Now that we’ve experienced the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport range and more specific details have been divulged, let’s take a fresh look at what differentiates the Bronco Sport from its Ford Escape sibling in terms of suspension and all-wheel-drive systems, as well as how the Sport’s base and HOSS (High-performance Off-road Stability Suspension) suspensions compare.
Howdy, HOSS! (That’s High-performance Off-road Stability Suspension)
Although no Bronco Sport model is tuned for the same degree of performance and off-road capability as the big Bronco, the Bronco Sport Badlands was engineered with the same philosophy that prioritizes high-speed off-road capability and greater composure when hitting potholes on road, earning that suspension the HOSS moniker. And even the base suspension setup on 1.5-liter base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks models differs significantly from that of the Escape.
Geometry: Even though it is based on the Escape’s basic fully independent front strut and rear multi-link suspension design, all Bronco Sports get newer, more robust suspension control arms and larger offset wheels that broaden the track by an inch front and rear. This also brings the face of each tire out even with the bodywork. The Escape doesn’t have this luxury because it sells in global markets that require some body overhang relative to the tires, but Bronco Sport only sells in North America. Badlands models also get different, stronger suspension knuckles.
Hardware Tuning: Bronco Sports get unique suspension bushings, springs, anti-roll bars, and special 46-mm diameter monotube rear shocks with increased oil capacity that makes them much better able to dissipate heat when running fast over rough terrain. The base damping rates are up roughly 40 percent relative to the base Escape, with the Badlands and First Edition slightly stiffer still, delivering 70 percent more damping in front and 95 percent more in the rear than an equivalent 2.0-liter AWD Escape. This helps keep the vehicle from bottoming out over heavy terrain. The springs and anti-roll bars are then softened relative to the Escape, with both measuring 15 percent lighter on the Bronco Sport 2.0-liter relative to an equivalent Escape—all in the name of improved articulation. One final minor tuning alteration is the upper strut mount in front, the compliance of which increases at each of those steps to improve both articulation and isolation.
Electric Power Steering: This system gets unique programming tailored to the various drive modes provided on all Bronco Sports. It is also programmed to provide extra damping in the rock-crawling modes to prevent steering-wheel kickback that can occur in these conditions. Here the tuning difference between 1.5- and 2.0-liter models is only aimed at achieving equivalent steering feel on the 1.5’s all-season tires and the 2.0’s all-terrain footwear.
Suspension Travel: The new suspension hardware increases front jounce travel by 0.6-inch versus Escape, bringing the total travel to 7.4 inches up from 6.8. (Rear travel increases to 8.1 inches.) Ford claims these measurements eclipse those of a Jeep Renegade. And more important, when you exhaust that jounce travel in a Badlands model, BWI hydraulic jounce bumpers integrated inside the front struts allow the Bronco Sport to cushion the last 10-15 percent of front wheel travel. This provides a softer landing than you get in vehicles that make do with mere external rubber jounce bumpers.
Tires: No Bronco Sport gets big wheels or low-profile tires. Base Sports get 7.0 x 17-inch alloy rims designed to look like steelies. They’re wrapped in all-season 225/65R17 tires that provide good all-around highway grip with a tread pattern that can handle modest off-roading. Gussied-up 1.5-liter models get the biggest wheels and the lowest-profile tires: 7.0 x 18-inch alloys wearing 225/60-series rubber. All Badlands models get 17-inch all-terrain tires, the standard one being a 225/65R17 Pirelli Scorpion A/T, with knobbier 235/65R17 Falken Wildpeak A/T tires available for more serious off-roaders. Note that all Badlands models come with a full-size spare to better enable adventurers to continue along the trail, should a rock cause a sidewall puncture.
Clearance Measurements: Tucking the exhaust up out of harm’s way provides 7.8-7.9 inches of minimum running ground clearance on 1.5-liter models and 8.6-8.8 inches on Badlands depending on tire choice. These top clearance specs are a close match for the Badlands’ chief competitors: the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk and Jeep Compass Trailhawk. Note that clearance to the front and rear axles is higher still—9.4 and 8.7 inches on 1.5-liter models, 10.2 and 9.9 on the Badlands model with the big tires. Should you use up that clearance, tough 2.8-mm thick steel armoring shields the engine and transmission, the fuel tank, and the vapor-recovery canister.
Approach, departure, and ramp-breakover angles range from 21.7/30.4/18.2 degrees on 1.5-liter models to 30.4/33.1/20.1 on Badlands with the optional tires (standard tires decrease these by fractions of a degree). Here again, the Badlands angles roughly match those of the similarly sized Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, but the Badlands model can manage 23.6 inches of water fording, besting the Renegade’s 19.0 inches. This is accomplished by ensuring robust door sealing and by locating all electronic control units well above this height or completely sealing them. Of course, if water gets into the cabin, there are six hidden drains beneath the rubber floor covering to help drain it. (Note that 1.5-liter Bronco Sports are only rated for 17.7 inches of fording depth.)
Overall Rock-Climbing Ability: A vehicle’s ramp-travel index (RTI) is a great measure of its overall suspension articulation and rock-climbing ability. RTI is computed by measuring the distance a front wheel can travel up a 20-degree ramp before another wheel comes off the ground, dividing that number by the wheelbase, and multiplying the result by 1,000. The Bronco Sport Badlands earns a 345, which Ford claims is 20 percent better than the Escape and edges out the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk’s 324, Renegade Trailhawk’s 319, and even the Range Rover Evoque’s 300 (all as measured by Ford).
Bronco Sport All-Wheel Drive Systems
Transfer Cases: The Bronco Sport offers two. Both are more accurately described as power-takeoff units, and neither includes a low range or even a creeper transmission gear. Both power takeoff units are actively cooled; 1.5-liter models feature ducted air cooling; Badlands models get water cooling. The Escape’s power takeoff unit gets neither, as its AWD system is never expected to get the kind of workout the Bronco Sport’s will get.
Torque Distribution—Fore/Aft: Both systems can route between zero and 50 percent of available engine torque to the rear axle. This happens automatically when front wheelslip is detected, or proactively upon engaging certain drive modes or when certain driving conditions like wide-open throttle are detected.
Rear Axle Torque Distribution: Models powered by the 1.5-liter engine get a typical open rear differential, with individual wheel braking helping direct torque to the wheel with better grip. On Badlands models, the rear differential is replaced with a simple bevel gear driving half shafts fitted with multi-plate clutches that engage drive to each rear wheel. That means that of the 50 percent of engine torque making its way aft, all can be applied to either rear wheel for torque vectoring akin to what you find on the latest Toyota RAV4 Adventure models or some GKN Twinster rear axle fitments like the Cadillac XT5’s (note that the Bronco Sport system doesn’t “over-speed” the outside tire as on the Ford Focus RS). There’s also a rear-diff-lock switch like on the big Bronco, and certain drive modes lock the rear axle automatically. Note that the rear axle clutch packs are not actively cooled, and prolonged rock climbing can temporarily overheat them. When this happens, power is reduced briefly to allow them to cool.
Drive Modes: Another differentiator between the Escape and Bronco Sports is Ford’s newly trademarked G.O.A.T. modes (Go Over Any Terrain). As in the big Bronco, engaging these modes activates infotainment screen displays showing differential status, tire pressures, or (on Badlands) camera views that can help negotiate tricky trails at speeds under 15 mph. The 1.5-liter models make do without the cameras, so you’ll need a spotter, and you get Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand settings. Select that last one for max drifty fun in the dirt. These modes each get a dedicated brake calibration to ensure the stability nannies never completely prevent forward progress. Badlands models add two more extreme modes: Mud and Ruts and Rock Crawl. Another Badlands upgrade is Trail Control, which provides off-road “cruise control,” which can be set at speeds from 1 to 20 mph for controlled progress up and down hills as well as on flat land.