Clayton Layer: The Ford Bronco Sport Badlands and Subaru Outback Wilderness have eight driven wheels and 14 syllables in between. Both are off-road versions of their respective CUV models. While nearly all CUVs are marketed for their all-terrain capability, very few can handle even the slightest footprint out of the box due to their low-profile road tires, air dams for fuel efficiency and open differentials. But something new is happening in the world of off-road vehicles — people are really taking it off-roading!
Ford and Subaru have seen this enthusiastic demand for their off-road CUVs and have responded with the Badlands and Wilderness, both of which were upgraded for trail duty. These aren’t as serious as trail-bashers as the Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Wrangler, but they’re much more livable in everyday life. In this comparison, we wanted to see not only how free they are on weekend trails, but also how livable they are during weekdays running around downtown.
Brian Harper: At first glance, these two vehicles may seem like an odd comparison. The Bronco Sport Badlands is the compact, lighter—but still rugged—sibling of the resurrected Bronco, a lying beast with an iconic nameplate. The Wilderness is a tougher and tougher version of the popular mid-size Outback SUV/wagon. But Ford and Subaru target the same younger audience, who have an “adventurous” outdoor lifestyle.
Both vehicles have base prices within $1,800 of each other ($40,199 for Badlands; $41,995 for Wilderness), both engines (2.0L turbo four versus 2.4L turbo four) are a great match in the power department, and fuel economy is a virtual tie. There is more in common than first appears.
Speaking of similarities, the Bronco Sport shares some basics and mechanical parts with the Escape. That said, the Sport is much cooler and much tougher, looking to honor the ’60s Bronco without resorting to humble devotion. It’s also quite well equipped inside; not very fancy but, to be honest, I was expecting something more useful to wash and wear.
Then again, the Wilderness isn’t that hard to live in, is it, Clayton?
Off-Road Review: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
SUV Comparison: 2021 Honda Passport Touring vs 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness
CS: Living with the Wilderness isn’t exactly roughing it! The familiar (and beloved) outback has been lifted slightly to accommodate the 225/65R17 all-terrain tires (with white lettering sidewalls no less!) and features some solid bodywork. The body width is about 40 mm wider to accommodate the black plastic fender flares. It also received a functional but very cool black hood strip to reduce glare from the hood; and a built-in fastener for the awning on the roof.
Inside you’ll find the Wilderness logo on the headrests, and special floor mats and seats made from an attractive wetsuit-like material. The interior details are amazing.
Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.4L 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 on offer is an automatic CVT with eight simulated “gears”. The Badlands comes with an eight-speed automatic.
Both cars get roughly the same fuel mileage, the Ford gets the same 11.1 L/100 km city and 8.9 highway, while the Subaru gets the same 10.9 city and 8.9 highway. If the spec sheet doesn’t tell us who the winner is, then I guess we should ride it!
bra: There is a surprise for both of them. The Wilderness is expected to be a crossover with a smoother ride thanks to a significantly longer wheelbase (+473 mm), but also very competent when off the beaten track and into some very severe dirt, mud, potholes or water. – full road. It turns out that the Subaru has 22.5 mm more ground clearance than the Ford, although the Badland’s shorter wheelbase and length provide better approach and departure angles. However, both excelled in the off-road portion of our tests, the Wilderness did with a refined version of Subaru’s X-Mode system to complement its symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Improved control logic allows the system to operate at higher speeds, without a hitch.
On the other hand, with a short wheelbase, I thought Badland’s ride would be choppy — no, at least not for me. In fact, the ride is quite acceptable, and the handling has exemplary sharpness for such a small crossover. Naturally, off-road driving is easier — Badlands features a state-of-the-art 4×4 system with a dual-clutch rear drive unit with differential lock. Rear axle torque can be transferred to one of the wheels.
It’s also worth noting that our Badland tester came with a $3,000 Badlands plan (lots of redundancy?) bona fidebut makes it much more livable — dual-zone automatic climate control, powered sunroof, reverse sensing system, Bang & Olufsen sound system, etc. That, and a few other things, raised the tested price to $45,549.
What do you think, son?
CS: Both vehicles are perfectly capable of getting you into badlands or wilderness, but when push comes to push, 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 a shorter wheelbase, better breakover angles as well. But we need to reiterate here that the Outback is no slouch. Both of these vehicles are very capable in off-road terrain. But one is definitely better down the road.
The Subaru Outback has a smoother road ride, more power, slightly better fuel economy, more storage space and a more usable rear seat than the Bronco Sport. And I think sacrificing a little off-road capability is worth all these advantages. I give Outback Wilderness my vote as the winner of this comparison. What do you think, Brian?
bra: I really enjoyed the Bronco Sport and its youthful vibe. As an empty nester, not needing (for now) additional backseat space, I can get used to seeing one in my driveway. Pragmatically, however, I agree with all of your points. Plus, the Wilderness has its own sporty charm. With the exception of the overly complex and overcrowded touchscreen, it ticks too many boxes not to give it a win.