It was revealed to me that an overnight gathering of five was planned for our place. Not wanting to be the, umm, sixth wheel, I immediately started planning my escape.
A vehicle was needed, any vehicle would do. Fortunately, a 2022 Ford Bronco Sport (suitably based on the Escape platform) was already booked and ready to take me away.
Even after the get together plans fell through, my getaway was still on, and I squirted out of town, heading for coasts and country roads, hoping this Bronco excursion would work out better than O.J.’s infamous and not so successful Bronco breakout.
First, a little background. The Bronco (1966-1996) served a 30 year stint as a rough and ready two-door ute competing against the likes of Jeeps and International Harvesters. After a 25 year hiatus, Ford brought the Bronco name back from the dead but, using a scatter gun approach to cover a wider customer base, they unveiled two similar but distinctly different models, starting with the mid-size Bronco, building on a body-on-frame Ranger truck platform in two-door or four-door form, with removable doors and roof, chunky power numbers and all the expected impressive, rock-crunching off-road strengths to rival the Wrangler.
But they also unveiled the Bronco Sport, a smaller, lighter and tighter compact ute based on Ford’s C2 platform, the foundation for a somewhat more civilized unibody frame, smaller engine with better fuel economy numbers, but still boasting varying levels of off-road ability at a more affordable price.
It wouldn’t be unfair to think of the Bronco Sport as a “Bronco Lite”, still boasting acceptable levels of 4X4 performance, equipment and abilities combined with a good deal of Bronco design DNA.
The Bronco Sport comes in four trim levels - the entry Base model ($35,999), the one-step-up Big Bend ($38,899) with a few added features, the almost all-inclusive Outer Banks ($42,889), maxed out with add-ons, and a Badlands version ($46,149) which trades some Outer Banks’ luxuries for more power, more attitude, and more off-road flavour, equipment and abilities.
Lift the hood and it looks someone emptied a hardware store rummage bin in the engine bay - pipes, hoses, wiring harnesses and other unshrouded bits and bobs poking every which way. But the 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbo three-cylinder engine that comes standard in the first three trim levels, makes a nifty and thrifty 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. I had to squeeze every ounce of power out of that diminutive mill during one particularly sphincter-tightening passing maneuver, buzzing past a line of four sluggards on a two-lane country highway with headlights in the distance. At that moment, I might have been wishing for the Badland’s bigger 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbo inline four-cylinder with its 245 hp and 275 lb-ft.
But the 1.5-litre three-banger served adequately on my trip. And thanks to an easier going pace the rest of the time, I even managed to beat it’s 9.3L/8.4L/100km (city/hwy) fuel economy rating with my 8.3L/100km (comb) real world average. A rotary shifter dial takes time to get used to but both engines are meshed to eight-speed automatics and feature Auto Start-Stop technology as well.
All Bronco Sport models come with a Terrain Management System featuring five G.O.A.T. modes (Go Over Any Terrain) including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand settings. The Badlands model adds Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl modes, along with the bigger motor and the upgrades to wheels, suspension and other off-road techs.
But tested here, our 2022 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks blends a just right amount of ruggedness and refinement to suit most tastes. Features, many of them exclusive to the Outer Banks trim, include leather seating, heated leather-wrapped steering with cruise and audio controls, 18-inch Ebony Black painted aluminum wheels, a blacked-out grille with white Bronco lettering, upgraded 10-speaker B&O audio and more. Some of the neater innovations include a handy instrument panel shelf, a 110V 400W AC outlet on the back of the console, a liftgate with flip-glass rear window, zippered seat back pockets, LED floodlamps in the bottom of the liftgate for boondocking or tailgate parties and, also in back, a slide-out working table/cargo shelf that is part of the five-way configurable Cargo Management System.
And it’s a good looking vehicle, in this case dipped in Hot Pepper Red Tinted Clearcoat, its features still novel enough to catch the eye with plenty of design cues taken from the Bronco halo model - the round headlamps, the “encapsulated cartridge grille”, the slab-sided profile, short front and rear overhangs and proportions that hearken back to the original.
Slip inside, peer through the windshield and the bulky hood and front fender peaks ahead give an illusion of width, even though the Bronco Sport is narrower and also shorter in length than its Ford Escape cousin.
So, yes, it’s a bit of a shorter compact, requiring compromise from front seat occupants for anyone wanting to squeeze into the cramped second row. But it’s not short enough to affect the ride and handling, demonstrating none of that “small boat on a big sea” pitching and yawing.
Flop the rubberized rear seatback forward and this is where the Bronco Sport shines, with two bums in the seats up front and room for getaway gear in back. One of the design guidelines was to accommodate two cyclists and two 27.5-inch wheel mountain bikes inside the cargo area, so there’s plenty of headroom, even enough to wear your bronco-busting Stetson.
I had mounted my bike rack on the optional hitch but an available Yakima inside rack and more than 100 factory-backed accessories to help transport gear such as kayaks, surfboards, skis and camping gear, means there’s no end in sight when it comes to vehicle personalization.
The Ford Bronco Sport has proven popular, even more popular than its Bronco sibling and new 2023 Bronco Sports should start arriving later this year, carrying over largely unchanged but with the addition of two new notable retro models - the two-tone Heritage Edition and Heritage Limited Edition - both showing old school Oxford White treatment on the grille, roof, interior trim and wheels.
And, further down the road, we can probably expect some level of electrification, possibly a hybrid model in the 2024 model year, as this latest version of an old Bronco tradition continues to evolve for the future.
2022 Ford Bronco Sport Outer Banks
BODY STYLE: Two-row, five-passenger compact sport ute
DRIVE METHOD: Eight-speed automatic, 4X4
ENGINE: 1.5-liter EcoBoost turbo three-cylinder engine (181 hp, 190 lb-ft of torque)
FUEL ECONOMY: 9.3L/8.4L/100km (city/hwy). As tested 8.3L/100km (comb).
CARGO VOLUME: 822 litres; 1,703 litres behind first row (moonroof model)
TOW RATING: 907 kg
PRICE: 2022 FORD BRONCO SPORT OUTER BANKS $45,499 as tested (destination $1,995 not incl)
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.