The Ford Bronco Sport is designed to go over any terrain. But what if that terrain is covered in snow and ice? And aside from maintaining a grip on the road and being able to escape being stuck, does the Bronco Sport offer a class-leading mix of creature comforts available to tame wicked winter weather? Let’s take a deep dive and cast a critical eye on the Bronco Sport to see just how well this impressive SUV is built for winter.
Great Winter Vehicles Always Start With Great Tires
Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of why the Ford Bronco Sport is one of the best vehicles you can drive in winter, let’s talk about tires. No all-wheel drive system helps you stop, turn, or maintain a safe grip on the road at highway speeds on snow and ice. Great winter tires do all of these things. If you are planning to buy a vehicle to tackle winter’s harshest weather, plan to fit your Bronco Sport with winter tires. Maybe even studded winter tires if ice is a concern to you.
All Bronco Sports come fitted with either all-season tires from brands like Michelin and Pirelli, or they can be optioned to have the outstanding Falken WildPeak A/T3W all-terrain tire. What is special about the Falken tire? Many things, but for the purposes of our winter driving discussion, the tires have two big advantages over the other tire options Ford will put on your SUV. First is the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol stamped on the side, denoting the WildPeak A/T3W has been tested and approved for severe snow duty. This does not mean the all-terrain tire is the equal of a dedicated winter tire. However, they do better over deep snow than all-season tires. Second, the Badlands and a few other special trims offer 17-inch wheels with meaty tire sidewalls. This helps prevent damage from potholes in winter in comparison to vehicles equipped with larger wheels and lower-profile tires.
Just over half of Bronco Sport owners use tires that have the severe snow duty rating (better than standard all-season tires). We know because we asked them in the 20,000-member Facebook 2021+ Ford Bronco Sport Owners Group. The results of our poll can be found below.
All-wheel Drive Is The Best Drive System In Winter
Bronco Sports have an all-wheel drive system. Despite this fact, the Bronco Sport is almost always in front-wheel drive mode, even in cold wintery conditions. You can see this for yourself if you watch the driver information display. Based on years of testing, we feel that all-wheel drive is much better for winter driving than true four-wheel drive, but the Bronco Sport’s rear-drive system isn’t engaged in normal driving.
Bronco Sport Slippery Mode
In winter, you want your vehicle to be able to de-power wheels that are spinning. All-wheel drive, along with traction control, stability control, and programmed drive modes, allow for this. In the Bronco Sport, enabling Slippery mode will put the rear wheels to better use, providing them with more torque so the tires have less chance of slipping. An all-wheel drive lock is also helpful in theory, though in practice, we have not seen it do much. What it definitely does not do is provide a 50-50 front-rear torque distribution. The rear differential “locker” also doesn't actually lock the rear wheels together so that they spin at equal rates. In our testing, the rear differential lock didn't help in snow. Read the manual (page 193), and you will see that the folks from Ford never mention snow or ice in the sections on the rear differential lock or four-wheel drive lock.
Bronco Sport Trail Mode
The Bronco Sport does have one more neat trick up its sleeve called Trail Control. This is a driver aid that allows you to let the vehicle determine the speed so you can focus on steering. While not really ideal for going up hills in snow or on ice, it is helpful going down slippery slopes. The Trail Control incorporates Descent Control (page 209 of the owner’s manual if interested.) Ford does not highlight this much in its literature, but if you are attempting to head down a steep, slippery hill, it may prove very helpful. Other vehicle brands call similar technology Hill Descent Control, and we have used it quite a bit. Enough that we came away convinced it can save your bacon if the anti-lock brakes are going to simply let you run away down the hill without any meaningful stopping power. We have not proven it works this way in the Bronco Sport - yet.
Ground Clearance and Break-over
One handy feature in any winter vehicle is a ground clearance that goes beyond what is normally found on a typical vehicle. Most SUVs have added ground clearance, and the Bronco Sport is no exception. With up to around nine inches of clearance under the vehicle, plus bash plates to prevent ice chunks from damaging vital components, the Bronco Sport is well-equipped for unplowed roads. Up front, the Bronco Sport has a high bumper height helping you get over the hump of plowed-up snow left at the entrance of your driveway by your local DPW crew.
Serious winter driving comes with the risk of being stuck. The Bronco Sport has available recovery hooks up front and a trailer hitch in back that allow you to more easily pull a vehicle out of trouble or be pulled out if you are stuck.
Creature Comforts and Safety Features
The Bronco Sport offers quite a list of available options that make winter more bearable. Here is a quick bullet-point list of things that the Bronco Sport can be equipped with that help in winter:
-Remote Start - The Bronco Sport actually has two remote starting methods. You can use the keyfob or the FordPass app. Remote starting can help to remove ice from a windshield and warm up your vehicle cabin before you head out in winter weather.
-Heated Steering Wheel - A heated steering wheel is always nice in winter, and it is an optional feature on some trims.
-Heated Seats - It goes without saying that heated seats are a must-have for winter driving.
-Rubberized Floor Covers and Cargo Cover - Ice and snow dragged in by your boots can soak carpeted floors. The Bronco Sport has rubberized floors and a rubberized cargo area.
-Spare Tires - A compact spare tire is included with many trims and a full-size spare on select trims. Damaged tires happen more often in winter, and a spare tire is a good security and safety feature to have. Sadly, many vehicles today don't have one.
-Physical Buttons - Hunting and pecking through infotainment menus with gloves on just does not work. That’s why the Bronco Sport has large rubberized physical buttons for many things, including climate control, the radio volume, gear selector, and GOAT model knob.
Bronco Sport Winter Testing
We tested the Bronco Sport First Edition on the mountain roads of New Hampshire during a snowstorm. We ventured off pavement in this challenging set of conditions as well. We came away very impressed. In fresh snow as deep as a foot, the Bronco Sport had no difficulty starting, stopping, turning, or even climbing hills. We credit the Falken WildPeak tires with part of the capability, but it was Ford who was wise enough to choose them.
The only thing that stopped us was a snow-covered hill that had a layer of ice under the fresh snow. We did not have a vehicle on hand to compare, but we feel confident the Bronco Sport may have made it up with dedicated winter tires, and we are certain it would have succeeded had we used studded winter tires.
Slippery mode is necessary for the Bronco Sport. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine in our First Edition tester had so much torque that it was a negative in slippery conditions. Slippery Mode seemed to deaden the throttle, reduce torque, and keep the engine in the low RPM ranges—all beneficial powertrain profile changes in icy and snowy weather.
How Could the Ford Bronco Sport Be Better In Winter?
There are only a few things we feel would make the Bronco Sport an even better winter vehicle. Here is our wish list for future upgrades;
-Add a 50-50 front-to-rear torque split mode.
-Add a windshield wiper de-icer system and offer heated windshield washer nozzles.
-Add heated washer fluid squirters for the headlights.
-Change the windshield wiper design so the wipers can be lifted up for snow removal.
These are all real-world options we have found on other great winter vehicles. Perhaps Ford could create a “NorEaster” package to fold in all of these goodies?
Bronco Sport Winter Vehicle Competitors
Nearly every SUV line we test these days is adding a special trim fitted with all-terrain tires. Often, the choice is the excellent Falken WildPeak A/T Trail tire. The Toyota RAV4, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, and Mazda CX-50 line all have such special trims. We have also tested some great winter-optimized trucks, like the North Edition RAM 1500. However, there are really three serious competitors to the Bronco Sport when it comes to claiming the title of “Best Winter Vehicle.” Here is our list in no particular order. Each is super capable:
-Jeep Compass and Cherokee Trailhawk Series
-Subaru Crosstrek, Forester, and Outback Wilderness Series
-Ford Maverick with FX4 or Tremor off-road packages
Can we say in honesty that the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands beats our above listing of outstanding winter vehicles hands-down? No, we cannot. Subaru does everything it can to build the best winter crossovers, and Ford’s own Maverick Pickup is nearly the same in all regards to the Bronco Sport. Jeep is never out of the running when it comes to winter capability.
Those looking for a superb five-passenger winter SUV will find it in the Ford Bronco Sport. Be mindful of the options you select, budget for winter tires, and you can configure a Ford Bronco Sport to be a downright beast of a winter SUV.
Author Note: John owns a 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands and is eagerly awaiting a chance to re-test this model in snow. The First Edition mentioned and photographed in our story was a media loaner.
John Goreham is an experienced New England Motor Press Association member and expert vehicle tester. John completed an engineering program with a focus on electric vehicles, followed by two decades of work in high-tech, biopharma, and the automotive supply chain before becoming a news contributor. In addition to his eleven years of work at Torque News, John has published thousands of articles and reviews at American news outlets. He is known for offering unfiltered opinions on vehicle topics. You can follow John on Twitter, and connect with him at Linkedin.