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2021 Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport: First Ride

Off-road capability has never felt this good.

Ever since Ford unveiled the 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport SUVs, we were itching to swing our spurs into the rigs to see how they handle the roads less traveled. Well, we did precisely that—and much, much more.

Riding in the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport

Our 2021 Ford Bronco Sport was a Badlands edition sitting on 29-inch Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires. The Bronco Sport faced obstacles with its 30.4- and 33.1-degree respective approach and departure angles and benefitted from 8.8 inches of ground clearance. Power came from Ford's 2.0L EcoBoost to the tune of 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. The exciting part, however, is how those numbers worked together when the Bronco Sport hit the dirt

Technical terminology aside, the Bronco Sport made us just wanna have fun—period. Corralled in the passenger seat, we watched, listened, and felt as the SUV sliced through deep silt and sand, teetered across ditches, and clawed like an unrestrained animal up each incline placed before it. Part of the secret sauce is how much fine-tuning went into how much torque goes where and when. Or, in other terms, the Bronco Sport's twin-clutch rear-drive unit will send virtually all of the vehicle's torque to a single rear wheel even when the other three have no traction. Loose climbs and deep sand were less than challenging during our ride, even when the Bronco Sport paused and started again from a dead stop.

When we increased our speed over the trail irregularities, instead of an uncomfortable and jarring ride, we found an experience that kept us wanting more instead of wanting the trails to end, thanks to the Bronco's front and rear independent suspension. In any normal off-road experience, it is the job of the passenger to spot the driver over and through obstacles. Instead, the cameras in the Bronco Sport kept both our rears in the saddle as we crested hills and positioned tires on rocks. In addition to the other items in the Trail Toolbox, the Sport's Trail Control mode allowed the driver to set the vehicle's speed and focus attention strictly on the obstacles. While a seasoned off-road driver might scoff at this luxury, anyone making their first ventures beyond the pavement should find this feature inviting.

Final Thoughts on the 2021 Bronco Sport

If you're on the fence between a bland family hauler and an SUV whose name alone elicits feelings of untamed adventure, let the Bronco Sport welcome you into its off-road world. You'll be happy about the amount of people and things it can carry and downright flabbergasted by how deep into the messy trails it will let you go.

Off-Road in the 2021 Ford Bronco

We stepped up to a two-door Ford Bronco outfitted with the company's Sasquatch package, meaning its 17-inch wheels came already shod with 35-inch Goodyear Territory mud-terrain tires from the factory (and a saddlebag full of other off-road tools). The roof was removed, and the interior was already splattered with mud and dust from previous laps through the trails. Standing at 5-foot-6, the writer appreciated the solid grip offered by the Bronco's grab handles to hop up into the passenger seat.

Our first thoughts, even before the Bronco started moving, were about how incredible the overhead view was. To further investigate, we scampered into the rear seats and swiveled our necks up, down, and around, and it was true—the open-air experience in the Bronco is not to be discounted, and those in the back might even have the best seats in the house. Our hands were swiftly reacquainted with the grab handles as the driver got into the throttle and tore through the trails, putting the 2.3L EcoBoost engine and 6+1-speed manual transmission to work.

As things got tight and twisty the driver activated Trail Turn Assist, a mode that engages the brakes and drags the inside tire during a turn. We are quite familiar with wedging SUVs between trees and rocks on the trail, and we were genuinely impressed with the tight squeezes the Bronco was able to accomplish without having to back up and reposition.

Though we're sometimes disheartened to find that a vehicle's four-wheel-drive system is controlled through a dial and not a lever, seeing the ease with which the driver was able to fine-tune the off-road experience inspired us. Modes including Sand, Slippery, Eco, Sport, and Normal are all available to match the vehicle's settings specifically to the terrain—and we surely felt confident as Sand mode kept the Bronco's wheels spinning, slinging the stuff into the sky as we remained in motion.

Badlands Broncos are also afforded Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl modes, the latter being further enhanced by 1-Pedal Drive, a mode that felt eerily similar to the operation of an electric vehicle. Instead of using the brake pedal, the Bronco's speed is reined in with the release of the throttle. Heightened low-speed control over treacherous terrain can be found in this mode, which should welcome drivers into the world of getting their vehicles over and through hair-raising obstacles.

Our ride did not include slick mud or large boulders; however, we bore witness to the Bronco's tires slowly reaching for the sky while the vehicle articulated. Traction control systems appeared unbothered by these events, directing torque through the locked differentials and keeping the Bronco moving forward. Any fears that obstacles would damage the Bronco's underside were quelled by generous skidplating, 11.6 inches of ground clearance, and a front bash plate that kept the front from digging into the earth like a garden trowel on a few occasions. It should be noted that the Bronco's independent front suspension lends itself to a decrease in ground clearance as the shocks go through a compression event.

Final Thoughts on the 2021 Ford Bronco

Yes, the 2021 Ford Bronco will inspire confidence when exploring off-road, and it will give novices and seasoned trail hounds alike the tools they need to leave the pavement. What sets the Bronco apart from the rest is how refreshingly good the trails will feel, even if that throttle foot gets a little heavy.

We remember thinking to ourselves during our ride in the 2021 Ford Bronco, "Why would we want to buy this vehicle?" and then, as if reading our minds, the driver looked ahead to a particularly nasty section of rutted and undulating trail—and matted the pedal. No bucks, no jolts, just an experience akin to an off-road amusement park ride that slaps a silly grin across your face as you step back into line for another go-round.