Ford Bronco vs. Bronco Sport: What’s the Difference?

A once-popular SUV is coming back to life for the 2021 model year with the long-anticipated return of the Ford Bronco. After a 25 year hiatus, Ford has finally brought back the iconic model, returning the vehicle with its distinctive styling, open-top, and off-road-focused roots.

The History of the Bronco

The Bronco, which first debuted in 1965, has an interesting history. It started with its own chassis and was a popular vehicle that competed with Jeep. In 1970, the Bronco Sport was launched as a separate model. The difference was that it had chrome exterior trim and wheel covers and separate branding.

Ford Bronco original

First Generation 1960s Ford Bronco

In the late 70s, the Bronco grew significantly in size. It became a shortened version of the Ford F-Series pick-up and competed in the full-size SUV class. Its competitors included the Chevy K5 Blazer and Dodge Ramcharger.

The model evolved in the 1980s and added the popular Eddie Bauer trim package. From 1984-1990, Ford sold a separate Bronco II model, a smaller version that was based on the Ford Ranger pick-up line.

The model continued until 1996 when it was discontinued in favor of the Ford Expedition, which was a larger and more fuel-efficient SUV. The Bronco remained a two-door model up until the end of its run, which was not as popular by this time. This fifth generation of the Bronco became famous from the O.J. Simpson police chase in 1994.

Eddie Bauer Ford Bronco

The Eddie Bauer Ford Bronco of the early 1990s

The 2021 Return of the Bronco

For 2021, the Bronco returns to its roots with a focus on off-road capability as the model was originally launched as a competitor to Jeep. Ford is marketing the vehicle with the ‘Built Wild’ tagline.

Ironically like the Bronco II of the 1980s, the model will be produced alongside the Ford Ranger, from which it shares many of its body-on-frame underpinnings. The Ranger made its return to the Ford lineup in 2019 as its light truck.


Due to its importance for the company, Ford has put a lot of study and work into incorporating styling cues from the Bronco’s heritage and the types of features off-road enthusiasts want. For example, the doors can be easily removed from the Bronco, and there is enough cargo space in the rear to fit the doors in the cargo area for both the two-door and four-door variants of the model. This is much better than having to leave them in the garage…or on the trail.

Bronco Details

The 2021 Bronco is a mid-size traditional SUV that is offered in both two-door and four-door variants. The BRONCO name is predominantly featured on the front and interior of the vehicle as opposed to an emphasis on the blue Ford oval. The Bronco and Bronco Sport both have the bronco emblem stitched into the steering wheel.

Bronco buyers can choose from either a hardtop or soft-top on the four-door Bronco. The two-door Bronco is hardtop only. The removal top and features a perimeter halo roll-cage to keep you safe even if you’re out in the elements. The open-air roof yields panoramic views to fully enjoy the driving experience, on-road or off.

Bronco vs. Bronco Sport Comparison

The Bronco is the larger of the two models and it competes squarely against the Jeep Wrangler. In the two-door form, the Bronco is 6.9-inches longer than an equivalent Wrangler offering more interior space.

The Bronco Sport is a compact, four-door body-and-chassis model aimed as a Jeep Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner competitor.

By no means is the Bronco Sport merely a scaled-down or a two-door version of the Bronco. The two models look decidedly different.

Bronco Sport Details

While the Bronco shares its platform with the Ranger, the Bronco Sport derives about 80 percent of its parts from Ford’s compact SUV offering, the Escape. However, the Bronco Sport is 7.8 inches shorter than the Escape and has a wheelbase that is 1.6 inches shorter, lending to off-road capability.

Despite its measurements, the Bronco Sport is still very close to the Escape in cargo room and thanks to surplus legroom in the front and rear, it actually has more passenger space than the Escape.

Engines & Fuel Economy

The Bronco is much more powerful than the Bronco Sport. The Bronco’s base engine is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 270 horsepower.

The Bronco is also offered in 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 form, which outputs 310 horsepower. Unlike the Wrangler, the Bronco is not being launched with a diesel engine option.

The Bronco is offered with a ten-speed automatic transmission and harkening back to its roots, a manual transmission, which is a seven-speed. Fuel economy is not yet rated but the Ranger is rated at 21-mpg city and 26-mpg highway.

The Bronco Sport is offered with an eight-speed automatic transmission and has a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that produced 180 horsepower. It’s also offered in a more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.

The fuel economy is not yet rated at the time of publication, but the Bronco Sport should be pretty close to the Escape, which has a fuel economy rating of 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway in three-cylinder form.

Spring for the turbo-four if you want more solid, reliable acceleration and more towing capability.

Off-Road

Broncos are built to go off-road. Both the Bronco and Bronco Sport are designed to tackle tough terrain with excellent departure angles. They both have standard rubber floor coverings and scrubbable seat fabric that add to the models’ off-road-ready cred. The Bronco goes so far as to have drain holes in each footwell to facilitate hosing off the floor after a dirty, muddy ride.

While the Bronco is setting the standard for off-road capability, but the Bronco Sport is no slouch. The Sport is adventure-ready and comes with Normal, Sport, Eco, Slippery, and Sand drive mode settings.

Optional drive modes include damping in rock-crawling, making the Bronco Sport formidable on climbs and descents. The Badlands trim has 8.7 inches of ground clearance compared to 7.9 inches in the Bronco Sport.

On the Bronco Sasquatch package, you can get 35-inch tires, which are the largest tires ever offered in a production vehicle.

Badlands National Park

Could the Bronco and Bronco Sport really handle the Badlands?

Trims & Pricing

The Bronco comes in a total of seven trim lines starting with the base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, and Black Diamond. The Badlands, Wildtrak, and Sasquatch packages are on the high end. These more pricey trims get a stabilizer bar disconnect system and position-sensitive shocks for extra off-road ability. The model’s price is range is from about $30,000 for the two-door to more than $46,000 for a four-door in higher trim line.

The Bronco’s interior looks fantastic with a big 12.0-inch touch-screen display. This provides of place for system info and camera views to navigate the toughest of trails.

The Bronco Sport starts at about $27,000 with standard all-wheel-drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Bronco Sport is offered in the upscale Badlands trim with a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. The Badlands trim can be had in black or gray roof treatment. It is the more capable off-roader and aimed at Jeep’s Trailhawk or Rubicon lines. It’s starting price is about $35,000.

The Bronco Sport is expected to go on sale first in December 2020 with the Bronco arriving on showroom floors about a month later.

Safety

Both model get Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 safety feature as standard features along with LED lights.

On the Bronco Sport, optional features include intelligent active cruise control and lane center assist.

Original Ford Bronco Lifted

Original Ford Bronco Lifted

Takeaways

Ford is looking to capitalize on the success of its longest-running models with a fresh, modern take on its classic SUV. Pre-sale orders have been running high for the Bronco with lots of demand.

The Bronco also well complements Ford’s popular Mustang with its independent spirit and emphasis on the models’ iconic names and symbols rather than the Ford brand.

The new Bronco is an impressive blend of both on-road and off-road capability with its technology and design. It’s a fantastic, unique looking mid-size off-road SUV with tons of features and innovation.

Although it’s a very different vehicle, the Bronco Sport also presents a good value proposition and is a solid choice in the under-served compact SUV class for off-road enthusiasts.

Based on the demand and strong resale values of off-road SUVs such as the Jeep Wrangler, the Bronco should fare well in that department as well.

Due to the 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport not yet being released, photographs of the vehicles were not available to us at the time of publication. For more details and pictures, check out the models’ respective pages on the Ford website: Bronco and Bronco Sport.

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