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Ford’s Best Compact SUV – Bronco Sport or Escape?

A silver 2021 Ford Bronco Sport with bikes on the roof is driving through a woodland trail.

The recent release of the new 2021 Ford Bronco has rightly set the automotive world abuzz. However, the attention given to the top of the line Bronco has largely overshadowed the smaller Bronco Sport. And while this is understandable given the extreme capabilities of the larger vehicle, the Bronco Sport is arguably better suited to the needs of the average driver. So to help correct this oversight, it is time to take a look at the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport and see how it stacks up to Ford’s existing compact SUV, the 2020 Ford Escape.

Although these two Ford models are marketed rather differently, they are quite similar in size and cost. This makes it likely that many Ford customers will end up cross shopping the two compact SUVs despite their supposedly different purposes. The most important questions to answer are first how much more capable is the Ford Bronco Sport, and second, which vehicle is the better deal for the average driver.

The Two Contenders

A blue 2020 Ford Escape is parked in a garage.

Looking at the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport and the 2020 Ford Escape, it is difficult to think of two more different vehicles that occupy the same segment. The Bronco Sport is a tall and boxy vehicle possessing a no-nonsense look, while the Escape is a sleek and modern design that will not look out of place no matter the occasion. In terms of exterior dimensions, the Escape is around 8 inches longer while the Bronco Sport is about 4 inches taller. And this, of course, this translates into noticeably different interior dimensions, even though the two vehicles have extremely similar amounts of passenger volume.

Although the greater height of the Bronco Sport gives it around 2 inches more headroom, the longer body of the Escape means that it provides almost 4 inches more legroom for the second-row passengers. So if carrying passengers is a concern, the Ford Escape comes out on top. However, when moving cargo, the two SUVs are virtually identical as they both offer a touch over 65 cubic feet of cargo space when their rear seats are folded down. But while the Ford Escape is arguably the better choice in terms of space, the difference is not great enough to put the Bronco Sport out of the running for any daily tasks.

When it comes to power, the two SUVs are even more similar, and they actually have the same engine options and share the same eight-speed automatic transmission. The base engine is a 1.5L EcoBoost with 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque, while the top engine is a 2.0L EcoBoost that has 250 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque in the Escape but 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque in the Bronco Sport.

While a five horsepower difference would normally be fairly insignificant, it should be kept in mind that the 2.0L Bronco Sport is also nearly 150 pounds heavier than the 2.0L Escape. However, while the Ford Escape does have an edge in street performance, the extra weight of the Bronco Sport is because of its superior twin-clutch 4×4 system. Unlike the configurations in the Escape and the 1.5L Bronco Sport, this system can transfer power laterally between the rear wheels in order to provide the traction needed to keep moving no matter the conditions. When combined with the Bronco Sport’s terrain management system, Ford’s newer model has a decided edge off-road despite its otherwise similar powertrain.

Capability VS Comfort?

But the real difference in off-road capability between the Bronco Sport and the Escape comes down to technical dimensions and tires. One of the key elements in being able to drive off road is being able to cross obstacles without damaging the vehicle. And with up to 8.8 inches of ground clearance, the Bronco Sport is noticeably better than other vehicles in its class.

Further, the short front and rear overlaps of the Bronco Sport result in an exceptional 30.4 degree approach angle and 33.1 degree departure angle, allowing the vehicle to negotiate sudden changes in grade without plowing into the ground. And last but not least, the Bronco Sport can drive through water up to 23.6 inches deep without flooding the vehicle or damaging the engine. That sort of fording ability is simply unheard of in the compact SUV segment and more than demonstrates that the Bronco Sport is indeed a serious off-road vehicle.

When it comes to tires, the Ford Escape comes with all-season tires on up to 19-inch wheels. This allows for good handling on the road, but the thin sidewalls are a poor choice for rougher terrain. In comparison, the Bronco Sport tops out at 17-inch wheels for thick sidewalls and can even be equipped with all-terrain tires for enhanced traction off the road.

As for comfort, Ford’s two compact SUVs are evenly matched. Despite its rough and ready marketing and off-road capabilities, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport actually comes with a feature-rich interior that easily matches that of the outwardly more elegant 2020 Ford Escape. Both vehicles are available with luxuries such as power-adjustable heated leather front seats, a heated steering wheel, and dual-zone automatic climate control.

The infotainment systems are likewise virtually identical, and in both models, the top setups consist of an 8-inch touch screen, the Ford Sync 3 software, and a ten-speaker Bang and Olufsen premium sound system. And, in their base trims, it is actually the Bronco Sport that has more technology as it comes standard with the Sync 3 software while the Escape has the less capable Sync system.

Finally, both vehicles come with Ford’s CoPilot 360 suite of advanced driver assistance technologies, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping, blind-spot alerts, and automatic high beams. Altogether, this means that choosing between the Bronco Sport and the Escape is not a matter of choosing between capability and comfort. Depending on the trim, both Ford SUVs can provide anything from basic transportation to a luxury driving experience. However, while they check virtually all of the same boxes in terms of comfort, there are still large stylistic differences between the Escape and the Bronco Sport, and some people will likely feel more comfortable in one over the other.

The available leather interior is shown inside a 2021 Ford Bronco Sport.

The “Better” Vehicle

After comparing the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport and the 2020 Ford Escape, it is clear that the Bronco Sport is indeed considerably more capable. While the two SUVs share many components, the difference in off-road performance is far more than just marketing. And while serious off-roaders will prefer the top of the line Ford Bronco over the Bronco Sport, no one should fear taking the smaller version into the wild. However, while the Bronco Sport is a quite capable vehicle off the road, the Escape has a small edge on the road thanks to its better power-to-weight ratio and more suitable wheel and tire selection. And although the two SUVs are functionally identical in terms of features, the Escape is a bit roomier when it comes to passenger and cargo space.

When it comes to deciding which of these two Ford models is better for the average driver, the scales tip slightly towards the Ford Escape. However, the difference is not large, and anyone who regularly drives on backroads or in bad weather may well find the Bronco Sport to be the superior option. All in all, Ford has built two excellent compact SUVs, and the only real way to decide between them is to visit a local Ford dealership and take them for a test drive.

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