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Hard Core Soft Roader: Can the Ford Bronco Sport Beat Subaru, Toyota & Jeep's Crossovers?

At the moment the automotive world is still buzzing over last week’s debut of the 2021 Ford Bronco - a legit off road-oriented 4x4 that is aiming right for Jeep’s tremendously popular Wrangler.

Yet for all of the excitement over the Bronco, it could be argued that third member of the 2021 Bronco family is just as, if not more, important than the others.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Blue

We're talking about the Bronco Sport, which despite having a similar name and even a similar look to the regular Bronco is an entirely different vehicle under the skin.

Under the Bronco Sport's Exterior

Rather than a body-on-frame SUV with truck underpinnings, the Bronco sport is a unibody crossover SUV that shares a platform with the Ford Escape. It uses a transverse-mounted engine with a front-drive bias although all versions of the Bronco Sport will come standard with AWD.

Ford Bronco Sport Climbing Hill

For serious off-road purists, a traditional 4x4 like the Wrangler or “big” Bronco is always going to be the top choice, but recent years have seen a number of car-based crossovers that can do far more than just get up the occasional wet driveway or muddy road.

Ford is clearly positioning the Bronco Sport to be a much more capable and more adventurous vehicle than the typical family crossover, so we thought we’d see how it stacks up against some of its “soft roader” competition.

2021 Bronco Sport vs Subaru

Much of Subaru’s recent success can be attributed to the fact the brand specializes in crossover vehicles, but Subaru’s symmetrical all wheel drive system also gives them all-terrain capability that often goes beyond the competition.

The Subaru Crosstrek, Forester and Outback could all be seen as potential competitors to the Bronco Sport. They all ride on the same platform, have standard AWD and deliver similar off-road capability and ground clearance.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Green

The Crosstrek is going to be the smallest and most affordable of the three, and its earned a reputation for being a fun and practical soft-roader. Up until recently, the biggest complaint about the Crosstrek was its anemic 2.0 boxer engine engine.

For 2021 though, Subaru has finally given the Crosstrek more power in the form of a larger 2.5 liter naturally aspirated boxer engine on certain trims. The new engine makes 182hp and 176 pound feet of torque—putting it very close to the Bronco Sport’s standard 1.5 liter EcoBoost three-cylinder which makes 181 horsepower and 190 pound feet of torque.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Off Roading

That same 2.5 liter flat four continues to be the only engine offering on the larger Subaru Forester which best compares to the Bronco Sport in terms of its overall size and profile. The Forester doesn’t offer nearly as many “toys” as the higher trim Bronco Sports do, but it has a reputation for being one of the most capable crossover SUVs on the market.

2019 Subaru Forester Sport White

The Subaru Outback meanwhile has more of a lifted station wagon look, with the same 2.5 boxer engine being its standard offering. What sets the Outback apart is the fact that it can be had with a 2.4 liter turbocharged boxer engine that makes 260hp and 277 pound feet of torque.

2020 Subaru Outback XT Green

The Bronco Sport will also have a higher output engine option: a 2.0 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that will make 245hp and 275 pound feet of torque. Also important to note is that while all of the Subarus come with CVT automatics, the Bronco Sport will use a more traditional eight-speed automatic.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Overland

2021 Bronco Sport vs Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

Another crossover that Bronco Sport buyers may be cross-shopping is Toyota’s RAV4 TRD Off-Road model. Although not drastically different from the normal RAV4 it’s based on, the TRD version does feature a number of upgrades for the trail, including a unique suspension tune, wheel and tire package and torque vectoring AWD with multiple terrain modes.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road Gray

If there’s a ding against the RAV4 TRD Off-Road, it would be the fact that it starts at a rather rich $36,400 before options and that it comes with just one engine—the same 2.5 liter four-cylinder found in the standard RAV4. As of now, the more powerful hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains aren’t available in the Off-Road model.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road White

2021 Bronco Sport vs Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Finally we get to what might be the Bronco Sport’s most serious competitor—the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. Up until now the Cherokee Trailhawk has stood out as the most off-road capable crossover thanks mainly to its Active Drive 4x4 system with a locking rear differential.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Red

The Badlands and First Edition trims of the Bronco Sport will also feature an upgraded 4x4 system with a twin clutch rear drive unit, off-road tuned suspension, bash plates and a terrain management system with seven different modes.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Off Road

These high end models of the Bronco Sport will come with the more powerful 2.0 EcoBoost engine while the Cherokee Trailhawk offers two different engine options: a standard 3.2 liter naturally aspirated V6 that makes 271hp and an optional 2.0 turbo four-cylinder that makes the same power but with improved torque.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk off-roading

A Cherokee Trailhawk has a starting price around $34,000, and not surprisingly, the off-road trims of the Bronco Sport are going to start in the same neighborhood.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Red

We know that the Cherokee Trailhawk has already proven itself to be perhaps the most off-road capable car-based crossover ever, and it looks like Ford is very much gunning for that title with the Bronco Sport.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Red

Whether its doing battle against the Jeep, the RAV4 or Subaru’s popular offerings, the Bronco Sport is just one more example of a family crossover that’s capable of more than just hauling the kids around suburban streets. We are very much looking forward to see how the aftermarket reacts to the coming of the “Baby Bronco” to further improve its off-road performance.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Towing Off-Road

In the meantime if you’d like to see how the “real” Bronco stacks up against its 4x4 competition you can check out our story here.

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