Pros: Very capable off-road, excellent cargo space, great variety of trims and packages
Cons: Expensive, tight backseat space, not as refined on-road as competition
The 2023 Ford Bronco Sport is one of the best small crossovers money can buy if off-road capability and rugged styling are the priorities. It’s compromised in some areas such as family hauling, on-road refinement and price, but what the Bronco Sport does well, it does better than others. You’ll need to spend the big bucks on the Badlands model to reap the full benefits of Ford’s off-road-tuned suspension, torque vectoring rear differential and underbody protection, but if you do, it allows for wheeling where few (if any) other small, unibody crossovers will be able to go.
Of course, if true off-roading is your passion, the Bronco 2-Door or 4-Door will be much more suited to your needs as one of the most off-road capable vehicles for sale today. The Bronco Sport, on the other hand, is going to comport itself much more like an Escape or Jeep Compass on the road. That means that it’s relatively comfortable to drive, offers respectable fuel economy and is easy to live with on a daily basis. Its powertrain options are nothing particularly special, but they’re plenty potent for the segment and sufficiently get the job done. All the tech you get onboard is largely dependent on which trim you get and how many option boxes are checked — prices range from the $30,000-$46,000 range, so both spartan and surprisingly well-equipped Bronco Sports can be had. The interior is perfectly suited for someone who likes to live a life that frequently takes them on outdoor adventures, as it’s fitted with unique features like Molle straps on the seats, rubberized flooring and space aplenty in the cargo area. If the price is suitable to your budget, we highly recommend the Bronco Sport as an ideal way to get into the midcompact SUV segment.
What’s new for 2023?
There aren’t any major changes to the Bronco Sport this year, but Ford has added some special packages to the ordering form. The most notable is the addition of the Bronco Sport Heritage Edition (pictured above). It’s a copycat of the Bronco 2-Door and 4-Door Heritage Edition models, and it offers some rather eye-catching pastel shades to the exterior color palette. You can read about the whole package in our reveal story here.
On top of the Heritage Edition, the Bronco Sport adds an available Black Diamond Off-Road Package. It adds some functional bits like all-terrain tires and additional bash plates, and a number of appearance extras like hood and side graphics come with it.
Lastly, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gets a slight power boost up to 250 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, which leaves it up 5 horses and 2 pounds of twist versus last year.
The Bronco Sport feels like a little truck inside. You sit in an upright position and gaze over a long, straight hood with two large power bulges. Compared to the mechanically related Escape, the Bronco Sport’s unique cabin design is more upright and utilitarian. The air vents are high, straddling the shared 8-inch touchscreen, freeing up space for a handy shelf for a phone or something else small. There are also nifty touches like the rubberized, graspable adjustment prongs on those air vents, plus high-quality pieces like the spongy soft-touch dash and sturdy GOAT Modes dial (that would be Go Over Any Terrain, the Bronco term for off-road drive settings). Admittedly, there are cheaper plastics in the Bronco Sport than you’ll find in other top-rated midcompact SUVs, but at least Ford’s use of color and fabric choices in certain trims makes up for it in some respects.
Interior storage is also exceptional. Beyond the multiple storage solutions up front, there are numerous features as you move rearward for weekend hiking and camping warriors. Certain trim levels get zippered pockets and MOLLE straps on the front seatbacks (how has no one thought of these before?), the liftgate has two LED camp lights and big grab handles that can double as a place to hang wet items, and the raised roof rails are the robust real deal (not raised or fake rails with fixed attachment points). Plus, there’s also the extensive outdoor lifestyle option and accessory list, which includes in-vehicle dual-bike storage capability and rubberized easy-to-clean flooring.
The infotainment system is Ford’s previous-generation software (the big Bronco, F-150 and Mach-E get the newer Sync 4) and is not the quickest unit out there, but it’s still easy to use and presents well. Four USB ports are standard. A 4.2-inch central screen in the cluster is too, but higher trims offer a larger 6.5-inch screen in between the physical gauge set.
While the Bronco Sport may ride on the Escape’s platform, it’s a good deal smaller than the Escape in overall size. It measures up closer to midcompact SUVs like the Jeep Compass, Kia Seltos and Chevy Trailblazer. The small size is great for off-roading in tight situations, but it’s less family friendly than many other, more road-oriented crossovers.
You can comfortably seat adults in the back, but it’s far from the most spacious in the midcompact segment. Its 36.9 inches of rear legroom is comparable to the Mazda CX-30 and a touch smaller than the Jeep Compass. The VW Taos is considerably larger. As such, a rear-facing child seat is a tight fit, so this isn’t the best choice for families despite having plenty of cargo capacity to do the job. Indeed, its 32.5 cubic feet of space behind its raised back seat blows away crossovers that are similarly sized on the outside and rivals those that are much bigger like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. In fact, you have to slide the Ford Escape’s back seat far forward in order to match the Bronco Sport’s luggage-carrying capability. How is it possible? When it comes to cargo, boxes are better. We dig deeper into the Bronco Sport’s cargo capacity in our luggage test, and after testing its competitors, found it to currently be the best in its segment.
The base engine in most trims (Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks) is a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder that produces 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive comes standard. Fuel economy is rated at 25 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. This is considerably lower than most midcompact SUV competitors, but the same as the similarly off-road-oriented Subaru Forester Wilderness and just a bit lower than the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road. The RAV4 Woodland Edition is the soft roader to pursue if fuel efficiency is a priority, as it gains the upgrades of the TRD Off-Road, but pairs them with the hybrid powertrain for 37 mpg combined.
Exclusive to the Badlands is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. This engine puts out 250 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, which is far more than the midcompact norm and those bigger, off-road-oriented SUVs. It’s also mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, but it adds a torque-vectoring rear differential to the rear axle for better off-road performance. Fuel economy falls even further to 21/26/23 mpg with the bigger engine.
The Bronco Sport is charming and different in this class of largely similar driving experiences. The steering has a hint of play/liveliness, making for a small truck feeling on the road, but still possesses the precision we’ve come to expect from Ford’s cars and crossovers. Regardless of trim level, there’s an extra bounce and stiffness to the on-road ride you don’t get in other crossovers this size, likely the result of its shorter wheelbase and off-road-ready suspension. That doesn’t translate into corner-carving prowess, as the Bronco Sport is a little sloppy when you start to push. More on-road-intended competitors like the Kia Seltos, VW Taos and Mazda CX-30 have both superior ride comfort and better handling. So too does the mechanically related Ford Escape.
When off-road, though, the Bronco Sport shines and is way better than you might expect. Each GOAT (Go Over Any Terrain) mode makes the Bronco Sport drive noticeably different by altering the all-wheel-drive torque split, transmission shift points, traction control/stability control settings, throttle tuning, brake tuning and steering weight. It’s also important to note that the Badlands has an extra inch of ground clearance over the other versions. While inching along a trail, we could hear an Outer Banks and Big Bend Bronco Sport bottoming out in places where our Badlands was just fine. Its torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system was also beneficial when driving in sand. At the same time, no one will mistake the Sport for its big Bronco brother. It’s still a crossover and intended to be quieter and more comfortable on-road at the expense of capability off-road.
The 1.5-turbo is not especially quick, but is peppy and has the gravelly bulldog-ish growl that’s typical of a three-cylinder. The transmission just melts into the background, which is just as well for a vehicle like this — it neither frustrates nor wows. As standard powertrains go, you can do a lot worse in the compact crossover realm. That said, you can also do a lot better and go with the 250-hp 2.0-liter found in the Badlands, which is further paired with an upgraded, torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system that’s as much a benefit on road as it is off. It should be offered in more trims.
What other Ford Bronco Sport reviews can I read?
A closer look at the Bronco Sport’s design and engineering, including driving impressions on and off-road.
A look at the range-topping Badlands, specifically, including its unique 2.0-liter turbo engine and torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system.
There are a multitude of clever storage solutions inside the Bronco Sport, from MOLLE strap connectors to an in-car bike rack. We go over everything in this review.
Find out how much real-world cargo space there is behind the Bronco Sport’s back seat.
While the First Edition is no longer sold (it was only available for the first model year), basically everything included is still available elsewhere in the Bronco Sport lineup, including the oh-so-cool Cyber Orange paint.
Engineer Dan Edmunds takes a close look at the Bronco Sport Badlands suspension, explaining how it all works and what the effects are.
We sit down with the design team to learn what went down behind the scenes.
The 2023 Bronco Sport pricing starts at $30,810 for the Base, including the hefty $1,595 destination charge applied to all prices below — that makes it about $2,000 more expensive than last year. That said, keep in mind when comparing prices to competitors that all Bronco Sports come standard with all-wheel drive. Also note that as of this story’s publishing, Ford states on its site that the “Base” model is “not currently available.” A return date is not specified.
Big Bend: $32,825
Outer Banks: $37,210
Heritage Limited: $46,250
The base Bronco Sport comes standard with steel wheels (not the cool kind), halogen headlights, a manual liftgate w/flood lights, roof rails, manual driver seat adjustment, single-zone manual climate control, cloth upholstery, eight-inch touchscreen infotainment (w/Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), a six-speaker audio system and a suite of driver assistance features we’ll detail in the safety section below. The Big Bend is probably where you want to start your shopping given its alloy wheels, extra sound deadening, proximity entry and push-button start, rear privacy glass, auto climate control, easy-to-clean upholstery and the MOLLE straps on the back of the front seats. It’s also eligible for a lot more options.
The lineup then splits in two directions. The fancier Outer Banks adds a ton of comfort and convenience features, plus the colorful interior options. The max off-road-oriented Badlands includes the same comfort and convenience items, but with different interior color and exterior design cues. Crucially, it also includes a huge array of off-road goodies like the torque-vectoring rear diff, additional transmission and rear-drive coolers, bash plates, front tow hooks, all-terrain tires and unique Badlands suspension. Spring for a Heritage Limited, and it comes as a fully loaded Badlands model with the neat color scheme to boot.
Every Bronco Sport comes with the Ford Co-Pilot360 driver assistance suite as standard. This includes forward automatic emergency braking, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, lane-keeping assist and auto high beams. An Assist+ package is available that adds adaptive cruise control, lane centering assist, evasive steering assist and speed sign recognition.
Safety ratings are excellent, with the government (NHTSA) giving it a perfect five stars for overall, frontal and side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick+ for its best-possible performance in all crash tests and for its crash-prevention tech. Even its standard headlights got the best-possible “Good” rating, which is almost unheard of.
Watch us build the perfect Ford Bronco Sport: