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2021 Bronco Sport is no Bronco — or CR-V, or Forester …

It's easy to lose the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport in the shuffle -- as Ford tries to get its exciting new Bronco out to dealers. The Sport is smaller but doesn't pave a golden trail for its larger sibling.

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is a small SUV with a big helping of off-road ability.
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is a small SUV with a big helping of off-road ability.Read moreFord

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands 4x4: Hoping to conjure thoughts of the original Bronco.

Price: $35,745 as tested. Co-Pilot 360+, $795; gray 17-inch aluminum wheels, $795.

Conventional wisdom: says “The Ford Bronco Sport is one small crossover that can tackle off-road terrain and look good doing it. But it struggles to meet expectations …”

Marketer’s pitch: “Always onward.”

Reality: This is more like the Bronco II. (And Edmunds put it 10th out of 10 for the category.)

Curses! I contacted Ford in hopes of testing out the new Bronco. It sure looks sweet, with the doors and roof off.

“We don’t have those yet,” explained the nice fleet manager from Ford.

“Do you know who I am?” I replied.

She said she did, and then she hung up. Well, not before offering the Bronco Sport.

What’s new: The Bronco Sport is all new for 2021, and at first glance, it reminded me of a tarted-up Escape.

The Bronco Sport expands what Ford calls the Bronco family of 4x4 vehicles, and the Bronco Sport is very off-road capable. By now, the big Bronco is like the brother who shows up for the family barbecue two hours late and smelling of whiskey and hard living — its entrance to the market finally upon us this summer, reportedly.

After a few days of driving the Sport, I realized this: The Bronco Sport is to the Bronco as the Jeep Renegade is to the Wrangler.

Outside: I don’t comment much on the exterior styling of vehicles — I’m forever recommending Toyotas and Lexuses, so obviously I prefer a good personality — but the Bronco Sport styling and gray wheels evoke less an old Bronco than a miniature version of the old International Travelall SUV. Ewww. If I squint hard, maaaaybe a Scout, but mostly the Travelall.

Up to speed: The 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine offers strong performance. Motor Trend reports it gets to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. Be careful which model you order; the small 1.5-liter, 181-horsepower EcoBoost takes a full 2 seconds longer, MT says.

Shifty: The 8-speed shiftable automatic transmission features unfortunate jerkiness and hesitation. It seemed like a cold operating temperature problem at first, but it continued on our last trip all morning. Shifting doesn’t relieve the issue.

The dial PRND control annoys.

On the road: The Bronco Sport handles nicely, direct and straightforward. The little SUV has lots of lean on curves and will easily leap over country road humps. That’s some stiff suspension.

It actually handles and enhances bumps a lot like the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat’s Kia Soul.

It also means rutted roads shake up passengers pretty thoroughly.

The Go on Any Terrain dial mixes up the performance for off-road adventure, which we didn’t get to try on this test.

Driver’s Seat: The cloth seats are soft and cushiony. They’re not unsupportive, but they’re just all right. A little hot, though, and they don’t feel built to last, or at least to age well.

The steering wheel has a touch of cushioning, but not much. It might get tiresome after awhile. Whether Ford does this because of price point or indifference, I’m not sure. An upgrade to leather might be nice, but we’re already at $35,000 here.

The dashboard feels very — Fordy. It looks like rubber and feels like hard plastic, as do the materials on the door sills and throughout the vehicle.

In the gauge pod, the robot-style numerals in the digital readouts are not enticing, and neither are the fonts used in the rest of the display.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat is not as livable as the front. Rather than soft, it feels hard and foamy, as if I’m sitting on a board covered with a thin layer of padding. It’s also a little pushy in the kidney area.

The seat sits upright, though, and legroom, headroom and foot room are all nice. Large zippered pouches in the seat backs and a small storage spot under one seat are a nice touch. Ford media materials note it can carry mountain bikes upright, so that’s a good thing.

Cloth seats in the test model grab hold of pet hair and won’t let go.

Cargo space is 29.4 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 60.6 with the second row folded.

Play some tunes: The Sync3 stereo system operates nicely, with volume and tuning knobs, and a small, old-fashioned looking but fairly intuitive touchscreen that makes most operations simple.

Sound from the system is very good, about an A-.

Keeping warm and cool: Dials control temperature and fan speed, and little diagrammed buttons direct the air source.

Night shift: The map lights up front are too strong to see by. Small overhead lights work better when needed.

Fuel economy: I averaged just under 25 mpg in a typical pandemic week of highway and suburban driving. Feed the Bronco Sport whatever.

Where it’s built: Hermosillo, Mexico.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Bronco Sport reliability to be a 2 out of 5.

In the end: The Bronco Sport is tough but rough, and outclassed by much of the competition. And definitely don’t expect the cool new Bronco — or, at least, let’s hope.