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The Ford Bronco is an icon, which is why its return in 2020 was met with so much excitement, not just in the USA but here in Australia. The retro but rugged off-roader would seem like an ideal addition to the Ford Australia line-up - sitting alongside the Ranger and Everest with which it shares its basic underpinnings.
But while the attention has been focused on the return of the iconic off-roader, the other member of the Bronco family arguably has the greatest potential to change Ford Australia than any other model in the company’s entire global portfolio.
The Bronco Sport SUV was largely overlooked amid the excitement of the full-size Bronco, but having finally been able to examine the Bronco Sport up close and in-person on a recent trip to the US, the potential of this mid-size SUV is both huge and obvious.
To say Ford struggles in the crossover markets is an understatement. Despite a long history with models like the Escape, EcoSport and Kuga, Ford Australia has always been trying to catch-up to the likes of Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai.
Just take a look at the sales of the Escape and Puma in the first four months of 2022. While the segment-leading Toyota RAV4 has sold 13,862 units, Ford has managed to sell just 539 Escapes. The Puma doesn’t fare any better, selling just 581 examples in the first four months, compared to 3480 of Mazda CX-3. In other words - Ford’s SUV line-up is in dire need of a boost.
The problem for both the Escape and Puma is that they are conservative, plain and, dare I say, a little boring compared to many of their rivals. The Bronco Sport is none of those things, with a funky, interesting design that would, at the very least, attract attention - and potentially add meaningful sales.
The Bronco Sport would actually fit neatly between the Puma and Escape, not replacing either but instead expanding Ford’s SUV line-up. The Bronco Sport is 4387mm long, slotting between the 4186mm Puma and 4616mm Escape.
The Bronco Sport is powered by a 134kW/257Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost engine with 134kW and 257Nm as standard, paired with an eight-speed automatic. There’s also a 182kW/372Nm 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine available as an option in the US market.
Befitting its off-roader image, despite its compact dimensions, four-wheel drive is standard on the Bronco Sport in the US, with a more capable system, which includes a differential lock for better off-road traction, also available as an option.
So, on paper at least, the Bronco Sport would, again, offer something a bit different compared to the Puma and Escape, giving the brand a would-be rival to the Suzuki Jimny in Australia.
Take a look at the most successful brands in Australia and what do they have in common? Lots of SUVs, specifically smaller SUVs. Toyota has the Yaris Cross, C-HR, RAV4 and soon the Corolla Cross. Mazda has the CX-3, CX-30, MX-30 and CX-5. Hyundai’s line-up includes the Venue, Kona and Tucson. Kia has the Stonic, Niro, Seltos and Sportage.
Kia is an excellent example for Ford to follow. The brand was a fringe player only a few years ago, sitting well outside the top 10 in overall sales. However, by introducing new, interesting SUV models like the previous generation Sportage, and then the Seltos, Stonic and Niro, it managed to significantly increase its sales volume.
The Seltos is a particularly good example for Ford’s predicament, because it was an all-new model that expanded Kia’s line-up seemingly at the risk of the existing Sportage. Instead, it has added significant new sales volume to the South Korean brand’s bottom line.
The same is arguably true of the Stonic, which was also a new addition to the line-up, but now comfortably outsells the Puma. In other words, there is sales growth to be had if Ford is willing to get the right models to market.
Ultimately, what this comes down to is Ford’s willingness. Ford HQ in Detroit was clearly unwilling to think much beyond the US market and Ford Australia was seemingly unwilling (or unable) to create a viable business case for right-hand-drive production - despite the obvious potential for the Bronco Sport Down Under.