There’s a new galloping pony in town, but the 2021 Bronco Sport is no Mustang—it’s a crossover SUV that wraps vintage looks around a car that’s pretty close in specification to another one already on the street—the Ford Escape.
With the Bronco Sport, Ford clearly is gunning for the Jeep Cherokee, but it’s also a rival for the Escape. Though the shapes and the missions veer off in wildly different directions, they’re born from the same compact-crossover family, and share much from their drivetrains down to their infotainment systems.
We give the new-for-2020 Escape a TCC Rating of 7.0 out of 10. We haven’t driven the Bronco Sport yet, but here’s how they stack up from what we know today.
We nod in general approval at the 2020 Escape’s softly rendered shape. It’s vaguely Mazda and Tesla, in the way it throws curves into its front end and lays them around its rear roof pillar. We’d love it more if the sophisticated shape translated into a higher-quality interior with less plasticky trim, though.
The latest Escape’s the polar opposite of the first-generation vehicle—and strikingly, the new Bronco Sport picks up some of that first Escape’s square-rigged cues, while paying overt homage to the ‘60s original Bronco. The 2021 edition has flat body sides, more upright glass, vertical taillights, and a razor-style grille suspended between two round LED headlights that all evoke the heritage of the Bronco name. Some of the details are missing: There’s no side-swinging spare tire (it lives under the cargo floor), and the tiered roof resembles a Land Rover more than a Ford.
2020 Ford Escape
2020 Ford Escape
The Bronco Sport and Escape share a pair of inline engines that made their debut last year. Base models get the 181-horsepower turbo-3, coupled to an 8-speed automatic—a perfectly adequate powertrain in the Escape, one that should measure up just as moderately in a Bronco Sport that will carry the added weight of standard all-wheel drive.
We’re interested in that, but we’re compelled by the 2.0-liter turbo-4 found in the top Escapes and in the costliest Bronco Sports. Rated at 245 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque in the Bronco Sport and 250 hp in the Escape, the engine’s teamed to the 8-speed that comes with a transmission cooler and paddle shift controls in the Bronco Sport.
Escapes with all-wheel drive come with EPA combined ratings of 28 mpg in the 1.5-liter and 26 mpg in the 2.0-liter, and we expect similar ratings from the Bronco Sport. Escapes also come in Hybrid and plug-in Hybrid form, but it’s not confirmed if, or when, the Bronco Sport will offer either of those.
The curb weight of the Bronco Sport has not been made official, but it’s likely within range of the 3,500-lb Escape with AWD. So it’s unusual that the off-roader of the pair is rated lower in towing: 2,200 pounds max in the Bronco Sport, versus up to 3,500 lb in the Escape. (With the turbo-3, both top off at a 2,000-lb tow rating.) The difference likely comes down to the all-wheel-drive systems offered on each: A simpler design on the turbo-4 Escape, a more complex system with a twin-clutch rear differential in the Bronco Sport. Ford says its intended Bronco Sport buyers are more focused on off-road ability, so some degree of suspension complexity is involved in the tow rating, too.
Both the Escape and Bronco Sport get a set of drive modes, but the basic Normal or Sport found in the Escape transforms into a terrain-management system in the Bronco Sport with Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Sand modes—adding on Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl modes on the most off-road-ready versions. Those can be fitted with special adaptive cruise control with a crawl-control mode and a front off-road camera for keeping an eye on wheel-level obstacles.
Both the Bronco Sport and Escape have a strut-and-multilink suspension setup. But the advanced all-wheel-drive system on Bronco Sports, can get off-road tuning for the struts and monotube rear shocks for better wheel travel. Ford fits some Escapes with 19-inch wheels—but 18s are the biggest you’ll find on the Bronco Sport, for now.
Seating, safety, and other features
Both crossovers seat up to five passengers, but the Escape and Bronco Sport take different trails in interior design, with the latter offering dog-whistle signals to the mudfest set, such as washable rubber flooring, a built-in tailgate bottle opener, and Molle straps sewn into the front seatbacks. Leather’s an option on both, still—but the Bronco Sport gets the equivalent of Lincoln’s Black Label interior themes with its cascade of looks that range from the tony Outer Banks, to the energy-drink-ish Wildtrak, to the Big Bend’s brown-out.
The Bronco Sport’s a little shorter than the Escape, too: it has a 105.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 172.1 inches, versus the Escape’s 106.7 inches and 180.5 inches.
Ford hasn’t released interior volume of the Bronco Sport, though it’s likely to be close to that of the Escape. Ford promised twin 27.5-inch-wheel bikes can be mounted inside the Bronco Sport, and a movable cargo shelf looks like a great solution for those who need a mobile workstation.
Both vehicles have standard automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors, and both come with the usual power features. Escapes have a ratty 4.2-inch screen in base trim for audio, while the Bronco Sport has an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
From there—about $26,000 for a base Escape, under $30,000 for a low-spec Bronco Sport—buyers can opt into panoramic roofs, Bang & Olufsen audio, adaptive cruise control, and navigation. We think the choice between the two is simple—and a complete Rorschach test to boot. What do you see in these two shapes?