2021 Ford Bronco Sport vs 2021 Toyota RAV4: Compare Crossover SUVs

March 24, 2021

Compact crossovers can be as difficult to distinguish as daytime soap operas. New for 2021, the Ford Bronco Sport bucks that trend with retro-mod styling inspired by the big Bronco yet with the ride quality of the Ford Escape. The RAV4 has been around much longer, and Toyota injected new life with its truck-like 2019 redesign that followed with hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants, making the bestselling vehicle in America (that is not a full-size truck) even more compelling. 

Is the RAV4’s balance of power and efficiency enough to hold off the upstart Bronco Sport’s irrepressible charm? In a country that prizes the young and the restless, the Bronco Sport has an edge, but the RAV4 offers more practicality for the days of our lives.  

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

Ford and Toyota embraced classic truck elements in the new looks of their compact crossovers: Flat, vertical grilles; chunky fenders boxed with cladding; skid plates fake and real. The RAV4 channels the Tacoma and 4Runner, especially in TRD Off-Road and Adventure trims, while the Bronco Sport spins convention on its head. It’s based on the Ford Escape, but sports similar front and rear fascias and the boxy proportions of the resurrected Bronco. 

Underneath, the Bronco Sport offers a more rugged grade than the RAV4. It comes with two small turbo engines and two all-wheel-drive systems. The 181-hp 1.5-liter turbo-3 spins out enough power to zip ahead in passing moves, and it can split the 190 lb-ft of torque between the axles to optimize grip. Five drive modes, ranging from Sport to Sand, adjust throttle and traction control settings to enable off-roading we wouldn’t dare do in a Ford Escape. With MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear suspension, it rides like an Escape on the road, but with more wind and road noise due to the shape. The top Badlands and First Edition models further bridge that gap between an Escape and a big Bronco. They use a 255-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 and a more advanced all-wheel-drive system with a twin-clutch rear differential that can send all of the rear-axle torque to either rear wheel. Four skid plates, more ground clearance, monotube rear shocks, and other off-road suspension upgrades improve its capability.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

The RAV4 has several powertrain combos to choose from, but for different intentions than the Bronco Sport. The suspension and all-wheel-drive system is nearly the same as the base Bronco Sport, and it’s powered by a workaday 203-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 with front-wheel drive standard. TRD Off-Road, Limited, and Adventure trims use an all-wheel-drive system with brake-based torque vectoring that can redirect torque to the rear wheel with the most grip. It can hit the trail, too, but couldn’t tackle as much as the Bronco Sport Badlands. 

The RAV4 Hybrid adds an electric motor to the same engine to make 219 hp total, and a second rear motor powers it for all-wheel drive and a stellar EPA-rated 39 mpg combined. The Bronco Sport can’t come close; its standard AWD turbo-3 gets 26 mpg combined.

Toyota takes it a step further with the excellent RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid. Not only does it get up to 42 miles of all-electric range, the large 18.1-kwh battery pack and electric motors supplement the inline-4 to generate 302 hp and a 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. The quickest, most powerful, and most efficient RAV4 leaves the Bronco Sport in its dust. 

 

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

Inside, clever packaging optimizes space but short seat bottoms limit comfort on both models. The RAV4 is about nine inches longer, but the Bronco Sport rides nearly three inches higher and is a bit wider. The wheelbase is within an inch, so the overall seating area is roughly the same, but front leg room favors the Bronco Sport and rear leg room stretches out a bit more in the RAV4. What does all this add up to? The boxier shape of the Bronco Sport makes it roomier for taller drivers and front passengers. The angular RAV4 limits head room but better fits four people and their gear. Its extra length adds up to 37.6 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, which is about eight cubic feet more than the Bronco Sport, and the difference is more pronounced with the 60/40-split rear seats folded flat. 

The features lists match up pretty evenly, with standard automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and automatic high beams. The RAV4 makes adaptive cruise control standard and blind-spot monitors optional; that’s reversed on the Bronco Sport. Though the NHTSA and the IIHS haven’t crash tested the Bronco Sport yet, they’ve given the RAV4 a top five-star rating and “Good” scores, respectively. 

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime

The Bronco Sport comes with a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen than the RAV4’s 7.0-inch standard screen, and Ford’s system and graphics feel much fresher than Toyota’s. Other standard gear such as roof rails, a built-in bottle opener, and an LED floodlight at the rear accentuate the outdoorsy nature inherent in the Bronco Sport. For under $30,000, a Bronco Sport Big Bend model comes with rubberized floor mats and seat backs for easy cleaning, Molle straps on zippered pockets, keyless start, and so many more customizable options. 

Toyota’s TRD Off-Road or Adventure models cost about $35,000. We’d look at an XLE Hybrid model that costs about $30,000 but trims the cost of ownership down the road. The temptation in either model courts the $40,000 mark with the Badlands in the Bronco Sport or the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid. It’s hard to argue the practicality of the RAV4 Prime, or the fun factor of the Badlands if the road unpaved is part of your plans. 

Overall, however, the 2021 Toyota RAV4’s TCC Rating of 6.5 out of 10 comes up short of its rivals charms though it provides a guiding light for efficiency. The bold and the beautiful 2021 Ford Bronco Sport gets our nomination with a 7.0 out of 10.

Summary

6.5
Expert Rating
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 is the meat-and-potatoes crossover for many buyers; the RAV4 Prime supplies the all-electric range.
7.2
Expert Rating
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport carves out a new all-terrain niche for one of the most beloved off-road names in auto history.

Styling

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2021 RAV4 is now the looker among the compact crossover bunch; never thought we’d say that about a Toyota.
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8.0
Expert Rating
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport stands out in a class that’s all too similar.
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Performance

5.0
Expert Rating
Now with a performance, plug-in hybrid powertrain, the 2021 RAV4 covers all of the bases.
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7.0
Expert Rating
Off-road capable and all-road comfortable, the Bronco Sport is an uncommon compact crossover.
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Comfort & Quality

6.0
Expert Rating
Style takes priority in the 2021 Toyota RAV4, for better or worse.
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7.0
Expert Rating
The Bronco Sport puts the utility in sport utility vehicle with clever packaging and versatile space.
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Safety

7.0
Expert Rating
The RAV4 needs better headlights on more models.
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8.0
Expert Rating
Standard driver assist features help the Bronco Sport avoid crashes.
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Features

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2021 RAV4 is available in just about any configuration.
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8.0
Expert Rating
Good standard features complement a heap of options on the Bronco Sport.
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Fuel Economy

5.0
Expert Rating
The most efficient 2021 Toyota RAV4 is also the quickest; we endorse that message.
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5.0
Expert Rating
The Bronco Sport is as capable as it is efficient.
Read More

MSRP

from $26,250
from $27,215

Invoice

from $24,544
from $26,806

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

30
26

Engine

Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.5 L
Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-3, 1.5 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Four Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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