Ford Bronco returns for 2021, starting with the compact Bronco Sport

It was 55 years ago that Ford brought out a new vehicle for its lineup - a four-wheel drive utility called the Bronco, debuting as a 1966 model.

After being off the market for the past 25 years, the Bronco is coming back.

The larger tribute to the original isn't quite out yet, arriving next summer. In the meantime, the new Bronco family kicks off much sooner with the companion Bronco Sport.

"People who really love Ford and love the Bronco have been waiting for this. So the anticipation has been super high," said Jovina Young, brand manager for the Bronco Sport at Ford Motor Company.

More of a crossover, this one has the bigger Bronco's styling cues, but could have broader appeal, with a starting price of just under $27,000. The Bronco Sport is about the size of Ford's Escape, but it's different in many ways. Ford says there's plenty of room in the market for two compact crossover SUVs from the same brand.

"It is the largest segment of automobiles. So we actually saw different needs across the consumer base, and we do see two different audiences there for Escape and Bronco Sport," Young noted.

And like the larger Bronco, the Sport is aimed at lifestyle use with optional accessories galore, and variations galore, but all with standard four-wheel drive.

When Ford first released the official photos of the Bronco Sport, some internet bloggers jumped in right away and suggested that the Bronco Sport would just be a Ford Escape with bigger tires. Ford says that's not the case at all.

"When the Bronco Sport was developed, it was engineered and designed to really tackle the off-road," said Young.

She should know, as she was part of a two-woman team from Ford that recently completely the off-road Rebelle Rally, which lasts eight days in the deserts of California and Nevada. The mechanically stock Bronco Sport they drove tackled the entire course.

To prove the capability locally, Ford let me take the Bronco Sport on the rugged trails of the Hungry Valley off-road park near Gorman. Thanks to selectable electronic traction modes named G.O.A.T. (for Goes Over Any type of Terrain), the mighty little crossover tackled it all. From sandy trails, to big ruts, and even a steep descent down a sand-covered rocky slope that no grocery-getter SUV would dare tackle.

This might be the more mainstream Bronco of the lineup, but it definitely lives up to the legacy that goes way back to 1966. Though in reality, most will end up spending time on pavement, just as most other SUVs do.
Copyright © 2021 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.