After several delays due to the health crisis, Ford has unveiled the new 2021 Ford Bronco and Ford Bronco Sport SUVs on the same day, which is bound to cause some confusion among car shoppers. Ford has created an off-road brand with the Bronco name, but these two vehicles are completely different, save for the horse badge and the tough-guy boxy design aesthetic.
So let’s compare and contrast the two Broncos so that you know what to look for when you start shopping.
What’s Different Between Bronco and Bronco Sport?
Bronco is a body-on-frame truck-based traditional SUV with a longitudinally mounted engine, based on the next-generation Ford Ranger pickup truck.
Bronco Sport is based on the transverse-engine, FWD-based, unitized body-and-chassis Ford Escape crossover. These are typically described as “car-based SUVs,” but as Ford doesn’t sell sedans anymore, the description “unibody” will have to suffice.
Bronco gets a control-arm front suspension and an optional front anti-roll bar disconnect device to facilitate maximum suspension articulation. At the rear is a live axle located by trailing arms (also called radius arms or rods) and a Panhard rod, along with serious off-road options like locking front and rear differentials and substantial underbody armoring.
Bronco Sport retains the Escape’s basic, fully independent front strut and rear multilink suspension design, though the springs and dampers are new, and the control arms and knuckles have been revised to increase track width, suspension travel, and ground clearance. The Bronco Sport’s unibody construction with independent suspension should deliver a smoother ride than the Bronco’s more off-road-capable setup.
Bronco offers a choice of a 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder that delivers 270 hp and 310 lb-ft and a 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 that cranks out 310 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque.
Bronco Sport shares the Escape’s two turbocharged gas engine options: a 1.5-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder producing 181 hp and 190 lb-ft and a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder good for 245 hp and 275 lb-ft.
Bronco offers a choice of a new-to-Ford Getrag 7MTI550 seven-speed manual gearbox that features a super-low “granny gear” first ratio for extreme rock crawling or Ford’s version of the excellent 10-speed automatic co-developed with General Motors.
Bronco Sport shares the Ford Escape’s eight-speed automatic across the range.
Bronco offers two transfer cases. Base versions get the electric shift-on-the-fly unit from the F-150 that offers 2Hi, 4Hi, 4Lo, and neutral. The low-range gearing in the Bronco implementation is 2.72:1. The optional upgraded version features electromechanical shifting, has a full-time 4-Auto mode, and comes with a 3.06:1 low-range.
Paired with locking front differentials and the 4Hi or 4Lo modes in either case, which effectively locks the center diff, the big Bronco offers serious traction. “G.O.A.T. Mode” (Goes Over Any Terrain) settings include normal, eco, sport, slippery, sand, Baja, mud, and rock crawl. The latter automatically manages the differential locks, the anti-roll bar disconnect system, traction and stability control programming, etc.
Bronco Sport also offers two “transfer cases” (they’re actually power takeoff units). Neither includes a low range nor even a creeper transmission gear; both can send between 0 and 50 percent of available engine torque to the rear wheels when the front wheels slip.
The base system gets a typical rear differential, while the upgraded system features a simple bevel gear driving halfshafts fitted with multiplate clutches that engage drive to each rear wheel. This system can provide torque vectoring. It also gets water cooling for the power takeoff unit, though base units get special ducting that provides air cooling of the PTU. (This does, however, represent an upgrade from the Escape.) All Sports get Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand terrain-mode settings, and Badlands models add two GOAT Modes: Rock Crawl and Mud-and-Ruts, each of which get dedicated brake calibrations to ensure the stability nannies never prevent forward progress.
Bronco is all about “Max Air,” offering three hard and soft top designs, each of which offers various configurations between fully open and fully closed, plus removable doors (which can be stowed on board the four-door). Remove all these panels, and the Bronco treats you to unlimited sun and wind (also rain and mud). An industry-first waterproof, easily cleanable marine-grade vinyl upholstery and available rubberlike floor coverings with a drain in each footwell make cleanup a breeze.
Bronco Sport is a “min-air” conventional SUV with a permanently attached roof and doors. There might be a sunroof option. But at least its overhangs have been shortened and its suspension hiked up to encourage owners to venture farther off the beaten trail than they might attempt in an Escape.
The Bronco Sport has been characterized as the “Baby Bronco” and though its 1-inch wheelbase measures between the two- and four-door Broncos’ 100.4 and 116.1-inch chassis, its length, height, and width all measure smaller than even the two-door “big” Bronco: 172.7 x 74.3 x 67.9-69.1 inches, versus the two-door’s 173.7-174.8 x 75.9-79.3 x 71.9-73.8 inches and the four-door’s 189.4-190.5 x 75.9-79.3 x 72.9-75.3 inches. It should be noted, however, that the Bronco Sport’s overall length is nearly all usable body space, whereas the big Bronco length measurements are to the rear-mounted spare tire.
What’s the Same Between Bronco and Bronco Sport?
Although they use very few common parts, these two Ford SUVs do share the mission of being capable of performing at or near the top of their respective segments in terms of off-road prowess.
We expect the off-road-optimized 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands model to be able to keep up with a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon at Moab, and we expect the Bronco Sport Badlands variant to be able to run with the Trail Rated Trailhawk variants of the Jeep Renegade, Compass, or Cherokee. Of those three Jeep nameplates, we expect the Cherokee will pose the greatest challenge.
Ford’s aftermarket accessories group will support both Bronco models with adventure gear to facilitate tailgating, camping, fishing, biking, and myriad other leisure pursuits. We’re told there will be at least 200 aftermarket accessories available for the big Bronco at launch and another 100 tailored to its little brother.
Which is Better, Bronco or Bronco Sport?
Well, duh. It’s not our money, and we haven’t driven either—but of course we are going to cast our votes for the new 2021 Ford Bronco, the giant retro-cool-looking Tonka Toy come to life. Color us smitten by its 400 lb-ft of available torque, lockable diffs, disconnecting stabilizer bar, and removable roof and doors. Fun, fun, fun!
But while the Bronco will have a starting price around $32,000, a well-equipped one made for off-road fun likely will approach $60k. The Bronco Sport, in marked contrast, will probably start at about $27,000 and should max out just a bit over $40k.
No, the Bronco Sport won’t be able to go everywhere the big Bronco can, just as a Cherokee can’t effortlessly follow a Wrangler all the way up Hell’s Steps. Its specifications suggest the Bronco Sport should be capable of keeping up with the unibody Jeeps off-road, though, and we like that it looks a lot like a Bronco (and nothing like an Escape). So from our armchairs we’re willing to give it the benefit of the doubt as to its “chip off the old block” sensibilities.