, making 245hp and 275 lb.-ft., is optional. Both engines are coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Both the Bronco and Bronco Sport get standard four-wheel drive, but they use different systems. The Bronco has an old-school setup with a two-speed transfer case and optional front and rear locking differentials. The Bronco Sport uses a pair of clutches on the rear differential to engage four-wheel drive, and simulate rear locking. That locking capability is important when off-roading because it ensures power is evenly split between the wheels for maximum traction.
Suspension setups are different as well. The Bronco has independent and solid-axle rear suspension, while the Bronco Sport has independent suspension at both the front and back. With its rear solid axle, the Bronco should outperform the Bronco Sport off-road, but the Sport will likely be better at tackling the daily commute. The Bronco is available with 35-inch tires, while the biggest tires available on the Bronco Sport are 29 inches.
In terms of capability, the Bronco boasts 11.6 inches of maximum ground clearance and can wade through up to 33.5 inches of water, compared to 8.8 inches of ground clearance and maximum water fording of 23.6 inches for the Bronco Sport. The Bronco can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped, compared to 2,200 pounds for the Bronco Sport.
The Bronco has a base price of $29,995, but the top Wildtrak trim level is priced from $48,875. Ford is also offering a First Edition, limited to 3,500 units and priced at $59,305. The price range for the Bronco Sport isn’t as extreme. The base model starts at $26,660, while the top Badlands trim level starts at $32,660. Ford is also offering a Bronco Sport First Edition for the same base price as the Badlands model, with production limited to 2,000 units.
The 2021 Bronco and 2021 Bronco Sport can be reserved online with a $100 refundable deposit. The Bronco Sport is expected to arrive first, with the first vehicles scheduled to be delivered before the end of 2020. The Bronco two-door and four-door will follow in spring 2021.
- Future cars: The best upcoming cars worth waiting for
- 2021 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2021 Subaru Forester
- Ram 1500 TRX vs. Ford F-150 Raptor
- The best cargo vans for small businesses in 2020
- The best trucks for 2020