Off-roading is as popular as ever, but today's customer also wants their jaunty little SUV to be able to handle a daily commute as well as a weekend trip to the mountains. To that end, automakers like Jeep and Subaru have given even their smallest crossover offerings a strong dose of ruggedness. Two newcomers to the segment are the Ford Bronco Sport and Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road, both new for 2021 and both packing some cool off-road technology.
But would any of those goodies help either of them in a drag race? To find out, we saddled up and headed to the desert seeking a ribbon-straight, flat piece of roadway real estate. And since it's Southern California, finding a traffic-free stretch of pavement was all but impossible, so we turned our eyes to the dirt. After all, these are compact off-roaders, are they not?
Gallery: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands vs. 2021 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road: Comparison
Looking at the spec chart, the odds lean fairly heavily toward the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands, which comes standard with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four making 250 horsepower (186 kilowatts) and 277 pound-feet (376 newton-meters). By contrast, the RAV4 TRD's naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-banger makes 203 hp and 184 lb-ft (151 kW and 249 Nm). Both have standard all-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmissions, and the RAV4 has a slight weight advantage – 3,655 pounds to the Bronco Sport's 3,707.
Would the TRD Off-Road feel light on its feet, sprinting toward a finish line about a quarter-mile away? Or would the little Bronquito buck its way to a checkered flag? We won't spoil the ending, but let's just be honest here: One vehicle has an extra 47 hp and 93 lb-ft, and that may prove to be an insurmountable advantage for the underdog.
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While the drag race might be a bit less than surprising, we also spent a full day off-roading and enjoying these vehicles in a variety of circumstances, including that all-important daily commute. And if one comes up short in straight-line speed, it claws back a few points in some other crucial areas.
Best of all, whether on the highway or in the dirt, both the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport and Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road do a fair amount to democratize the four-wheeling lifestyle. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but both are spacious, comfortable, reasonably efficient, fun to drive, and tough enough for a weekend of playtime. Read our comparison test (linked below) for more on that front.