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Edmunds: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport vs the Subaru Forester

Edmunds: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport vs the Subaru Forester
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This undated photo from Ford shows the 2021 Bronco Sport, a small SUV with impressive off-road capabilities. (Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. via AP).

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Building an off-road-capable small SUV is something Subaru is familiar with. Its 2021 Forester is one of Edmunds top recommendations for a small SUV. It s comfortable and well suited for adventurous drivers. Edmunds experts took both of these vehicles to the dirt and the highway to see which one comes out on top.

The optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 250 horsepower makes the Bronco Sport feel lively and punchy, and we recommend it over the base engine. Off-road, the Bronco Sport is impressively capable of tackling trails that would normally stymie a typical small crossover SUV. However, Ford seems to have tuned the steering, braking and transmission for off-road use. On the road, they feel vague and unrefined.

The Forester has only one engine available: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making a ho-hum 182 horsepower. In contrast to the Bronco Sport, however, the Forester is smoother and more user-friendly when it comes to steering and braking. Off-road capability is a strength too. Subaru s standard all-wheel-drive system excels in the dirt, and every Forester has an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance. The Bronco Sport has a smidge more off-road capability but the Forester isn t far behind.

Winner: Subaru Forester

One of the best reasons to buy a Bronco Sport is for its impressive overall utility. Rear cargo volume is among the best in the class, and there are several cargo tie-down points to make that space even more useful. Higher trims are available with rear underfloor cubbies or adjustable lights in the hatch door. Maximum towing capacity is 2,200 pounds.

The Forester is also a cargo-friendly SUV. If you fold down the second-row seats, it has more maximum available cargo space than the Bronco Sport. The downside is that it offers only 1,500 pounds of towing capacity and fewer useful hooks and cubbies.

Winner: Ford Bronco Sport

Comfort should be a priority even for off-road-oriented SUVs such as these. The Bronco Sport s front seats offer an impressive amount of adjustability, but that s where our praise stops. The suspension feels bouncy going over cracks in the road, and the vehicle s boxy shape leads to excess wind noise on the highway.

Subaru paid more attention to this department. The Forester has a supple suspension that is capable of providing a smooth ride even when the road gets bumpy. The front seats are more cushioned and supportive and therefore better suited to long road trips. The Forester is also boxy, and you will experience outside noise, but it s less pronounced than in the Bronco Sport.

Winner: Subaru Forester

The Bronco Sport has appealing tech and driver assist features, but most of them are optional extras. Adaptive cruise control is only standard on the top trim, for example, and navigation must be added as optional equipment. On the upside, the standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is easy to use.

Subaru gives you more standard tech features, such as adaptive cruise control on all Foresters and navigation on the Touring trim. On the downside, the Forester s base infotainment screen is only 6.5 inches, and the interface isn t quite as slick as the Ford s. It s pretty much a toss-up.

Winner: tie

At first glance, the Bronco Sport makes a great case. It has standard all-wheel drive, excellent technology and looks that are sure to turn heads. But some Bronco Sports are more expensive than comparable Foresters by nearly $3,000. Its cabin includes too much plastic to ignore at that price.

The Forester also packs standard all-wheel drive, and you don t have to upgrade to get the highest available ground clearance. It has a serious advantage over the Bronco Sport when it comes to luxury and build quality even though it costs less. The Forester might lack a little flair, but it fits its role like a glove.

Winner: Subaru Forester

In many cases, the Bronco Sport meets or exceeds its own hype. Wherever this crossover goes, smiles are sure to follow. But when it comes to value and day-to-day livability, the Bronco Sport has room to improve. For those reasons we recommend the Subaru Forester for the average buyer. Its agreeable manner comes at the right price, and its respectable capability in the dirt seals the deal.
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