In a crowded smartphone space, Sony is launching its best efforts to compete against Samsung’s leadership in the Android smartphone space and Nokia’s expertise in the smartphone camera department. Nowhere is this more apparent than Sony’s latest flagship phones in the Xperia series. In the Xperia Z1s, Sony is bringing its best technologies–from display to imaging–all in a compact but powerful package exclusively for T-Mobile U.S.A. Not only will the Z1s compete against the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, a 16-megapixel shooter with 10X optical zoom on AT&T’s network, but it will also go against some of Nokia’s finest PureView-enabled camera phones, like the excellent Lumia 1020 with a 41-megapixel sensor, and the newer Lumia 1520 and Lumia Icon, the latter a 20-megapixel experience for Verizon Wireless. So with views set purely on Nokia, can the Xperia Z1s muster enough courage to overpower the best of Nokia?
The Sony Xperia Z1s is an elegant phone that’s sophisticated while being stylish at the same time. Packing in a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, one of the best CPUs on the market today, the Z1s could be considered the Ultrabook of smartphones–powerful, compact, highly mobile, and a productivity powerhouse bundled in fine design.
When you first look at the phone, you’ll be greeted by an understated rectangular slab. On the front, the phone is mostly display as it’s dominated by a large 5-inch high resolution full HD 1080p display that relies on Sony’s Triluminos screen technology. Sony is borrowing the screen tech from its Bravia line of HDTVs and the company claims that the display renders cleaner images and texts while making colors brighter and more accurate to the eye.
In reality, it’s Sony’s marketing claims against rival Samsung’s Full HD Super AMOLED panel on the flagship Galaxy S4 display, a phone also with a 5-inch screen. In use, I am not sure that Triluminos offered more value over existing standard IPS LCD displays or Super AMOLED panels on the market today though it did offer great, wide viewing angles on the phone.
Sony uses a thin slab-like design for the phone and the aesthetics is very similar to the glass-sandwich approach used on the Xperia Z1. However, to shave some weight and increase durability on the phone, Sony uses a plastic panel on the rear, rather than the glass panel. It’s a similar design to Apple’s iPhone 4 and Google’s Nexus 4, but rather than a glass back panel, it’s now a shiny plastic sheet.
While the move to plastic does reduce weight and still maintain the integrity of the old design, it also carries over some of the flaws of the Z1. Mainly, the Z1s is still a fingerprint magnet and if you carry your phone inside your pocket, the black slab will also attract a fair amount of lint and dust.
AS the Z1s continues Sony’s tradition of making waterproof phones, the phone comes with a number of covered ports. You won’t have access to the battery, but plastic flaps cover both the micro USB charging port and the micro SDXC card slot on the left spine of the phone. Additionally, Sony also included magnetic charging pins so you can use with an optional dock. The dock could be a good investment as the accessory will allow you to simply place your Z1s into the dock to charge without having to fumble with the covers for the charging port on a daily basis.
On the right hand spine, you have access to the micro SIM card slot as well as a trio of button in a design language that’s similar to Windows Phone. Aside from the chrome power button, the other buttons are black and more discretely hidden. Here, you have physical buttons for power, a subtle volume rocker, and a dedicated dual-stage camera shutter button.
While it’s nice to have the camera button to quickly launch the camera–Sony really does want you to use the camera on its flagship–experience with the buttons in my case were overall a bit more mixed. The camera button felt a bit mushy and in use, the proximity between the volume keys and the power button made it easy to accidentally press one instead of the other.
The downside of Sony’s design is the placement of the speaker on the bottom edge. The bottom edge becomes the side edge when you hold the phone in landscape mode, which is a more natural way to hold the phone when viewing videos and movies. When you’re holding the phone in landscape, your palms will likely brush up against the speakers and will likely muffle the sound output, so a bit of caution must be taken to ensure that sound properly passes through and you’re not blocking the speaker with your hands in movie watching mode.
Where the Z1s shines is its camera. Sony has outfitted the Z1s with a backside-illuminated 20-megapixel Exmor RS sensor that’s supposed to help the phone take better pictures in low light.
Additionally, to take on Nokia’s use of ZEISS optics, the Z1s is using Sony’s DSLR-grade G lens branding to give it some punch.
And while the camera does take good images with a lot of character, it didn’t live up to the hype especially when compared against images taken with Nokia’s and Samsung’s shooters. Unlike Nokia’s PureView camera phones, the Z1s doesn’t have optical image stabilization and instead relies on a more inferior digital image stabilization. Though digital stabilization is still useful in low light, you’ll still have some degree of camera shake that transfers to your photos, resulting in slightly less sharp images than had you had OIS.
Additionally, while the Lumia 1020 could save both a high resolution 41-megapixel image alongside a 5-megapixel oversampled image for sharing, the Sony camera will either save an 8-megapixel image in auto mode or a full 20-megapixel resolution in manual mode. You will have to choose one or the other here, and not both.
This isn’t a bad compromise, however, as oversampling by choosing the 8-megapixel mode yielded some great images. Oversampling means that Sony is bundling nearby pixels in the 20-megapixel sensor together and through the use of intelligent software, noise is reduced and colors become more vibrant and accurate with increased dynamic range. Again, it’s not a bad thing, but you do sacrifice the details that you would get with a 20-megapixel image. And though 20-megapixel may seem like overkill for many, it’s a great way to crop into your pictures–essentially performing a digital zoom–without losing details in your crop.
In my experience with the Z1s camera, I found images to have a softer focus than on competing camera models, meaning pictures sometime look slightly out of focus. Additionally, colors in the capture appear washed out and not as accurate as on other camera phones from Apple, Samsung, and Nokia.
The biggest issue with the camera is noise, however, so images sometimes appear grainy when there isn’t an abundance of available light. Hopefully Sony will be able to rectify its camera software through future firmware updates.
Where the camera really shines is how easy it is for consumers to use. Rather than overloading the camera with features that many consumers likely would never use, Sony has chosen some interesting moes that could come in handy for many people.
There is a Superior Auto mode that could quickly choose how the camera performs given the situation. It will automatically adjust for sports mode if you’re recording a fast moving child at a soccer game or switch to night mode if you’re blowing out candles at a birthday party.
There’s also an Info Eye mode, which is akin to Google Goggles. You can use the camera to learn more about the things around you by taking images of QR code, barcodes, book covers, and signs.
A Facebook Live mode allows users to broadcast videos directly to Facebook in real time while an AR mode overlays little objects and shapes–like a T-Rex and volcano if you’re having a Jurassic Park-themed party.
A sweeping panoramic mode, a picture effect for adding filters, and a background defocus to add bokeh to your images to give them a more DSLR feel.
Keep in mind, however, that as great as many of those modes are, they only capture images at a maximum 8-megapixel resolution. Jumping into manual mode will allow you to go up to the maximum 20-megapixel resolution supported by the Exmor RS sensor, but you lose out on some of the cool tools, scenes modes, and effects.
And as there isn’t a built-in OIS mechanism, 1080p videos recorded through the camera do suffer from some camera shake.
While we complained about the glossy plastic cover on the rear side attracting lint, its purpose is more clear when using the Xperia Z1s to capture more selfies using the rear 20-megapixel camera. Coupled with a very wide angle lens–almost as wide as the lens on the Lumia 1020–what you’ll get is a shot that could fit more in the frame. This way, when you’re doing a selfie or a group selfie like what Oscar host Ellen Degeneres did this year, you won’t need super long outstretched arms to capture a larger party.
To power its powerful camera equipment on the Xperia Z1s, Sony has outfitted the flagship phone with a speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, a quad-core CPU that’s one of the best on the market today. With the quad-core chip, things were speedy on the Xperia Z1s. Applications installed and opened quickly, transitions were smooth, and coupled with T-Mobile’s fast 4G LTE network, webpages loaded fast. Speeds were fast and in testing the phone, and in testing the phone I found that the Z1s didn’t stutter quite as much as Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 despite the fact that both devices share the same processor in the U.S. market.
Speaking of T-Mobile’s 4G network, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much T-Mobile has expanded its HSPA+ and LTE footprints in and around Silicon Valley, California. Whereas I used to get 3G or even 2G EDGE connectivity in the recent past, now those areas are blanketed with HSPA+ and LTE.
The problem with T-Mobile’s network really is when you step outside of LTE coverage. Even with the HSPA+ network that T-Mobile is marketing as fast, I found that connection speeds were slow and webpages would not load until after several refresh attempts.
And though Sony didn’t load up on customizations on top of Android like rivals LG and Samsung, the Xperia Z1s does provide an option to skin the overall Android experience with different home screens, themes, and colors. And though the tweaks are minimal, Sony manages to still give users the customizations that they seek where it matters most–in the camera department.
In addition to tweaks and enhancements to the camera, Sony has made it easier to add a theme and personalize the background and color of the Android interface. The outfit also added custom home screen widgets so you don’t even need to unlock your phone, a move that resembles what Samsung had done with the Galaxy S4, also a quick way to rearrange your apps and organize your downloaded installations from the app drawer by swiping from the left edge towards the center of the display.
The best part about the Xperia Z1s is that battery life is great on the phone and I could generally muster a day and a half to two days without requiring a recharge.
In the Xperia Z1s, Sony has given T-Mobile a well-rounded smartphone that does a lot of things well. The Xperia Z1s is a powerful smartphone that doesn’t skimp on features and attempts to be a jack of all trade with an elegant waterproof body, a capable 20-megapixel camera, and powerful guts to keep the whole thing running. Generally speaking, manufacturers often choose between function or form, and the Xperia Z1s has it all.
Still, while the phone may look attractive on paper, it doesn’t necessarily excel at any specific thing despite Sony’s excellent heritage with displays and cameras. The Triluminos display doesn’t necessarily add more value to the package and while the 20-megapixel Exmor RS sensor sounds good on paper, it doesn’t necessarily perform better than Nokia’s PureView shooters nor a 13-megapixel Samsung Galaxy S4 sensor with less resolution.
That’s not to say that the Xperia Z1s is a bad phone–it really is an excellent device, but you shouldn’t walk into a T-Mobile store looking for one specific feature on the phone to buy. If you’re eyeing the camera, there are better camera phones out there. If you’re looking for the entire package, the Xperia Z1s will offer a lot of delight to users.
2020 Genesis G70 RWD 3.3T Sport Review
The 2020 Genesis G70 is a special combination of luxury, performance, and driving dynamics that are sure to bring a smile to your face. The Genesis G70 is a luxury sports sedan that punches up to the C-Class and 3-Series, with the ability to deliver fun and great engine noise at a more affordable price.
There is a lot to like about the 2020 G70 RWD 3.3T Sport, but you do need to accept a smaller back seat and an infotainment system that could use an upscale user interface. Thankfully the system does support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is where many drivers will spend their time. Available in 2.0T, 2.0T Sport, and the 3.3T trims. I tested the Sport Trim with Rear Wheel Drive.
Driving the 2020 Genesis G70 RWD 3.3T Sport
The G70 is an absolute blast to drive. The rider is great, and even in sport mode it still feels very controlled. The expertise that went into fine-tuning the handling and performance shines through when it delivers a smile on twisty roads. Even when pushed, the car feels under control and the behavior is predictable and repeatable, which leads to a fun, yet safe experience. A low center of gravity and the electronically controlled suspension play together nicely, resulting in an excellent rider quality.
You can dial up Eco, Smart, Comfort, Custom, and Sport driving modes. Eco is optimized for fuel economy, Comfort for a smooth comfortable ride, and Smart adapts to your driving style. Sport mode optimizes for a more engaging driving experience, but it is still comfortable if you want to use this mode on longer highway trips. Custom lets you mix different options to match your preferred settings.
The twin-turbo 3.3L V6 provides plenty of power and the engine sounds excellent. The power and the exhaust note offer a compelling combination to the luxurious interior and refined looks. The G70 3.3T Sport is quick, with a 0-60 time under 5 seconds. The adjustable suspension lets you control how much feedback you feel, but even without adjustments, you get a lot of feedback from the road.
You can expect around 20 mpg combined with 17 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
Genesis G70 Interior
The 2020 Genesis G70 interior is positively luxurious. The materials are top-notch and I loved the quilted seats and armrest area. In addition to looking great, the seats are very comfortable. I cruised all over Northwest Ohio to check in on some friend’s kid’s baseball games, watching from a distance, and even after a long day of driving, I felt fresh. The layout of the cabin is good with a nice amount of center console storage and wireless charging when I wasn’t using CarPlay.
One small feature I loved was the adjustable bolsters on the seats, which lets you adjust for a tighter fit during aggressive driving, and a looser more comfortable grip during normal driving. These are easy to adjust using the controls on the side of the seat. You can also adjust some of the motion of the passenger seat using controls on the driver’s side. This is handy if you are helping someone get in upfront, or if you need to make room for an adult or kid in the backseat. The seats are heated on all models and on the Elite and higher they are also ventilated, which is a must-have upgrade in the middle of hot summer.
Rear seat legroom is a bit cramped, but it is good enough for kids, and an adult on a sort ride can be comfortable. If you plan to cruise with adults, look at the more spacious G80 or G90.
The trunk handled my collection of gear for road trips, hiking, and helping with a home renovation. It’s large enough to handle a handful of suitcases and other items that you will need on your road trips. On the Prestige and higher packages, you get a Power Trunk.
Infotainment & Safety
The Genesis infotainment system is good, but it looks like it was pulled right out of a Hyundai. It’s easy to use and the system works, but it doesn’t match the interior of the G70 as well as it could. The good news is that the system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You need to plug in to use these options, but with a cord, you get the best access to your messages, music, audiobooks, maps, and calls. You can also use Bluetooth to connect to the car for calls and music. The Lexicon 15 speaker stereo system is good, allowing me to find sanctuary on the road. Call quality over Bluetooth and CarPlay was good. There are three USB ports, two up front and one in the rear.
There is a lot of great safety technology and driver convenience features. The adaptive cruise control worked nicely, keeping me in pace with traffic as I cruised along the interstate. Standard safety and convenience features include;
- Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert
- Lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Automatic high beam headlights
With the Elite Package, you get Low Beam Assist, which steers the headlights with the wheel, to light up the direction you are turning as you drive. This dramatically improves nighttime visibility.
Nimble Disc Case Review: Recycled CD iPhone Case
The Nimble Disc Case is an iPhone case made from 100% recycled compact discs. Yes, there is a chance that this awesome clear case is made from parts of the N’Sync, Britney Spears, or Sublime CDs you carried from your car to your bedroom back in high school. Or whatever your favorite CD is.
I’ve been testing the Nimble Disc Case on the iPhone 11 Pro Max for a few weeks and I’m impressed with the quality and excited about the sustainability factor that this case offers.
The Nimble Disc Case offers a lot of grip, and the edges have the right amount of give to them. Many cases are too rigid on the edges, which makes it harder to hold. This case doesn’t add much thickness to the iPhone 11 Pro Max and it still offers six feet of drop protection. This is more than enough protection for my day-to-day needs and while I haven’t tossed this case to the ground with my phone in it, there are features to help keep the phone safe.
There is a nice lip on the front of the Nimble Disc case that keeps the iPhone screen off surfaces when you set it face down, and it helps protect the phone when you drop it. On each back corner is a small raised section that keeps the phone from sliding on smooth surfaces. Overall the case feels very solid and it features all the hallmarks of a protective case in this class.
Even with the raised edges, I am still able to reliably use the gestures on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. This was a concern with many of the cases I originally tested that featured lips. The inward curve on the lip helps alleviate that, and possibly I am more adept at using the gestures. I still prefer a case with no lip on the bottom edge, but this one doesn’t hinder switching apps or going to the home screen.
The clear design shows off the color of your iPhone, which is a nice feature. The case is made with anti-yellowing technology so it should stay as clear and crisp looking as day one. After a lot of outdoor use and a day at the beach, the case looks as good as the day I put it on. There is a Nimble Recycle logo on the back, near the bottom of the case and on the right edge of the case is “MADE FROM RECYCLED COMPACT DISCS” text.
The case is scratch-resistant, and it does a decent job of holding up to scratches, but after a month of heavy use, there are a few scuffs and scratches on the outside. This is to be expected, especially since I took this case on multiple hikes where I leaned it up against rocks and trees and to a rocky beach.
There is an anti-microbial coating, which helps keep the case clean. The biggest downside to this case is that like most clear cases, it shows fingerprints. I find myself cleaning the case at least once a week to keep it looking fresh and clean. That’s fairly common though some cases do use an oleophobic coating to keep fingerprints at bay.
When I first started using the case the power button, or what Apple calls the side button, on the iPhone 11 Pro Max was very stiff and the phone was taking screenshots and it was not easy to activate. I took the case off, flexed the power button 20-30 times and it was better. After a few days of use, the power button started to feel exactly as expected. I would prefer the functionality on day one. Be prepared to wear in the buttons before you put the case on, and then for the first few days of using the case. The iPhone SE case was perfect right out of the box with no flex needed to get a perfect feel for the buttons. The iPhone 11 Pro case we tested did not loosen up enough to use, after trying to flex the buttons the case routinely made the test phone take screenshots when we tried to power it on. It is a good idea to check this when you get your case.
With each purchase, you get a free shipping label to send any used plastic case in for recycling. When you recycle an old case, you get 15% off your next order. The packaging for the case is plastic-free for easy recycling.
Even with the short wear-in period for the iPhone 11 Pro Max case and the issue with the iPhone 11 Pro option, I still like the Nimble Disc Case. The amount of branding just right and it’s a big bonus to have a sustainable case option that doesn’t sacrifice protection. You can buy one at Nimble or from Verizon.
2020 Volvo XC40 Review
The 2020 Volvo XC40 is a great subcompact luxury SUV that combines a fun and playful look with some of the best Volvo features to deliver a perfectly sized Volvo for many buyers.
Volvo packs in a lot of technology, a funky orange interior option, loads of technology including a handy semi-autonomous driving mode if you opt for the Advanced package.
We’re seeing more and more small SUVs on the market, and the 2020 XC40 stands out thanks to the premium cabin materials and variety of options. While you will need to spend time learning how to use the infotainment system, the big screen makes it easy to see lots of important information at once. The cargo area is small, but ultimately it had enough room for my adventures.
You can buy the 2020 Volvo XC40 in three options; Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription. I tested the T5 R-Design model that includes a more powerful engine, sportier appearance, navigation, and a panoramic moonroof.
2020 Volvo XC40 Tech & Driver Features
This little luxury SUV packs in a lot of great tech options and driver convenience features. While there are noticeable omissions from the larger Volvo SUVs, most of the things you’ll want are included or available.
There is a large 9-inch touch screen in the center of the dash. This is portrait orientation, which allows you to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the bottom and keep access to other car features and functions up top. The screen is bright and responds quickly to most taps. I mainly use Apple CarPlay while I am driving so that I have fast access to my messages, music, Audible, and my favorite map apps.
You can use some physical buttons for control, but most of your in-cabin controls are on the touch screen. The main menus are very easy to use, but it takes some time to learn the next tap. The system is a little slow when you first start the car, but once you are going it is quick. There are a range of included apps that you can use to pay for parking and more.
The XC40 works with Volvo On Call, which I wasn’t able to test, but the service lets you remote start from your watch, accept in-car deliveries with Key by Amazon and even share your car with friends and family through the app.
The in-car sound system is good, with a lot of control over the listening experience. I could sufficiently jam out when I needed and chill out to an audiobook when on a cruise. I definitely miss the full-scale Bowers & Wilkins sound system from the XC90, but the harmon/kardon premium audio is sufficient for the XC40.
Chargers are available in the front and back seat, plus there is a wireless charging pad to put your phone on when you don’t need CarPlay or Android Auto. There is also a 12V charging point in the cargo area.
From a driver standpoint, the XC40 packs in a lot of cool tricks. One of my favorites is the semi-autonomous driving mode called Pilot Assist. This builds on the adaptive cruise control that keeps you flowing with traffic and allows the car to speed up and slow down, or even stop and resume in traffic. Pilot Assist helps steer the XC40, keeping you in your lane, even around some curves. You still need to keep your hands on the wheel and drive, but with Pilot Assist you don’t need to make as many small corrections while driving. It performs well, and is smoother than the system I used in the Hyundai Sonata, but not as soon as the BMW system.
The 360 Birds Eye View lets you easily get in and out of parking places without worrying about tapping another car or scuffing your wheels. The Intelligent City Safety feature can help avoid collisions with cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and even large animals. Blind Spot Monitoring alerts you to cars in your blind spot, and Cros Trafic alerts you when backing up. Cross Traffic will apply brakes to prevent a collision and the Blind Spot Information System with Steer Assist can help steer you back into your lane.
Our model also came equipped with a cool parking assist feature that helps you park in a tight spot automatically and then even helps you exit the parking spot.
2020 Volvo XC40 Interior & Style
This is a small SUV, but there is a good amount of room for people, and a usable amount of cargo space. I am a huge fan of the fun orange floor option, which fits in nicely with the overall style of the XC40. The T5 R-Design features larger 19″ wheels, black rearview mirror caps, and a two-tone finish option with R-Design Nubuck upholstery. The exterior is sporty and fits the size very well. It’s fun and a little funky. There is a small garbage container built into the center console and even a flip-out hook from the glove box to hold a bag. I’m not a fan of the cupholder design. If you put a taller water bottle in it, there is a good chance that it will roll out while driving, but most cups do stay in place.
Inside the orange floor option really amps up the style and it works very well with the premium materials throughout the cabin. I was able to get comfortable as the driver and there was also a decent amount of room in the back seat.
The cargo area isn’t very large, but it still feels very capable for the size. I like that there is a power outlet, an elastic strap to secure items, and a handy flip-up divider for keeping cargo secure or hiding small items that you need to keep handy. You can also use a kick under gesture to open the tailgate if your hands are full.
Driving the 2020 Volvo XC40
The power under the hood depends on if you opt for the T4 or the T5 option, which put out 184 and 248 horsepower respectively. I tested the T5 R Design with all-wheel drive, which is a nice option to have for slick surfaces and the option I would choose if I was buying this in the midwest.
Power is good, and it delivers zippy acc3erlation for a small SUV. It pairs up with the eight-speed transmission very well. Shifts are timely and smooth. The engine is a bit loud when you are accelerating, but while cruising it sounds more refined and is less noticeable. You can tow up to 3,500 pounds with the XC40.
It is a fun vehicle to drive, with good handling and a sporty fun feel for a small SUV. The R Design is equipped with a stiffer suspension and you can opt for an adjustable suspension. The ride quality is good and all around this is a nice small SUV on the road.
The 2020 Volvo XC40 is rated for a combined 25 mpg, 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
2021 Ford Bronco Off-Road Review First Ride
The 2021 Ford Bronco looks cool, but how does it actually drive off-road? That’s a question I’ve been hearing since the reveal and now I can tell you how the 2-door Bronco handles off-road– at least from the passenger seat.
Ford recently let me take a ride in the 2021 Ford Bronco 2-door model through an off-road park in Michigan. This model was equipped with the seven-speed manual, which includes a Creeper Gear, and the turbocharged 2.3L EcoBoost inline-four capable of 270-horsepower and 310 lb-ft. of torque. You can also get the 2021 Ford Bronco with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
While I am eager to get into the driver seat, experiencing the 2021 Ford Bronco does offer insights into the capabilities and the ease of using the off-road features. My driver was very experienced with the manual transmission found on this model. From the passenger seat, the shifting looked smooth and the Creeper Gear was a very handy option allowing for more control and torque over obstacles.
Ultimately I want to experience driving the new Bronco through these obstacles, but the control, and ease with which the Bronco and the Bronco Sport tackled the obstacles reminded me of an off-road easy mode.
In the case of the Bronco, this comes from a variety of handy features. Halfway through the off-road experience, we paused on a series of hills meant to put articulation to the test. Reaching up and pressing the sway bar disconnect button that is on the top edge of the dash, we boosted the Bronco’s articulation, making it easier to crawl off without worrying about tipping.
This is a prime example of the ease of using the features on the Bronco. In our Bronco Features roundup, we focused on the amount of attention that Ford put into the usability and livability of their off-road machine, and after spending part of the afternoon actually going off-road in the Bronco it’s clear that this strategy paid off.
I came away impressed with the off-road capabilities and ride of the 2021 Bronco. It’s a different experience in the passenger seat, but it’s also a place I’ve spent many hours in the Jeep Wrangler, which the Bronco is going head to head with. The ride quality off-road felt good on the passenger side, comparable with my time in the Wrangler.
Overall the experience was confidence bolstering. Yes, this was a course that the driver had run multiple times and he had a lot of off-road experience, but it felt like there was a lot of capability left in the Bronco. That’s something we’re looking forward to testing for ourselves soon.
We weren’t able to try out a lot of the on-trail tech in the Bronco during this experience, but the huge screen with Sync 4 and over 1,000 trail maps hold a lot of promise. That’s something we’re waiting to take a deep dive into soon.
2021 Ford Bronco Sport Off-Road Review First Ride
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is an impressively capable off-road vehicle and the G.O.A.T. modes are easy to access and deliver almost video game-like off-roading and control through a wide range of surfaces. The most impressive moment during my ride in the Bronco Sport was stopping near the top of a steep hill sitting there for a minute while a vehicle engineer explained a feature and then continuing up the incline from a full stop without any protest from the Sport.
Recently I had the experience of riding in the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport on an off-road experience in Michigan. While the best test is ultimately behind the wheel, there is a lot to learn from any off-road time in a new vehicle.
2021 Bronco Sport G.O.A.T. Modes
The Bronco Sport includes G.O.A.T. modes (Goes Over Any Terrain), which is what Ford calls the different off-road modes. Switching modes is very easy, with a toggle on the center console. The driver reached back, turned a dial, and instantly switched to the best settings for the obstacle ahead. The placement of the switch, is good with no stretch needed and the dial is chunky enough to find and turn by feel, so you can keep your eyes on the trail.
Each mode changes a wide range of factors to deliver the optimal amount of power and control for what is in front, above or below you. The modes are Sand, Slippery, Sport, Eco, and Normal on all models. If you opt for the Badlands model, you also get Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl.
Overall Capability and Confidence
As we took the Bronco Sport through the off-road park we went through Sand, water, mud, over some rocky obstacles and up steep hills. While we didn’t take the same routes as in the Bronco, the Bronco Sport was a very capable off-road vehicle. The ability to come to a complete stop on a hill and resume with no worry as well as the power that the G.O.A.T. modes feel like they will allow users to more easily do more off-road.
The modes and overall capabilities inspired confidence from the passenger seat. Ultimately I am looking forward to getting in the driver seat to feel what the Bronco Sport is capable of, which will give me better insight into the limitations, but during this brief experience, I came away impressed.
2021 Bronco Trail Tech
A few very interesting pieces of trail tech are available on the 2021 Bronco Sport. One that I really love and miss anytime I off-road without is the ability to use the front camera to see the trail in front of me. This helps with navigating around tight areas or checking over a steep drop. On the Bronco Sport, you can turn this on at low speeds and see what is ahead of you. There is also an option to go for a wider angle view that shows you more of what is around. The real benefit here is that the driver couldn’t easily see the front right corner clearance as we turned, but instead of stretching or relying on a passenger who may not know what they are doing, a tap showed the clearance on the center console.
Trail Control is essentially cruise control for off-roading. I’ve experienced this first hand in the Ford Ranger, and it’s a part of the Bronco Sport. This lets you set a specific speed, from 1 to 20 mph forward and 6 mph in reverse. The vehicle control acceleration and braking and you just need to focus on steering. This allows for very smooth control through obstacles.
While there is a lot to be said for manually controlling the off-road experience. This helps drivers get a feel for smoothly getting through the next challenge, and it’s an option — so you can stick to the DIY approach if you want.
There is an 8-inch screen for infotainment use, which also shows the front-facing trail camera. The vehicle includes Sync 4, which supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
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