The new 2021 Ford Bronco Sport faces off against the bestselling 2021 Toyota RAV4. Which is better?
What we like: Multiple powertrains including two hybrids; PHEV’s long range; standard active-safety features
Overview: The latest Toyota
RAV4 has an expressive exterior design that carries through to the interior, although there are some cheap materials on lower trims. Headroom is tight but passenger room is otherwise good, and cargo space is mid-pack.
The RAV4 has an unusually wide range of model variants. The standard RAV4 has a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 203 horsepower, which is good for this segment but just adequate in practice. Engine refinement is lacking.
The 2.5L is paired with an 8-speed automatic (which is preferable to a continuously variable automatic transmission or CVT) and front-wheel drive (FWD) or available all-wheel drive (AWD).
The AWD system in the Adventure and TRD Off-Road variants has selectable off-road driving modes and hill-descent control. Fuel economy is 30 mpg (FWD) and 28–30 mpg (AWD).
The RAV4 Hybrid has two electric motors and produces 219 hp. With standard AWD its EPA combined rating is 40 mpg.
The PHEV RAV4 Prime makes a whopping 302 hp — more than compensating for its extra weight — and zooms to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Impressively, it also can travel 42 miles on battery power alone, which is far more range than most PHEVs. Recharging takes 12 hours with a 120-volt source or 4.5 hours with 240 volts, while an upgraded charger cuts that to 2.5 hours.
What’s new for 2021: The big news for 2021 is the arrival of the plug-in-hybrid RAV4 Prime. The regular RAV4 hybrid, meanwhile, adds a new XLE Premium trim level, and the regular RAV4’s TRD Off-Road trim gets a new front skid-plate.
Features and technology: The 2021 Toyota RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid offer LE, XLE, XLE Premium, and Limited grades. The regular RAV4 also has the AWD-only Adventure and TRD Off-Road variants with revised suspension tuning and a more rugged appearance.
The Hybrid additionally offers a sporty XSE trim, and the Prime is SE or XSE only. All RAV4s come standard with a solid list of active-safety features: forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane-tracing assist (lane-centering), and road-sign recognition. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the LE and standard elsewhere.
The infotainment system uses a 7-, 8-, or 9-inch touchscreen depending on trim level, and smartphone mirroring is standard. It all works well with hard keys to jump to main functions, but the graphics look a little dated. A head-up display, a 360-degree-view camera, and a rear camera-mirror are available on upper trims.
What does the future hold? The RAV4 is recently revamped, so we don’t expect any major changes soon.
2021 Ford Bronco Sport
Base Price: $28,155
What we like: Rugged styling; standard AWD; real off-road chops; clever interior features; available 4-cylinder turbo engine
What we would change: Disappointing fuel economy; pricey top trims; make the 2.0-liter engine available on more models
Overview: The 2021 Ford
Bronco Sport is slightly smaller than a Ford Escape, but looks much different with a chunky design aesthetic borrowed from the larger Bronco.
Like the Bronco, the Bronco Sport emphasizes off-road ability. That’s especially true with the top trims: Badlands and First Edition (the others are base, Big Bend, and Outer Banks). AWD is standard on all and can be optimized for different conditions with what Ford calls G.O.A.T. (goes over any terrain) drive modes. The Badlands and First Edition models also get a differential lock, additional G.O.A.T. modes, Trail Control, and higher ground clearance. They also have a larger 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo engine with 250 hp, while the others have a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder turbo making 181 hp.
Both are paired with an 8-speed automatic. EPA combined fuel economy is 26 mpg with the 1.5-liter and 23 mpg with the larger engine, which is not great for this size class. The 2.0-liter provides quick acceleration, accompanied by some engine noise. The ride is firm but not objectionable, and there’s a fair bit of lean in corners.
What’s new for 2021: The Bronco Sport is a completely new entry for 2021.
Features and technology: The boxy shape and upright seating allow the Bronco Sport to accommodate adults in front and rear, although rear knee clearance is limited. The stepped-up roofline makes for a tall cargo hold, where two mountain bikes can be carried upright with the rear seatbacks folded.
Neat interior features include a rubberized coating on the cargo floor, zippered pouches in the front seatbacks, and a storage cubby under the rear seat. The Badlands and First Edition use a vinyl floor covering and carpeted mats. The liftgate’s rear glass opens separately, and there are spotlights on the inside trim that shine down when the liftgate is open.
The infotainment system utilizes an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; navigation is optional. All trims have a robust list of active-safety features that includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot monitoring. The top two trims have a front-facing 180-degree-view camera, which helps in tricky terrain. Adaptive cruise control with lane-centering is optional.
What does the future hold? We’d like to see the Bronco Sport borrow a hybrid powertrain from its platform-mate, the Escape.
RAV4 vs. Bronco Sport: Strengths comparison
Toyota RAV4 Benefits: Interior space; fuel economy; available hybrid and plug-in hybrid; proven reliability
Ford Bronco Sport Benefits: Standard AWD; rugged styling; off-road capability
2021 Toyota RAV4 vs. 2021 Ford Bronco Sport: Which is better?
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is one of the most interesting small crossovers out there, and it’s a great choice for those who’ll put its capabilities to use. The 2021 Toyota RAV4 has similarly themed TRD Off-Road and Adventure trims, however, along with a wide array of other models including Hybrid and PHEV variants. Add its proven reliability, and the RAV4 will be the better option for most buyers.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.