One of the most controversial features implanted into American cars today is auto stop-start. This system automatically shuts off your engine when you come to a stop at a stop sign, in traffic, at a turn, or when waiting to enter a roadway. Ford’s auto stop-start is among the best in the industry today, but it still has a lot of detractors among Bronco Sport owners.
Related Story: Ford Bronco Sport - Is It Really “Just a Restyled Escape?”
We decided to see what percentage of drivers were not bothered by the system, what percent disliked it (often strongly), and what percent were living with it, basically uncaring about it at all. We’ll talk a bit about this relatively new technology later in our story, but let’s get right to the poll results. Our poll was conducted in one of the best Facebook auto fan clubs, which has just about 20,000 members.
As you can see, roughly 30% of the respondents replied that they don’t mind the system and they rarely turn it off. There were many folks who added a poll choice of their own who basically said the same things as the main questions offered. We looked those over and found that another 3% say they are not bothered and don’t usually tap it into the off setting. So, a third of Bronco Sport Owners are using the system without any dislike of it.
Although the 28% of respondents in the second position who dislike the stop-start feature may seem smaller, it actually isn’t. This is an emotional question for many owners. So much so that many respondents added their own response with stronger language than the original reply of “Despise it. I turn it off, or I defeat with a magic box.” Adding up the folks who said pretty much exactly that, but in their own added custom reply, the total grows to 49%.
The last big group making up 13% of respondents, is the one that I personally fall into, which is the response, “It bugs me in certain scenarios like heavy traffic, so I turn it off once in a while.” The balance is folks who answered in a custom way they added to the poll responses way that did not answer the question.
Stop-start systems almost always have a button to turn them off in certain situations, and the Bronco Sport’s off button is right in front of the driver on the center of the dash. Adding up the folks who use the off button once in a while with those who never shut it off, and the split is roughly half owners who use the system and half who are really upset the vehicle has it. A few mentioned that they always drive in Sport mode, which disables the system.
Clearly, this is a feature that is just begging to have a lockable “off” feature. So why doesn’t Ford just add one? The reason is that this “feature” all started as a way to save gas - and it does. AAA says it can save a motorist about $179 per year based on its calculations. Other estimates say the feature costs about $300, so it is paid off in year two of ownership. Conservative estimates of how much it saves are three to five percent of your fuel economy. That equates to supertankers full of oil per year not used while American cars are stationary. Here’s another way to think about it. The folks from California who dictate energy policy in America lets Ford make some very fun, but very fuel-efficient Mustangs by using a small corporate fuel economy average credit for every car that has stop-start.
Many folks who have Bronco Sports blame premature 12-volt battery failures on the system. We can’t prove they are wrong about this, but over the past decade a lot of models without stop-start have also had premature battery failures. For example, Subaru’s dead battery defect from before it adopted auto stop-start. Others worry that the starter in their car will most definitely fail. That seems less likely to this recovering engineer. The starters used today are not the same as the ones used prior to stop-start’s introduction. No manufacturer wants to see parts failing and causing them to drop in reliability rankings, or that might require pricey recall campaigns. Hybrid owners have for three decades had cars with engines that were off when idle, and many hybrids are among the most reliable automobiles ever created.
If you stumbled upon this story and are not sure exactly how stop-start works, it is simple. In Normal drive mode (the default when you start the car) it will shut off your engine when you come to a stop in certain conditions. Sometimes it won't shut off. For example, if the vehicle is making heat for the HVAC system. When you lift your foot off the brake, it restarts the engine in an instant. You can shut off the system manually, but it will reset to ON every time you shut off and then restart the car. Also, as we mentioned above, in some modes of operation, Sport Mode is a perfect example, it is disabled.
My personal observation as a car tester is that Ford’s system is lacking two features I have experienced in other brands’ cars. First, the ability to use the brake pedal itself to disable the system. A harder push shuts the engine off, a lighter hold keeps the engine running. Second, a fuel savings meter showing how much gas is being saved as a running total. At least with a meter you can observe the benefit.
Some cars have a very poor stop-start system, and early versions were really pretty bad. They took longer to restart the car, and they shut off too quickly. Some had an abrupt restart that felt sort of unrefined. Today, Ford’s system is pretty quick, pretty smooth, and there are multiple ways Ford allows Bronco Sport owners to defeat it without resorting to using an aftermarket “kill stop-start” product.
As a four-month owner of a Bronco Sport Badlands, I can say the stop-start only bugs me in two scenarios. First, situations where I am forced to quickly jump into the flow of traffic from a dead stop. In this situation, the stop-start system delays the timing of that important merge by a split second, but it matters. I will sometimes tap the system to off when I have such a merge to execute. Second, almost every time I pull into my garage and then stop, the system seems to shut the Bronco Sport off while I am in Drive. I grab the drive selector to rotate the knob to Park, the engine restarts when I touch it, I touch the off button, and the vehicle shuts off again. This just feels terrible. On-off-on-off, all within about two seconds. No engineer in their right mind thinks that is an OK way for a vehicle to shut down.
Auto stop-start has some benefits, and may owners clearly see it as a negative and wish it was not part of their vehicle or could be shut off entirely. Based on our polling there is a 50-50 shot you will either not mind it, or really dislike it.
Image of Ford bronco Sport stop-start system by John Goreham.
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.