Watch: Ford Bronco Sport: Engineered To Be Cheap

Off-road enthusiasts complain that the Bronco Sport isn’t really an SUV. With the unibody construction and all-wheel drive, it doesn’t fit the typical body-on-frame off-road nirvana. But now that problems are starting to arise the Bronco Sport is really looking like it is just cheap and can’t hold a candle to its big Bronco brother.

More than just the PTU is keeping the cheap Bronco Sport from being a real Bronco

A yellow 2021 Ford Bronco Sport kicking up dirt
2021 Ford Bronco Sport | Ford

Now the forums are exploding with claims of issues with the PTU or Power Transfer Unit. Also called Ford’s twin-clutch rear differential, it kicks in when the ECU senses all-wheel-drive is necessary. The PTU is also what overheats, resulting in the Bronco Sport going into limp mode. Not good.

According to the forums, right before going into limp mode a “4WD Temporarily Disabled” message pops up. But it is happening even in instances where the Sport has an optional cooler. This is available with the Badlands model. Ford gave Jalopnik a response to this.

First of all, that’s not a small hill climb,” Bronco Sport vehicle engineering manager Eddie Khan told Jalopnik. When questioned, he said, “Would you do that in a normal vehicle?” They responded that this isn’t a normal vehicle, it has ‘Bronco’ in the name. 

Arguing with the Bronco Sport engineering manager is probably not a good idea

A black 2021 Ford Bronco Sport kicking up dirt
2021 Ford Bronco Sport | Ford

It’s usually not worth it to go into these arguments with automaker’s engineers. Especially with those responsible for signing off on what becomes the problem. But to add some fuel, there have already been three Bronco Sport recalls. One of them is for the rear-drive unit seizing. 

The recall advises, “There may be a loss of drive and/or a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash.” Other recalls are for suspension issues. Specifically, one for loose or missing bolts and incorrect lower control arms installed. Neither exactly endear one to purchase a Bronco Sport. 

Then there is the three-cylinder engine being the only one available until you get to the Badlands model. While US consumers have slowly warmed up to the idea of no V8s, and to turbo fours, a three slug engine is a bit of a stretch. Especially when Ford touts the Sport as having “legendary off-road capability.” 

Why does the Bronco Sport three-cylinder engine need cylinder deactivation?

The single-piston disc brakes and cylinder deactivation for the three-banger spell out “CHEAP” in bold letters. While cylinder deact has been around for years and mostly seamless, in a three-banger it comes in and out with a shudder. If you spec a turbo three-cylinder it should already have an advantage for the economy. Why would it also need cylinder deact? 

If it’s not especially economical, then what is it. Could it be for a weight advantage? The Sport does incorporate magnesium lower control arms, so the weight did get the engineer’s attention. 

Nah, it’s done for cheap. It’s cheaper to make a three-slug engine than a four- or six-piston one. Not to mention the vibration and generally tinny sound. Please, Ford, prove us wrong. 

“SCRAP IF DROPPED”

Bronco Sport Scrap if dropped
Bronco Sport ECU: SCRAP IF DROPPED | YouTube

The final nail in the coffin is the ECU. Printed on its side is the warning, “SCRAP IF DROPPED.” No, we’re not kidding. That’s some fragile electronics right there. What happens if you hit a rut or rock just right? Could that render the computer to the scrap heap, too?

None of this is fun to write about. We want Ford to hit home runs with each new model. But it can’t do the cheapness thing that GM did in the 1970s. That got GM nowhere, and it will do the same for Ford.

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