Model Audra Mari said she hoped to buy a 2021 Ford Bronco but realized that she needed a vehicle now and simply couldn't wait until next summer or later.

A redesigned version of the beloved SUV is making a return after a quarter century and more than 150,000 have been ordered. Ford has said customer delivery has been pushed back from spring to summer.

So Ward Cater, an old family friend who owns a dealership, suggested Mari consider a baby Bronco, the Bronco Sport. She stopped by Vision Ford-Lincoln in Wahpeton, N.D., on Dec. 10 with her boyfriend, actor Josh Duhamel, took the vehicle for a spin and closed the deal.

Mari, 26, of Fargo, spoke to The Free Press from her cabin in the northern Minnesota woods late Monday, Dec. 28, during a COVID-19 break from Los Angeles. She said she was looking for a vehicle that could handle the woods and city driving, and decided on a cactus gray baby Bronco after learning the bigger SUV has been delayed into summer 2021.

"All of our friends who live in big cities like Los Angeles, these big cities are shut down," Mari said. "We're all trying to get to the woods and get to the wilderness."

Newsletter signup for email alerts

RELATED:

She praised the simplicity of the electronics, noting everything feels easy and uncomplicated.

At stoplights, Mari said she has noticed other drivers speeding up and slowing down to get a closer look at the new SUV that began delivery nationally in the last hours of November. Her stories of people in vehicles trying to get a closer look are similar to stories other owners of the Bronco Sport have shared.

"It's a beautiful car, kind of ties into the Land Rover," she said. "I like luxury but I like to be rugged. And the back end has a beer opener on it. I mean, hello?"

Mari is the former Miss World America 2016-17 who now studies business at North Dakota State University while also modeling full time. Duhamel, a former model from Minot, N.D., starred on the TV show "Las Vegas" before making movies including "Love, Simon" and "Transformers."

They're using the four-wheel drive in the ice and snow this month.

The Bronco Sport, Duhamel said, "is just perfect for out here, perfect for the city and the woods."

Model Audra Mari, 26, of Fargo, bought this 2021 Ford Bronco Sport on Dec. 10, 2020, at Vision Ford-Lincoln in Wahpeton, N.D. She likes it for the woods of northern Minnesota when she's not working in Los Angeles. (Audra Mari/Detroit Free Press/TNS)
Model Audra Mari, 26, of Fargo, bought this 2021 Ford Bronco Sport on Dec. 10, 2020, at Vision Ford-Lincoln in Wahpeton, N.D. She likes it for the woods of northern Minnesota when she's not working in Los Angeles. (Audra Mari/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Meanwhile, he has a 2018 Tesla X and 2004 GMC Sierra "that feels like an old pair of jeans" in LA while keeping his 2016 Chevy Silverado in North Dakota.

"I always try and buy domestic," Duhamel said. "The American car is always going to be sort of the standard. For me, I like to buy American. People always looked at me funny when I was driving around in a truck in L.A. But that's what I've always driven."

And Mari? "She just looks super cute in that little Bronco. It's perfect for her. She's a girl but she's a tough girl."

Cater, whose children grew up with Mari, said Mari snagged one of just two Bronco Sport SUVs delivered so far. Another went to a couple buying for their teen children. He has nine Bronco Sports ordered and 37 Broncos ordered.

"This is my 28th year in the car business," said Cater, whose dealership is about 40 miles south of Fargo. "This is the most exciting model I've experienced, the Bronco and Bronco Sport. It's generating the most excitement. I'm selling to younger people, people in their 50s."

The other Bronco Sport buyer, a local businessman, "he said he didn't sleep the night before — he was so excited."

Actor Josh Duhamel, a Minot native, poses for a photo at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. (North Dakota Tourism photo)
Actor Josh Duhamel, a Minot native, poses for a photo at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. (North Dakota Tourism photo)

The Bronco Sport SUV is designed to compete with the Jeep Cherokee, which sold about 191,000 in 2019, and the Jeep Compass, which sold about 144,000 that year.

The bigger Bronco has dominated the headlines with its upcoming return to the market. Bronco has clubs and a legacy that includes a famous police chase through Los Angeles. Fans cheered the vehicle's unveiling in mid-July.

The 2021 Bronco had more than 165,000 reservations by August and won't be delivered for months. Meanwhile, the Bronco Sport is here now. It's one of a few small vehicles with standard four-wheel drive.

The base Bronco Sport starts at $28,155 including $1,495 in destination fees. A top-of-the-line Badlands edition can climb to $41,000 with fees.

Ford will have its first full-month of sales on the Bronco Sport after December. Anecdotal reports of consumers switching from a Bronco purchase to a Bronco Sport have occurred nationally. Ford has declined to provide an updated order number for Bronco.

While many Bronco fans will wait until the end of time for the bigger SUV, Mari isn't the only consumer switching to the smaller SUV.

"We know there are some people who are anxious to get into a Bronco and the Bronco Sport provides them the capability and functionality that they need," Mark Grueber, Bronco marketing manager, said Tuesday. "Others will wait for the Bronco two- and four-door. We’re happy to be able to give our customers that choice."

©2020 www.freep.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Audra Mari, a model pictured here in 2018, just purchased a 2021 Ford Bronco Sport that she says is perfect for driving through the woods in the winter. (Audra Mari/Detroit Free Press/TNS)
Audra Mari, a model pictured here in 2018, just purchased a 2021 Ford Bronco Sport that she says is perfect for driving through the woods in the winter. (Audra Mari/Detroit Free Press/TNS)
Audra Mari, a professional model who just purchased a 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, is pictured here in summer 2020 in northern Minnesota. (Audra Mari/Detroit Free Press/TNS)
Audra Mari, a professional model who just purchased a 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, is pictured here in summer 2020 in northern Minnesota. (Audra Mari/Detroit Free Press/TNS)