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SUV Comparison: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands vs 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness logo 2022-01-20 Clayton Seams , Brian Harper
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Clayton Seams: The Ford Bronco Sport Badlands and the Subaru Outback Wilderness have eight driven wheels and 14 syllables between them. They are both off-road versions of their respective CUV models. Even though nearly all CUVs are marketed for their all-terrain capability, very few can tackle even the slightest trail out of the box due to their low-profile street tires, air dams for fuel efficiency, and open differentials. But a new thing is happening in the world of supposedly off-road vehicles — people are actually taking them off-road!


Ford and Subaru have seen this enthusiast demand for using their CUVs off-road and have responded with the Badlands and the Wilderness, which both come upgraded for trail duty. These aren’t as serious trail-bashers as a Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Wrangler, but they’re far more livable in everyday life. In this comparison we’re looking to see not only how they acquit themselves on the weekend trails, but also how livable they are during weekdays running around urban centres.

Brian Harper: At first glance, these two vehicles might seem like an odd comparison. The Bronco Sport Badlands is the compact, milder — but still rugged — sibling to the resurrected Bronco, a boonies-bashing brute with an iconic nameplate. The Wilderness is a more capable and rugged version of the popular, mid-sized Outback SUV/wagon. But both Ford and Subaru are targeting the same younger audience, one with an “adventurous” outdoor lifestyle.

Both vehicles have base prices within $1,800 of each other ($40,199 for the Badlands; $41,995 for the Wilderness), both engines (2.0L turbo four versus 2.4L turbo four) are closely matched in the power department, and fuel economy is a virtual tie. There’s more commonality than first appears.

Speaking of common, the Bronco Sport shares some underpinnings and mechanical bits with the Escape. That said, the Sport is way cooler and far more rugged, its look honoring the ’60s Bronco without resorting to slavish devotion. It’s also quite nicely equipped inside; not exactly luxurious but, frankly, I expected something more wash-and-wear utility.

Then again, the Wilderness is not exactly hard to live with, is it, Clayton?

CS: Life with the Wilderness isn’t exactly roughing it! The familiar (and likeable) Outback has been slightly lifted to accommodate 225/65R17 all-terrain tires (with white-letter sidewalls no less!) and it sports some rugged bodywork. Body width is some 40 mm wider to accommodate the black plastic fender flares. It also receives a dubiously functional but very cool black hood stripe to reduce glare off the hood; and built-in tie downs for a roof-top tent.

Inside you’ll find Wilderness logos on the headrests, and floormats as well as special seats made from an interesting wetsuit-like material. The interior detailing is excellent.

Under-hood is a 2.4L turbocharged flat-four that makes 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, 15 more horses and two extra pound-feet of torque over the Badlands. The only transmission offered is a CVT automatic with eight simulated “gears.” The Badlands comes with an eight-speed automatic.

Both cars get roughly the same fuel mileage, the Ford netting 11.1 L/100 km city and 8.9 highway, while the Subaru gets 10.9 city and the same 8.9 highway. If the spec sheet won’t tell us who the winner is, then I suppose we must drive them!

BH: There are surprises to both. It should be expected that the Wilderness is the smoother-riding crossover thanks to its significantly longer (+473 mm) wheelbase, but it is also very competent when getting off the beaten path and onto some seriously gnarly dirt, mud, potholed, or water-filled roads. It turns out the Subaru has 22.5 mm more ground clearance than the Ford, though the Badland’s shorter wheelbase and length give it better approach and departure angles. Still, both aced the off-road portion of our test, the Wilderness doing so with an enhanced version of Subaru’s X-Mode system to complement the symmetrical all-wheel drivetrain. Enhanced control logic allowed the system to operate at higher speeds, with no bogging down.

Conversely, with its short wheelbase, I thought the Badland’s ride would be choppy — it wasn’t, at least not for me. In fact, it’s ride was quite acceptable, and its handling had a sharpness to it that’s exemplary for a small crossover. Naturally, it was easier to drive off-road — Badlands have a sophisticated 4×4 system with a twin-clutch rear-drive unit with a differential lock. Rear axle torque can be diverted to either wheel.

It’s also worth noting that our Badland’s tester came with a $3,000 Badlands (redundancy much?) package that added nothing to the crossover’s dirt-flinging bona fides , but did make it far more livable — dual-zone automatic climate control, power sunroof, reverse sensing system, Bang & Olufsen sound system, etc. It, and a couple of other things, boosted the as-tested price to $45,549.

What do you think, kid?

CS: Both vehicles are perfectly capable of taking you into the badlands or the wilderness, but when push comes to shove, the Bronco Sport with its shorter wheelbase and rear locker will have the edge for ultimate capability. It also has better approach and departure angles and thanks to its shorter wheelbase, a better breakover angle as well. But we need to reiterate here that the Outback is no slouch. Both vehicles are very capable off-road. But one is markedly better on the road.

The Subaru Outback has a smoother on-road ride, more power, slightly better fuel economy, more storage space, and a more usable rear seat than the Bronco Sport. And I think compromising a little bit of off-road capability is worth it for all these pluses. I give the Outback Wilderness my vote as winner of this comparison. What do you think, Brian?

BH: I really enjoyed the Bronco Sport and its youthful vibe. As an empty nester, not needing (for now) the additional rear-seat space, I could get used to looking at one in my driveway. Pragmatically speaking, however, I agree with all your points. Plus, the Wilderness has its own sporty charm. With the exception of an overly complex and crowded touchscreen, it ticks too many boxes not to give it the win.


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