Being an AMC guy, I get a fair amount of abuse but I remind those abusing me of the innovative vehicles the company came out with in response to the market. One example is this week’s car spot, the Mighty Mite.
So back to the response to the market thing. In the early 50s, the Marine Corps was looking for a lightweight Jeep-like vehicle and it had to fit in five main requisites. 1: weight not to exceed 1500 lbs. 2: High mobility and maneuverability. 3: Small, yet sufficient cargo and towing capacity for usual military duties. 4: Ease of maintenance and reliability. 5: Versatility to enable it to the various needs of the infantry. But they couldn’t find a manufacturer until, you guessed it, tiny AMC raised its hand in 1959 to say they could swing it.
So the reason for the weight limit is that helicopters of that era didn’t have great lifting ability. they wanted to be able to load a bunch of these vehicles along with the other stuff they would need on maneuvers. This, as it turns out, was way ahead of its time. The body was made out of aluminum, as are the axle center sections, transmission, and engine.
There were two wheelbase versions, 65 and 71 inches. The overall length is 6 inches longer at 113. The suspension is all independent and apparently balanced well enough to allow the removal of a rear wheel and it will still drive on the remaining 3 left. The brakes were inboard front and rear. Power is from an AMC all-aluminum air-cooled V4, 108 cubic inches producing 55 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 90 lb-ft of torque at 2-3000 rpm. I could run on 80-octane gas.
Ok, keep in mind this is the government we’re dealing with here and by the time the Mighty Mite started rolling off the Kenosha Assembly line helicopters started getting more powerful and the need for the Mighty Mite was gone. Somewhere between 4 and 5,000 were made when production ended in 1962. But, as it turns out, AMC wasn’t out of the military contract business for long because, in 1970, they bought Jeep Corporation.
What are they worth now? You can grab these, if you can find one, pretty cheap for well under 20 grand. Of course, there are exceptions. This 1963 sold at an RM Sotheby’s auction in October 2020 for just over $47 grand.
Thanks for stopping by and checking us out. Come back next week for another car spot along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.
Boxy, gray, two-tone, 3-row Pathfinder a trend setter …
Sometimes when I write my reviews I feel like a broken record (remember those?) repeating the same info over and over.
Part of that is because trends develop fast in the car world and once one manufacturer does something for style, color, features, the others soon fall in line. Sometimes too I test a vehicle as a pre-production model, then get the standard production model a few months later.
That was the case with Nissan’s new 2022 Pathfinder. Plus it was a top-end Platinum 4WD version, same as I’d tested last fall.
For the most part, all was the same, save for a better driver’s seat butt pocket that was not as hard as last time. That or my tush has softened. Whatever!
Now I also see the trends that Pathfinder exhibits that I wasn’t as aware of previously.
First, two-tone SUVs and crossovers are now a thing, a good thing I might add. The trend is giving the roof a different paint scheme than the body. In this case, the roof was black and the body a destroyer gray. That’s another trend, blah gray paint like a battleship, jet fighter or a utility truck. Funny though, the trendy two-tone paint scheme costs $350 extra.
Boxy styling is back for SUVs too. It’s what carmakers call “muscular” and means wheel wells are more pronounced, hoods flatter and fenders squared. This counteracts the more streamlined styling with rounded edges of recent years, although I’d argue SUVs nearly all look pretty boxy, always have.
Another trend? To improve fuel economy and smooth shifts for a more luxurious feel, carmakers have moved to 8- to 10-speed automatic transmissions. Nissan’s is a 9-speed and silky smooth. That helps keep the 3.5-liter V6 calmed even as the 4,672-pound SUV runs up to highway speeds. So engine noise is modest and the cabin remains quiet, so as not to disturb the family’s social media experiences.
Luxury interiors, often even in the $35,000-$40,000 price range (that’s about $10 grand short of the average vehicle price now) are trendy too. That means leather with various names taken from Italian fishing villages to California wine country counties. Nissan’s are semi-aniline leather and were a handsome medium brown with black trim on seats, doors and dash.
This makes sense. I mean, where do you spend hours and hours? Inside your vehicle, naturally. So make it as comfy and lounge-like as possible.
The Pathfinder really looks posh with its quilted leather all around and brushed metal look trim on the outer air vents, door armrests faces and then piano gloss black trim around the various screens and as console trim. Downside to the gloss finish? It’s very reflective on sunny days.
The better news is that these seats are well formed and supportive and as hinted at before, the butt pockets are much softer than the pre-pro model, so fine for long drives with the fam aboard.
That’s easier now too due to the trend of adding a third-row seat to every SUV beyond compact status. Nissan proudly states this third row has more legroom than some competitors, but let’s be realistic, nearly all third rows are meant for kids younger than 8. Leg and knee room is tight unless the second row seats are moved as far forward as possible.
More good news, these row two seats are one-touch, meaning punch a button on the back and the second row seats backs fold forward and the entire seat slides forward for easier access to row three. That’s appreciated.
Also a trend, a bench seat is optional for row two, which would allow a family to haul eight, one more than a minivan. Practically speaking, most folks will opt for captain’s chairs in row two and limit seating to seven. That creates four very comfy seats, which is how many folks populate most vehicles, including midsize and large SUVs.
Other interior trends include dual-pane panoramic sunroofs and fancy stereos. Both are standard on the Platinum model, the stereo being a Bose premium model with dual subwoofers.
Nissan, wisely, is fond of flat-bottom steering wheels which are good at creating more room for a driver’s knees when exiting and also look sportier, a double win.
And many drive modes, here controlled on the console by a rotating dial, are as necessary as giant wheels and tires these days. Pathfinder touts seven drive modes from Mud/Rut and Snow, to Eco and Sport. Yes, Sport firms the steering effort some and mildly aids acceleration.
Supposedly the more muscular styling for Pathfinder (and others) insinuates it is more off-road rugged and certainly I splashed around some sloppy tall grass and muck in a field to assure the Nissan was up to it. It is, but as the SUVs approach the cost of a home it seems less and less likely owners will torture them in rough terrain.
I must admit the tested gray Pathfinder Platinum is not as costly as, say, the giant new Jeeps I recently tested, but still, at $50,665 the monthly payments are going to be substantial.
A base rear-drive S model lists at $34,855 and adding 4WD to any of the Pathfinder’s four trims adds $1,900. The popular SV trim rolls at about $37,500 and the SL at about $42 grand. This Platinum model started at $49,265, including delivery.
For the record I got 23.3 mpg in a 60/40 mix of highway to city driving and the EPA rates this model at 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. One hopes a hybrid version is in the works to help boost those numbers, although I must say filling the tank was not as shocking as with the previous week’s Jeep Grand Wagoneer that managed just 12.3 mpg. Pathfinder is way more family budget friendly.
Other pluses include the full bevy of safety equipment. Nissan wisely makes Safety Shield 360 standard on all models. That includes lane departure warning (vibrates the steering wheel and buzzes a bit), blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear emergency braking plus high-beam headlight assist.
Moving up to the SV trim adds ProPilot the adaptive cruise control and semi-autonomous driving aids, and by the Platinum level there’s also a 10.8-inch head-up display. Sadly that smart cruise system only works with the semi-autonomous system, so you can’t shut off the buzzing, vibrating lane warning system that can annoy during the lane dodging of construction season.
Standard too are a 9-inch infotainment screen (up from 8 in the two lower trims), a WiFi hotspot, 360-degree camera, that flat-bottom steering wheel, Nissan Connect Services via Sirius XM, wireless Apple Car Play, but not wireless Android Auto.
Goodies added in the Platinum model are heated and cooled front seats and heated steering wheel, plus heated rear seats, that dual-pane sunroof, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, wireless phone charger, driver seat memory, power tilt/telescope steering wheel and memory, that the HUD.
I’m also a fan of the power hatch, under cargo floor storage and the fact Pathfinder can tow up to 6,000 lbs., when properly equipped.
Not a fan though of the stiff ride in what should be a luxurious family SUV. I would never call this a severe ride, but it’s more than firm. All road imperfections are felt as the ute seems to not soak up the rises in the pavement, but deliver a bump to the rump.
Take a ride though to assess how the ride affects your derriere. If you’re after a large compact ute with luxury leanings inside the Pathfinder offers a roomy quiet interior and plenty of power and amenities.
Others to compare include Toyota’s Highlander, Kia’s Telluride, Hyundai’s Palisade (recently reviewed here), the Ford Explorer Timberline, and Subaru’s Ascent.
FAST STATS: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD
Hits: Roomy 3-row interior, stout power, 7 drive modes, flat-bottom steering wheel, solid standard safety equipment plus heated/cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, dual-pane sunroof. Big instrument display and easy-to-use info screen, storage under cargo floor, power hatch and tilt/telescope wheel, along with quiet, stylish interior.
Misses: Stiff ride, limited foot and knee room in third row, smart cruise engages semi-autonomous driving feature, which can’t be disengaged while in cruise mode.
Florida is a great place to see classic cars since the weather is great. No salt on the roads means that a car can have a very long life. Take for example this Willys Jeep I spotted on a recent trip. As best I can tell, it began life as a pickup or wagon and was later converted to this flatbed. It has some restomoding but otherwise looks original. I couldn’t help but notice the shift knob that looks like it came from an AMC.
They were manufactured in the U.S. from 1946 to 1964, with production in Argentina and Brazil continuing until 1970 and 1977 respectively. They were the first mass-market all-steel station wagons designed and built as passenger vehicles. There were over 300,000 wagons and variants built in the U.S. It was one of Willys’ most successful post-World War II models.
It looks as if this Jeep’s tour of duty might be over as right now it spends the bulk of its time in front of a bar/restaurant on Matlacha Island located about an hour north of Ft. Myers, FL.
This Jeep lives in a northern clime but has never been on the roads during the winters. This 1950 Jeepster I discovered on a recent trip to The Automobile Gallery in Green Bay, WI. This is a fascinating place to visit and it’s run by my former TV boss and fellow car geek Darrel Burnett.
This Jeepster, and hundreds more vehicles, are part of a collection of Wm “Red” Lewis. Like all of the cars he owned, this one looks as if it just came off the assembly line in Toledo. 20,000 were produced from 1948 to 1950 but only 5,845 in its last year. For those looking for an entry into the collector car scene, these are very affordable going for around $20,000 and a blast to drive in the summer. And no, it’s not for sale. I already worked Darrel over on that. Be sure to check out my other car spots. A new one is added on Fridays.
Why should Jeep have all the nostalgic off-road fun? …
Jeep has been mining the retro vein of off-roading SUVs for decades, so why shouldn’t Toyota?
This Y-chromosome packed market imagines itself crushing boulders and slopping through mud that’s butt deep for fun on weekends. Never mind that the family might like a comfortable ride to the grocery store, or hockey practice.
Toyota knows its market and knows they’ve got a good thing going, so there’s no overwhelming need to vastly update its Land Cruiser and 4Runner models. The Cruiser is the full-size off-roader (2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition | Savage On Wheels) while the 4Runner is a mid-size muck marauder that hasn’t been remade in 12 years. Oh, there are refinements each model year, but under the skin is a model hasn’t changed much, nor needed too.
Standard still is Toyota’s solid but boat-anchor heavy 4.0-liter V6 with seemingly ancient 5-speed automatic. Most SUVs now feature 8- or 10-speed automatics aimed at saving fuel. Many also now have turbocharged engines to increase power and also cut fuel use.
Not to dwell on the negative, but the EPA rates the tested new 4Runner TRD Sport at 16 mpg city and 19 highway. Somehow I managed 18.8 mpg in about 70% highway driving. But let’s be honest, if you’re wanting an off-road capable truck gas mileage isn’t likely your main concern.
Things like ground clearance, which is 9+ inches here, are vital. So is 4WD and hill descent control. Both come on this TRD Sport and Toyota even ditches the big 4WD shifter lever on the console for a dial for high and low range. The hill descent button and another to adjust for off-road conditions are on the overhead control panel.
But Toyota says this new TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Sport model is actually more tuned for on-road driving, which seems sort of counter-intuitive with that big air scoop on the hood, the unique 20-inch wheels and knobby tires and the Softex (leather like) seats that are easy to clean.
Yet the X-REAS Sport Enhancement Suspension is standard on the Sport model and its goal is to adjust quickly to road conditions and provide a more sporty and pleasant on-road ride. The ride here though remains trucky, and this IS a body-on-frame beast, with plenty of bounce and jiggle. Better rides usually come with unibody construction found in most crossovers and cars.
Handling is truck vague too, but fortunately the steering effort is light, which makes it easy to control on the highway. Power is strong as indicated by the V6. Horsepower is 270 and torque is 278. The 4Runner is rated to tow 5,000 pounds.
Despite the power though, the engine makes a good bit of noise under heavy acceleration and the truck’s overall feel is heavy as it grinds its way up to highway speeds. There’s noticeable tire hum at freeway speeds too, although better than in the Land Cruiser.
But I really like the simple interior and this one added automatic running boards to help us vertically challenged folks climb into the high-rider. There’s a button on the dash’s far left to turn that off, but unless you’re caking your 4Runner in mud you’ll likely want this feature engaged full-time.
Toyota added an 8-inch touchscreen a couple years ago and that is easy to use and see. Some SUVs now pack anywhere from 10- to 14-inch screens, the later bordering on overkill. An 8-incher is fine.
The Lunar Rock (light gray) test vehicle featured a black leather-like interior with textured black plastic dash trimmed in satin silver plastic. That trim needs upgrading to reflect the pricing here, but looks OK.
Everything is easy to see and use with big climate control knobs too, a 360-view backup camera, push-button start, plus solid safety features like blind-spot warning, smart cruise control, lane departure and automatic high beams.
Missing though are heated seats and a heated steering wheel, plus there was no sunroof at all, while most big and mid-size SUVs now tout panoramic roofs. A little disappointing too is the lack of a wireless phone charger and the lack of an automatic climate control system.
What you do get is comfy, supportive seats in a roomy interior with oodles of head and legroom in back along with generous cargo capacity that grows to a monster 88.7 cubic feet when the rear seats are lowered. This 4Runner added the snazzy sliding rear cargo deck ($350) that helps short folks, and others, retrieve cargo from deep in the hatch area. I like this feature, and one other, the power rear hatch window. There are buttons on the hatch’s face to lower it from outside if you just need to drop some cargo in the back. Another button is located on the console inside. Not many SUVs offer a power rear window.
There is, however, no power hatch here.
The test vehicle added a bevy of small trim and interior upgrade options, plus a $1,585 premium audio package with that 8-inch screen and a navigation system, plus eight speakers and WiFi connectivity. Toyota’s Connected Services safety system is included too. That’s like OnStar in most other vehicles. If you have an accident or need help it’s just a button push away.
As the photos here attest, the TRD Sport also upgrades its exterior cladding with all the trim being body colored (gray) to give the exterior a unified look. Naturally the roof rack and window trim is black for a bit of an accent. There’s also a nose spoiler and TRD floor mats and TRD embroidered letters on the front seat headrests.
Amazingly there now are eight 4Runner trim levels, so something for nearly any upscale budget.
A base SR5 model with 2-wheel-drive lists at $38,520 including delivery, but most folks likely will go for the 4WD model at $40,355 with delivery.
The TRD Sport is near that lower end, starting at $41,325 for 2WD and the tester at $43,200 with 4WD. With all its options this one reached $48,297.
But if you’ve got that kind of money to spend consider a Limited with 4WD for $50,100 or go all the way up to the TRD Pro (primarily aimed at off-roading) for $53,295.
For comparison’s sake you may want to check out the Jeep Cherokee or Wrangler Unlimited or maybe one of Ford’s new Bronco models, Ford’s Explorer or Honda’s Passport. If you prefer more on-road comfort there also is the Subaru Ascent or the more wagon-like Subaru Outback. For more luxury, but still with off-road capability consider Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, just to name a few.
The SUV market is so full of capable off-roaders that this market may be overstocked at the moment.
FAST STATS: 2022 Toyota 4Runner TRD Sport
Hits: Macho styling, big roomy SUV that’ll haul and tow and do serious off-roading. Strong engine, good safety equipment, power running boards, power rear window, big cargo area with pull-out tray, easy-to-use screen and 4WD engagement knob.
Misses: Poor fuel economy, feels heavy, vague steering, noisy engine and tires on highway. No heated seats or wheel. No sunroof, wireless charger or automatic climate controls.
2-door Rover a retro rock star in looks, off-roading …
OK, I say Land Rover and what do you picture?
Boxy, utilitarian off-roader running through tall elephant grass or African Savanna grass, a photographer’s head and camera poking from the open roof. Maybe an elephant, giraffe or even a lion wandering in the background?
That’s because in 1948 Land Rover started cranking out said utilitarian boxes after Jeeps had invaded the British landscape during World War II. The Brits were quick, relatively, to duplicate and improve upon the Jeep for its own market and, Boom! Rovers sold like elephant ears at the state fair. Those early models not only had high ground clearance, big rugged tires and four-wheel-drive, but fold down windshields and rear doors where we all fancy hatches these days.
Well, the good ol’ days are back, sort of, as Land Rover jumps back in to the more utilitarian end of the huge SUV market with its Defender series, which had disappeared in 1997 as Rover romped full force into the luxury SUV market where you bloody well know there are more profits!
Defender had been its entry-level more rugged Jeep-like models and now the new Defender 90 and 110 are that, with a healthy helping of luxury ladled on board. I tested the 110 back in January. It rides on a longer wheelbase and features four doors and a luxury price tag.
This time I romped the suburban tundra in a stylish (retro) Defender 90 First Edition two-door that again pressed right up against the luxury market like a lion in heat. This special trim was $65,450 and with just two options hit $66,475. Yet a base model with a less powerful 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine starts at down-market price of $47,125.
On looks alone the Defender 90, especially decked out in a light gray-green metallic Pangea Green paint scheme, is a rock star. Folks gawked, a few asked questions!
This rides on a compact 101.9-inch wheelbase, but still looks muscular and stout. It clears the ground by 8.9 inches, will wade in 35.4 inches of water, and in First Edition trim packs an energetic 395 horsepower 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder with mild hybrid system to power its electronics. A fine 8-speed automatic transmission easily melds with the big power unit for a luxury feel.
Trust me, a Jeep-like vehicle with a short wheelbase is normally about as much fun to drive as a square-wheeled peddle car. Think Flintstones! But Defender feels refined and quite comfy on most city streets, and in limited off-road romping. There is some bump felt on severe or sharp road imperfections, but ride is generally pleasant indeed.
Power is luxury sedan smooth and instantaneous. Driving the Defender is fun as you can get on the gas and be quickly up to highway speeds. In fact, I found myself over accelerating initially in highway jaunts, needing to whoa this boxy beast down to avoid the constabulary.
Handling is precise and firm with moderate steering effort required and Defender corners well for a tall short-wheelbase vehicle. It never felt tippy, although from outward appearances you might assume it to be top-heavy. I did not get to use this in rugged terrain, but it’s capable and has numerous off-road settings, all controlled via a big touchscreen. I’d prefer a knob or button.
Off-road options include mud ruts, rock crawl, grass/gravel/sand, sand, and wading for those nearly three-foot deep streams that need forded, or should that be Rovered? Comfort and a customizable Configurable setting also are available. Comfort works on city streets and highways.
So nimble is the Defender that parking is a breeze! One assumes that would help in dodging trees and rocks once off into the bush country too.
Speaking of which, there are a bunch of “dear Jesus” handles for both driver and riders to hug when bounding around boulders. The dash also has a rail across the top and at both edges if you need to hang on for dear life.
Otherwise the interior looks utilitarian. Door panels show exposed metal as in a Jeep and overhead there’s a cool fold-back cloth panoramic sunroof, powered of course. Seats are a mix of cloth and perforated leather-like material that would be easy to clean. Some of that texture is carried over into the doors and dash. These were a dark gray to black in the test truck with light gray trim on the doors and dash, which also had a shelf along its top face for storing sunglasses, phones, and rhino tranquilizer darts.
Seats are fairly flat, but powered and heated up front (controlled through the touchscreen) and there’s a jump seat in the middle that can be folded up to allow more elbow room such as that needed when off-roading. Put it down and there are cup holders in its back for the front seat occupants. However, that seat is quite thick and feels pretty confining for the front seat folks and a bit high for a comfy armrest. Put it up though and it somewhat blocks rearward vision.
In fact, rear vision is tough much of the time with the rear seat headrests and spare tire on that back door blocking the view. Thank goodness for the backup camera, mounted overhead in the shark fin antenna housing on the roof.
Rear seat folks also get a little ambient light from side skylights built into the Rover’s white metal top. Opening that cloth sunroof helps too. The skylights are retro styling touches, as are the little round taillights and so much more here. All good, as the styling communicates modernified retro inside and out.
Not much storage room behind the rear seats, similar to a Jeep Wrangler, but less. Enough space for maybe four or five upright grocery bags. Seats will fold down, of course, and there’s a power height button inside that rear-opening back hatch door. So if you’re loading up and need the vehicle higher or lower for loading comfort that’s a plus.
Again, I’m no fan of a rear-opening door, especially with a big 20-inch tired mounted on it. The door is heavy and the tire partially blocks rear visibility. Does it look macho and rugged? You bet. But it’s style over function.
What surprised me most? The interior’s quietness. I expected a lot more nubby off-road tire noise (20-inchers here adding $350 to the price), or more wind noise, this being a box on wheels. Not so. Defender’s interior is quiet as a near luxury sedan, allowing you to hear the fancy Meridian sound system, with volume easily adjusted by a roller on the steering wheel.
On the practical side the powerful Defender will tow 8,200 lbs., so is a fine trailer puller, and if the rear seats are down there’s decent cargo space in back. If you’re going to tow you’ll need the trailer hitch receiver, a $675 option.
Rovers are not known for stellar gas mileage, and the Defender 90 is not a true hybrid. It’s rated at 17 mpg city and 22 highway by the EPA, and I got just 17.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway drives.
Rovers, now owned by India-based Tata Motors, are, however, known for electronic gremlins. I found only one slight glitch this time. The rearview camera liked to stay on when the SUV was in Drive for several minutes, but did switch to a front view. Hmm, maybe for watching out for wildebeests, or boulders!
2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition
Hits: Snazzy retro looks, awesome color, off-roading ability in spades, strong smooth power, good handling, nice ride for short wheelbase. Quiet interior, cloth folding panoramic sunroof, heated seats, radio volume roller on wheel, Meridian sound system, easy to park.
Misses: Poor rear visibility, rear hatch opens out like door, tire on door makes it heavy, fold-down optional middle front seat very thick making for uncomfy arm rest, rearview camera stays on when in Drive for several minutes.
New Bronco Sport a just-right size, mild-cost off-roader …
Ford’s new Bronco Sport is going to be a winner for the blue oval folks, but it has a major challenge ahead of it: how to avoid grow too big or too luxurious.
In theory that’s what the new bigger Bronco will bring, whenever it finally is launched. But for now, the smaller Bronco Sport is a spunky hunk of off-roading fun with all the utilitarian touches it needs, plus enough modern safety equipment and comfort to make it a superb match for economy minded off-roaders.
There’s really nothing else like it, plus it carries the rugged off-roading looks reminiscent of a Land Rover. Think of it as a Brover!
I was fully prepared to think of this as just another small to mid-size crossover/SUV. I was wrong. It’s an eye-opener.
The Bronco Sport, a new vehicle and new name for 2021, that rides on the familiar Ford Escape platform. Ford could have so easily just made a restyled Escape. Bronco Sport is much more and is aimed at the Wrangler crowd, not the Jeep Compass that so many say it’s targeted for. Nope, Compass is more of a tall wagon/crossover with plenty of luxury, depending on the trim. Bronco Sport zeros in on weekend off-roaders, campers and bikers, who desire stylish weekday drives to work.
It’s priced mid-market so one can justify taking it into the muck and maybe scratching a fender, not like a Land Rover Defender that it mimics in styling. Nope, this one runs roughly $28,000 to $38,000, not Rover’s $70,000 and more.
I tested a Carbonized Gray Bronco Sport Badlands 4×4 edition that lists at $34,155 with delivery and including a couple options hit just $35,745, almost exactly the median price for a new sedan, but well under a middling SUV or crossover.
Styling is boxy with white Bronco and Bronco Sport badging front and rear. There’s a rear hatch with a window that will pop open for easy loading if you needn’t flip up the whole hatch. There’s rubberized flooring so that it’s easy to wash up the mud and slop of an off-road adventure. The cargo area in back is sturdy with a nubby rubber flooring and the rear seat backs that split and fold flat feature the same, so throw all the camping gear and trail bikes you want in there, or maybe a couple pups.
Oh, and the roof is notched like the former Nissan Xterra So you can actually stand up two mountain bikes in the cargo bay. That my friends is off-road, camping, hiking and biking friendly. Not many other vehicles offer this sort of outdoorsy friendliness and space, certainly not a Wrangler unless you move up to the Unlimited, which sort of requires similar unlimited funding.
Then there’s also under-seat storage in row two on the passenger’s side, along with zippered pouches on the front seat seatbacks for protecting your iPads, etc. In back there’s a cargo area light with switch, and oodles of hooks to hang your carabiners off of, or secure backpacks. Plenty of outlets and USB hookups here too, but sadly no wireless phone charger.
That’s just the accouterments for outdoorsy use.
Consider performance, which starts in the Badlands edition with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost I4 that pumps 250 horsepower from its turbocharged unit. Torque is a strong 277 lb.-ft. So scrambling up to highway speeds is a cinch and there’s plenty of grunt for rock crawling and mud-slinging.
In fact, this Badlands edition raises it suspension a full inch from the 7.8-inch standard ground clearance and adds better shock dampers to cushion any off-road excursion. On the highway of course it’s fine with just a bit more tire noise from the 17-inch off-road tires. Special body-colored wheels added $795 to compliment the monochromatic look of the test truck.
Setting the Bronco Sport up for various off-road or slippery road excursions is easy too, with the GOAT dial on the console. GOAT? Goes Over Any Terrain!
Wing the dial clockwise and you go from Normal to Eco to Sport to Slippery. Naturally Eco lowers the power to save fuel while Sport tweaks the 8-speed automatic to hold lower gears longer for more off-the-line power. Slippery helps engage the 4-wheel-drive system for wet or icy roads. Another button allows you to lock the rear differential or another to simply engage 4WD.
But that’s not all, wing that GOAT dial counterclockwise and you can choose from Mud/Ruts, Sand, or Rock Crawl. I admit there were no big rocky areas for me to try the latter, but in a sloppy field the Mud/Ruts setting helped me power through swamp grass, tall cat tails and some soppy mud-clogged ruts and divots. It was a blast and never a thought of getting stuck!
There’s also Trail Control, basically a low-speed off-road cruise control you can set if doing prolonged off-roading. This allows you to cruise at low speeds and just steer!
Ride off-road is well-controlled, just like on-road and certainly more pleasant than many smaller utes and crossovers. Plus the Bronco Sport feels well planted, so on windy days it feels more stable in a crosswind. There’s some body lean in turns, but this Bronco doesn’t feel as tippy as some crossovers or taller SUVs.
Handling also is nimble and more responsive than a truck or SUV. I think it out Jeeps the Jeep Compass to be sure. This feels like an off-roader where you are in command.
Inside, well beyond all that rubber mentioned earlier, the dash and doors are gray with blue-gray accents in the seat backs and tiny blue specks in the cloth side bolsters to perk them up a touch. The dash is a soft textured material to soften the interior’s feel and give it a fresh look. Console and steering wheel hub have matte black trim and there’s a Bronco logo on that hub too, and also on the info screen at startup. Some black gloss trims the round shift knob on the console.
There’s a simple 8-inch info screen here, with some buttons beneath, and nicely sized climate control buttons and dials. Only one drawback inside, for me, and that’s the rear-seat alarm. The what? Some lawyers apparently thought folks so stupid as to not remember they have a kid in that rear car seat, so an alarm chimes each time the ignition is turned off, the info screen insisting, “Check Rear Seats for Occupant.” Oh my!
Otherwise, the sturdy cloth seats are moderately contoured on the bottom and more snug for the back cushion, plus the driver’s seat is powered, including a power lumbar. Front seats are heated too. Rear seats have decent leg and knee room and excellent headroom.
Cargo room is spacious at 32.5 cubic feet, growing to more than 65 cubic feet if you lower the rear seats for your bikes, etc. And, if need be, you can tow 2,000 lbs.
Safety gear? The Ford Co-Pilot 360 system is standard with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, emergency braking and such. The test unit added Co-Pilot 360 Assist for $795. It includes smart cruise control, a lane-centering aid, traffic sign recognition, voice-activated navigation, a touchscreen with pinch to zoom, evasive steering assist and SiriusXM traffic and travel links.
This Badlands model is the first in the lineup with the horsier, yet efficient 2.0-liter turbo. A base model starting at $28,155, along with the Big Bend ($29,815) and Outer Banks ($33,815) models, feature just a 3-cylinder 1.3-liter turbo that makes 181 horses. That’s not bad, but I’d move up to the Badlands for smooth power and more off-road muscle.
Which leaves us at gas mileage, often a bugaboo of mine for crossovers and SUVs. But considering the Bronco Sport’s off-roading ability and rugged appearance, it still weighs in at just beyond 3,700 lbs. and the EPA rates it at 25 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I managed 24.2 mpg including some off-road time.
Now, Ford must resist the urge to slather the Bronco Sport in leather, put fake wood trim inside with a crystal gear shift knob and then stretch it by 8-10 inches while adding hundreds of pounds of weight. Oh, and then put a bigger, less efficient engine in it, slapping a GT label on it and boosting the price.
Bronco Sport is a winner as is!
FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands 4×4
Hits: Off-road ability matches rugged looks, good power, ride, and nimble handling, plus notched roof allows for two mountain bikes. Heated seats, rubberized cargo area and rear seat backs, zippered back seat storage pockets and under-seat storage, many cargo hooks, rubber floor, and decent MPG.
Misses: No wireless phone charger, annoying alarm every time you turn off ignition warning “Check Rear Seat for Occupant.” Lawyer silliness!
If you’re belly-aching about the costs of new cars you obviously haven’t driven a Hyundai Venue.
This all new crossover from Hyundai is as good as it gets for entry-level vehicles, the kind recent college grads and others just working their way into our economy can afford. But this is not a cheap econobox, a base car that you’d feel embarrassed to drive. No way! Continue reading 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL→
There’s no denying a certain panache in the Land Rover name and a certain pride a Rover driver feels in its ability to crunch through the Serengeti brush and ford rushing hippo-infested streams as it takes you deep into the rugged, wild outback.
Yet Rover is no rough and tumble Jeep, it’s evolved into a luxury brand fit for the dinner-jacket and ascot crowd and proudly wears a hefty price at which one should expect all the finery a car maker can pack into a leather-slathered interior. Continue reading 2020 Range Rover Sport HSE→
I remember my dad, who worked at the National Parts Distribution Center in Milwaukee, came home one day in February 1970 and told me the big news that AMC had bought Jeep. I was probably just as excited as he was knowing that we would soon be having Jeeps show up in our driveway. One that I remember most is a 1980 Jeep Grand Cherokee Golden Hawk just like this one that recently sold on Bring A Trailer. Not only did this give the middle finger to Wisconsin Continue reading These Jeeps aren’t cheap→
That would have been the easy thing for Jeep to do, just slap a pickup bed on the back of a Wrangler Unlimited and it would have been out years ago. But that’s not the way, thankfully, they decided to move. While the two Jeeps look the same, there is a lot new on the Gladiator. Its frame is an additional 31 inches longer while the wheelbase is 19.4 inches longer. The longer wheelbase and the bed’s positioning center aft of the rear axle centerline enables for better weight distribution and a more comfortable and composed ride when carrying cargo.