2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands Road Test | The best version on pavement, too

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The Badlands will be marketed as an off-road specialist in the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport range. To prove this, it includes a number of off-road oriented features. However, as it turns out, some of these features also make it the most fun version on the road. Add in plenty of convenience features and competitive pricing and you have the best of Bronco Sport and a serious competitor among rugged entry-level crossover models.
What sets Badlands apart from other bronco sports is their mechanical improvements. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 250 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque (using premium fuel). These are 69 horsepower and 87 lb-ft gains over other Bronco Sport models. It is coupled to all four wheels with eight-speed automatic transmission power, but receives a rear differential with a torque vector and dual clutch. In addition to providing torque vectoring, it and the center differential can be locked for additional traction. The gearbox and the rear diff also have their own oil cooler. The Badlands comes standard with 28.5 "off-road tires, optionally with 29" tires. The Badlands also has an off-road chassis with hydraulic bumpers, underrun protection, unique mud and rock crawl driving modes (also known as GOAT modes), a front camera and Ford's off-road cruise control called Trail Control.
We previously spent some time off-road with the Badlands where the trail tools performed admirably. This time we got to try it out in its natural habitat, on the city's streets and highways, and again, it's more than an argument in itself. The engine is a treasure. Not only does it deliver every bit of its nominal power, it also delivers over a fat power band, making it fast in almost any situation. Then there is this rear axle trick. While not the same as the Ford RS, it works in a similar way: there is a clutch on either side of the differential that can engage or disengage an axle to send power to the wheel where it is needed most (torque vectoring). In sport mode, the torque vectoring tuning is adjusted and even more engine torque is sent to the rear. This changes the character of the Bronco Sport significantly, making it more neutral and ready to take turns. In standard mode or in the regular Bronco Sport with 1.5 liter equipment and a more conventional all-wheel drive without torque vector there is a more natural tendency to understeer. We'd love to see Ford make this all-wheel drive system available in a kind of Escape ST.
2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
Not all of these changes necessarily improve the road experience, but they also don't really affect it. The off-road tuned suspension can be a bit busy and bumpy on slightly uneven roads, which we found on a non-Badlands Bronco Sport. However, it blows through large potholes. There are some easy to moderate body roles, in part due to the tall stature of the crossover. Even so, it's very responsive and agile. The off-road tires also had more than sufficient grip and are surprisingly quiet, which maintains the serenity of the well-insulated cabin.
If there's one area that could be improved it is the slow-shifting automatic transmission - be it on its own or, worse, if the driver nudges it in manual mode. Fortunately, it's fluid enough and the transfer computer has good shifting logic so it doesn't shift too often and doesn't have to go through multiple gears to get to the one you want.
While the mechanical parts of the Badlands are the main attraction, it also gets some nice interior decorations. Dark blue or orange upholstery replaces the plain black or gray of the entry-level models, and an equally attractive brown leather upholstery is an option. These colors are reflected on plastic trim in the doors and dashboard, which brighten up the otherwise dull interior and detract from some of the cheaper hard plastics. Ford also optionally offers brown and black leather and faux suede, which are even fancier. Regardless of the upholstery, the front seats have heating and several setting options, whereby the driver can adjust the performance. The automatic climate control is standard, optionally with two zones.
The Badlands comes standard with the same 8-inch infotainment system as every Bronco Sport, along with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and four USB ports. The touchscreen is bright, sharp and responsive and is located where it is easy to read and reach. The instrument panel is based on traditional analog displays, supported by a central 6.5-inch display. It has eye-catching graphics, which is generally a good thing. When selecting the drive / GOAT modes, however, it takes forever for the system to go through the special mode-specific animations. The delay time between turning the mode dial and confirming it on the screen is far too long, although this is also a problem that we have seen with other Fords.
2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
Not too much is missed compared to the nearly identical, but far less powerful, trim level from Outer Banks. The supposedly plush outer banks include dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient lighting, leather seats, a heated steering wheel, remote start, and windshield wipers with a rain sensor. Most of these features are available in the Badlands, on top of the $ 2,595 Badlands package. But even without that, we'd take the Badlands over the Outer Banks to improve the driving experience.
Not only is the Bronco Sport Badlands an attractive package compared to other trim levels, it's also an extremely competitive, rugged crossover. Not that it is easy to identify obvious apple-to-apple competitors. It's more spacious than Jeep's Renegade and Compass Trailhawk models and offers more power and better handling with at least as much off-road capability. It's also more expensive ($ 4,000 more than Renegade; $ 2,000 more than Compass). Above that in size and price are the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Subaru Outback XT, and Toyota RAV4 TRD Offroad, but their drivetrains barely align and the latter pair are barely rock crawlers.
Of course, the Bronco Sport, especially the Badlands, is so attractive that it can easily be considered by those who have no intention of ever going off-road. So if you're just looking for a stylish, capable little crossover in the market, you owe it to yourself to check out the Bronco Sport and the Badlands in particular. Sure, it'll get you surprisingly far off-road, but it'll keep you pretty entertained on the road too, all for a reasonable price.
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