There are two models in Ford’s Bronco sub-brand, with some folks dismissing the milder Bronco Sport as “not a real Bronco.” And true, it isn’t the wicked off-roader that the Bronco is, but it’s an urban warrior that does a lot of things right and really deserves a look.
It starts in Base trim at $38,094, including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $2,095. I had the new-for-2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage starting at $43,994, and then mine was optioned to $48,104 before taxes. The lineup tops out at the also-new Heritage Limited at $58,744.
The Bronco is a well-proportioned vehicle, with a strong stance and handsome boxy styling, and it’s kicked up a notch in the Heritage trim. Yes, it pays heritage to the old Bronco, but it suits this modern model very well (and, of course, it’s also available on the big Bronco, where it’s equally good-looking). It includes a white grille with red lettering, body stripes, and 17-inch alloy wheels made to look like old-fashioned steel ones. It all went very well with my tester’s Robin’s Egg Blue paint, a $600 option.
That heritage-style trim also includes plaid cloth seats, red accent stitching, and blue instrument cluster surround.
The Bronco Sport receives the highest five-star crash-test rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), along with the top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
All trims include standard emergency front braking, lane-keep assist, automatic high-beam headlights, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and the back-up camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles. My tester was further equipped with Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist+, which added adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane centring, speed limit recognition, evasive steering assist, and voice-activated navigation.
The Heritage builds on the Big Bend trim, which is one up from Base, and includes such items as LED fog lights, automatic climate control, push-button start, a power driver’s seat, zippered seatback pockets, and an eight-inch centre touchscreen. For those who like camping, the inside of the tailgate features adjustable floodlights and a bottle opener, plus flip-up glass when it’s closed.
That outdoorsy usefulness can be taken a step beyond with my tester’s optional cargo management system for $255, which is a hard divider tray that can be pulled out to use as a table. I also had a convenience package for $1,295, which added a sunroof, rear parking sensors, a wireless charger, and an integrated garage door opener. But while my Bronco Sport had three-stage heated front seats, a heated steering wheel isn’t available – a curious omission in Canada, especially when the mechanically related Maverick offers one. And while the driver’s window is auto-down, it would be nice to have auto-up as well.
I like simple controls because they reduce dangerous distraction, and the Bronco Sport delivers. The climate functions are handled with dials and buttons; the infotainment system has simple icons and menus, and dials for volume and tuning; the steering wheel controls are intuitive; and the dial-style gear selector and drive mode wheel are simple to use. It’s also easy to get in and out thanks to the wide-opening doors, and visibility is very good.
The Bronco Sport offers 682 L of cargo space with the rear seats upright, and 1,616 L when they’re folded. The rubber-backed rear seats are standard in the Heritage and are great when loading dirty or wet items. The cargo liftover is fairly low and the squared-off tailgate opening makes it easy to pack items inside; and there are snap-closure bag hooks to hold groceries securely. The tailgate glass flips up separately for tossing items inside.
The optional cargo tray allows for double-height loading if desired. It also folds out to become a table, protected from the elements by the open tailgate, and there are adjustable lights in the lip that illuminate the table for in-the-dark work or dinner prep. Up-front small-item storage is excellent, with a cubby under the centre screen and another lower in the centre stack, along with large door pockets. The zippered pockets in the front seatbacks are large enough to securely store a tablet or laptop.
The Bronco Sport is roomy up front, while rear-seat passengers benefit from sculpted front seatbacks that provide room for their knees, and space under them to slip their feet; and that boxy shape maximizes headroom for all. The seats are supportive for longer drives, too. The Heritage benefits from three-stage heated front seats, but the automatic climate control is single-zone. The ride is smooth and overall, the cabin is quiet – except for an annoying squeak that my tester had in the area around its sunroof.
Lower Bronco Sport trims, including my Heritage, use a 1.5L turbocharged three-cylinder engine that makes 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The top-level Badlands and Heritage Limited swap that out for a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder making 250 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque.
Your choice will likely depend on how you drive. The three-cylinder is a gruff little engine, but it’s fine for everyday city driving, especially if you tend to be moderate on the throttle. It has enough power for highway passing, but if you put a lot of freeway kilometres on your vehicle, or prefer something with stronger acceleration, look at the larger engine. The 1.5L can tow up to 907 kg (2,000 lb), while moving up to the 2.0L gives you slightly more pull at 998 kg (2,200 lb).
Driving Feel: 8/10
The Bronco Sport is a fun vehicle to drive around. The steering is light and responsive, and the turning circle is surprisingly tight. That makes this vehicle feel smaller and easier to spin around in tight parking lots, especially with that boxy shape and excellent visibility so you know where the corners are. The ride is smooth and composed; it handles bumps and broken pavement with ease, and is well-balanced around curves.
All-wheel drive (AWD) is standard, and primarily drives the front wheels but can send up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear as needed. The driving mode dial is labelled “G.O.A.T.,” short for “Goes Over Any Terrain.” Models with the 1.5L three-cylinder, including my Heritage, offer normal, eco, sport, slippery, and sand; while the 2.0L-equipped Badlands and Heritage Limited further add mud/ruts and rock crawl settings.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
The Bronco Sport with 1.5L engine is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 9.5 L/100 km in the city, 8.4 on the highway, and 8.9 in combined driving. In my week with it, I averaged 9.4 L/100 km.
That’s about the middle among many of its all-wheel-drive competitors, where the Subaru Outback is rated at 8.3 L/100 km in combined driving; the Bronco Sport’s cousin Ford Escape is 8.4; the Kia Sportage is 9.5; and the Jeep Cherokee is rated at 9.8.
I really like the Bronco Sport, but it has a hefty price tag. It starts at $38,094 in Base trim and it’s $40,994 to step up one to the Badlands, and then $43,994 for the Heritage. The Bronco Sport lineup tops out with the Heritage Limited, with a larger engine and a very substantial $58,744 price tag.
Many rivals are considerably less, such as the Kia Sportage, which ranges from $33,544 to $44,344 with all-wheel drive; the Subaru Outback at $36,190 to $49,590 (standard all-wheel drive); and the Ford Escape, from $34,944 to $45,474. The Jeep Cherokee starts higher than the Bronco Sport at $49,000 but finishes at $53,500 (all prices including delivery).
It is expensive, but past that, the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport does almost everything right. It’s good-looking, practical, comfortable, and a decent driver. If you haven’t given it a look because it’s “not a real Bronco,” you really should give it a test-drive.
|Peak Horsepower||181 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||190 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.3 / 8.4 / 8.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||682 / 1,616 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage|
|Price as Tested||$48,129|
$4,035 – Robin’s Egg Blue paint, $600; Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist+, $1,250; Floor liners, $200; Cargo mat, $165; Front and rear splash guards, $300; Cargo management system, $225; Heritage Convenience Package (power sunroof, rear parking sensors, wireless charger, garage door opener, eight-way power driver’s seat), $1,295