Volk Wheels

The Bronco Sport isn’t even a “real” Bronco…

A lot of folks have been skeptical about the off-road capabilities of Ford’s new Bronco Sport. I’ll be the first to admit, I was a skeptic myself – was. That’s until I got the opportunity to experience the Bronco Sport Badlands over the weekend at the Tennessee Gambler 500. Sorry to spoil the answer just a few sentences in, but I promise that the rest of the read is worth your time.

Last Friday, I got a text from our friends over at HRG Engineering saying they were bringing a couple of cars to the Gambler event in Tennessee. One of these cars happened to be this brand new Bronco Sport Badlands Edition, owned by HRG’s founder, Ben Huffman. The car rolled into camp with just 800-something miles on the clock. We’re talkin’ new car smell, clean floor-mats, the whole nine yards.

Lifted Bronco Sport…

Ben & his team at HRG wasted no time developing a lift kit for the new Bronco Sport. Matter of fact, the second he got the car, he had it in their shop R&Ding their new lift kit from scratch. By the end of that day, they had measured, cut, fabricated, & installed the prototype lift kit. Add a set of Method off-road wheels and 1″-over-stock all-terrain tires, and you’re looking at the complete mod list of this Bronco Sport. To reiterate – the only mods on this Bronco Sport are a lift kit & some slightly larger all-terrain tires & wheels… pretty much the bread and butter mods for off-roading. And still totally agreeable street/on-road manners.

High tech is the name of the game.

Moving on to the features of this car, there are many. I’ll walk you through a few things I noticed when I first got in. We were hitting the backroads trails of Tennessee at Nemo Tunnel, which is an old train tunnel that goes through a mountain. The tunnel stays flooded from rain water runoff… about 8-12 inches most of the time. When we slowed down, the center display screen began to show a live feed of the ground in front of us. This car comes with a front facing 180 degree camera mounted in the bumper so you can easily see obstacles in the road in front of you, and it helped quite a bit when navigating the tunnel. It even has a washer, so you don’t have to constantly get out and wipe debris from it.

The interior is also LOADED with charging ports. USB, USB-C, 12V & 110V can all be found inside the cabin.

The Bronco Sport Badlands has G.O.A.T. mode!

What is G.O.A.T. mode? It’s Ford’s terrain management system and it stands for “Goes Over Any Type of Terrain.”

This available system allows for the driver to choose from 7 different modes like “sand”, “snow/ice”… and the one that was particularly helpful to our weekend “mud.” After navigating the trails all day primarily in dirt & sand mode, we came back to camp where it had been raining nonstop. The campsite was one big mud hole… 3-4″ thick in most spots. Ben went into mud mode, where the Bronco Sport automatically activates the anti-lock brakes per each corner of the car (as needed) in order to find the most grip. Where older rigs were encountering problems, we were able to shimmy through the mud back to camp with no issues.

Performance + Comfort

I was riding in the back seat most of the day while Ben drove & our navigator William was guiding us to checkpoints. Even at 6’2″, I had decent leg room. Not enough room to stretch out, but not cramped either. Still impressive given the wheelbase of 105.1″. The front seats are heated, & the rear seats has their own climate vents without controls. The 2.0 EcoBoost engine provided plenty of smiles both on & off the road. AWD launches are somewhat impressive for a crossover in this segment.

The Bronco Sport Badlands offers a clutch-type rear ‘locking’ differential, which interacts with the G.O.A.T. modes to provide the best traction at any given moment. As Ford states, “…it is similar to a traditional mechanical locking differential. The system can divert virtually all rear axle torque to either wheel, setting it apart from any other vehicle in the non-premium subcompact utility class.” Across 6 hours of combined on & off-road driving, the car handled everything with no sense of drama whatsoever.

Final thoughts…

The Bronco Sport Badlands lives up to the hype. Or more accurately – the Badlands far surpasses the lack of hype that the Bronco Sport gets overall. People are naturally going to compare the Bronco Sport against the full-size Bronco. But really & fairly – even though the two Broncos share the same name, they should be treated as two entirely different vehicles. The Bronco Sport Badlands is mega-capable compared to every other vehicle in it’s segment. It’s not another creampuff crossover. Sure, most owners won’t run out & do what we did in this test… but they can.

I’ll be the first to admit, when I first saw the Bronco Sport, I thought, “Oh great, another mass market crossover riding the coat-tails of an iconic nameplate.” But this crossover packs a punch, honestly. Ford really has done something unique here in the crossover segment. It leaves me wondering if any of their upcoming vehicles like their new Maverick pickup will offer a Badlands variant. I suppose time will tell.

Text & Photos by Ben Battles