Not what it sounds like. The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport shares part of its name with the much-anticipated Ford Bronco, but don’t be deceived. Despite the nameplate overlap, the Bronco Sport is an entirely different car.

The Bronco Sport’s closest relative is the tamer Ford Escape, a compact crossover that competes with the likes of the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V. The Bronco Sport is essentially a ruggedized take on the Escape, which means that it'll have adventure-ready crossovers like the Subaru Forester squarely in its sights.

Importantly, this means that the Bronco Sport doesn't share the Bronco’s body-on-frame construction. Instead, the Bronco Sport shares the unibody of a typical crossover. Off-roading capability won’t be quite as impressive, but the Bronco Sport will behave less like a truck and more like a car on-road.

Safety first. With both Bronco models, Ford has another obvious target in mind: Jeep. One area where Ford comes out clearly on top is safety technology.

Every Bronco Sport comes with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot monitoring – none of which are standard on, say, a Jeep Compass. Adaptive cruise control is on the Bronco Sport options list, too.

Inside the cabin, the Bronco Sport should feel as modern as a new Escape. The dash gets an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, which is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That said, you’ll never forget what you’re driving – the signature bucking bronco is placed front and center on the steering wheel.

Not your typical crossover. Although the Ford Bronco Sport isn’t as adventurous as its big sibling, it’s a step up from the Escape. That starts with all-wheel drive, which is standard on every trim.

In base form, the AWD system is fairly basic, shuffling power to the front or rear as necessary. Ground clearance starts at a relatively modest 7.8 inches, which is the same as the Escape.

Upgrade to the Badlands trim, however, and the story changes entirely. The Badlands uses a twin-clutch rear differential to simulate a mechanical locking differential, and it gets a terrain management system complete with mud and rock-crawl modes. Clearance goes up a full inch, thanks in part to beefy all-terrain tires. The Badlands costs about $6,000 over the base model, but we expect it to keep up with Jeep’s Trailhawk models when the pavement runs out.

Substance and style. Badlands excluded, the Bronco Sport resembles the Escape in most mechanical respects. It offers the same two engines: a 1.5-liter three-cylinder with 181 horsepower or a 2.0-liter unit with 245 hp and an extra cylinder.

The larger engine provides a worthy power boost, one that competitors like the Compass can’t match. It’s the engine that we preferred in the Escape, although either powerplant is competent. If the Escape is any indication, the Bronco Sport may see a hybrid option in the future.

In styling, however, the Bronco Sport resembles the boxy Bronco far more than the urban Escape. Roof rails and exposed cladding make sure everyone knows the Bronco Sport is ready for the wilderness – and Ford writes the name in large font across the grille, in case you forgot.

In this area, too, it seems that Ford is taking aim at masculine shapes like that of the Jeep Renegade. The Bronco Sport doesn’t have quite the rugged charm of the larger Bronco, but it has more flair than most crossovers in the segment.

Despite its angular body, the Bronco Sport doesn’t have much of an advantage in cabin space. Its cargo capacity is close to the Escape at 32.5 cubic feet, which lags behind rivals like the RAV4.

Final thoughts. The Bronco Sport will likely be overshadowed by its sibling, but it has enough personality to stand out in its own right. It blends crossover versatility with an adventurous personality, and the Badlands trim has the kit to back it up.

Off-road enthusiasts should still look to the Bronco first, but buyers who only tackle the occasional trail should consider the Bronco Sport as a worthy compromise.

Check prices for the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport »