They might compete in two different segments, but the new Ford Bronco Sport and existing Jeep Cherokee have similar mission statements.
What we’re looking at here is the likely volume leader of the new Bronco family. As cool as the new Bronco is—very, and you should read our in-depth launch article about it—the realities of the current market suggest the Bronco Sport will sell in larger numbers. It’s the more everyday-friendly package, while still offering increased off-road prowess over anything else in the sub-compact class. In that way, it’s arguably more of a unique entry in the landscape.
That’s why we’re looking a class up for this comparison. Once we wade into compact crossover land, one model has clear similarities to Ford’s new model: the Jeep Cherokee. The Cherokee also aims for a happy middle ground between everyday crossover usefulness and the brand’s reputation for road-free adventures. Jeep has even gifted the Cherokee with its prized Trailhawk badge, a sign of its rock-crawling, river-fording abilities. Here’s how the other Bronco-versus-Jeep battle goes down on paper.
Bronco Sport: Ford will sell you a Bronco Sport with one of two turbocharged EcoBoost engines. A 1.5-liter three-cylinder produces 181 hp, 190 lb-ft of torque, and a charming three-pot thrum. The 2.0-liter engine straps another cylinder on, with a projected 245 ponies and stout 275 lb-ft. Both engines hook up to Ford’s eight-speed automatic transmission, with the larger engine option adding steering wheel-mounted shift paddles for the driver.
More importantly, the Bronco Sport only comes with four-wheel drive. There’s no front-drive options anywhere here, the clearest indication from Ford that while this is a crossover, it still deserves the Bronco name.
Cherokee: Jeep’s compact crossover offers a wider range of choices than the littler Ford. At the start of the model ladder is a 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated four-pot. It’s a close match for the Bronco’s triple, putting out 180 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque. Higher trims come with a 3.2-liter nat-asp V6, which bumps up power to 271 lb-ft and torque to 239 lb-ft. Jeep does offer a turbo engine option on most trims, also 2.0 liters in size. It gives up a single pony to the V6, but produces significantly more torque at 295 lb-ft. That’s usefully more power and torque than the Bronco’s identically-sized engine. No matter which engine you pick, you’ve got a nine-speed automatic sending the power to the wheels.
Unlike the Ford however, the larger Cherokee can come in two-wheel drive form. Front-wheel drive is standard on lower trims, though four-wheel is optional, and standard on higher trims like the Trailhawk.
Bottom Line: In terms of choice, the Cherokee wins: you’ve got two drivetrains and three engines to pick from. The Bronco Sport lineup is simpler, with 4×4 capability across the board and a choice of two engines. First blood goes to the Cherokee.
Bronco Sport: Staying on brand, Ford announced the Bronco Sport’s off-roading credentials as part of its debut, including things like ground clearance and water fording depth. In Badlands trim with the optional 29-inch all-terrain tires, the Bronco Sport boasts a best-in-class 8.8 inches of ground clearance. Its approach, breakover, and departure angles are 30.4, 20.4, and 33.1 degrees, respectively. Lastly, the Bronco Sport will ford through streams with a depth of 23.6 inches or shallower.
Cherokee: For the fairest comparison, we should look at the Cherokee Trailhawk here. Sitting on its own all-terrain tires, the Trailhawk features 8.7 inches of ground clearance. It’s practically a tie, but a win is a win for the Ford. In the angles race it’s a little less clear: with scores of 29.9/22.9/32.2 degrees, respectively, the Cherokee loses to the Bronco on both approach and departure, but has a larger margin of victory for the breakover angle. Water fording is set at 20 inches even.
Bottom Line: At least on paper, this looks like a close win for the Bronco Sport.
Technology and Features
Bronco Sport: Being the newer of the two vehicles, the Bronco Sport offers more standard safety tech than the Cherokee. For starters, the basic Co-Pilot360 suite includes automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, and auto high beams. There are two higher-up Co-Pilot360 packages (Assist+ and Assist 2.0), which add things like adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go), lane centering, and speed sign recognition.
An 8.0-inch touchscreen takes up residence in the center console, running Ford’s SYNC3 platform. That’s a one-size-fits-all approach for all trims, it’s important to note. Other optional convenience features include a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, power moonroof, and wireless charging.
Cherokee: The aging Jeep gets its first real black eye in this category, because its active safety suite isn’t standard across the board. A base-model, front-drive Latitude for example only offers blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as an option. Automated emergency braking isn’t standard until the $31,640 Latitude Lux FWD model, same with remote start. Adaptive cruise control simply isn’t available on any spec. 4×4 models do include a hill descent assist however, and all Cherokees feature a hill start aid.
An upgraded Alpine stereo is optional on lower trims, and standard on the mid-level Limited upwards. The Limited is also where Jeep’s 8.4-inch Uconnect shows up; lower down the trim totem you’ll find the smaller 7.0-inch item.
Bottom Line: Call this another win for the Bronco Sport. That’s not terribly surprising here, since the Cherokee debuted way back in 2013.
Interior and Cargo Space
Bronco Sport: Ford has withheld interior measurements for the Bronco Sport for now, making this an impossible one to call. What we do know is that despite being 10 inches shorter, the Sport’s wheelbase is only 1.5 inches shorter than the Cherokee’s. Pair that with a blocky silhouette and added width, and the amount of space for people and their gear could be close.
Cherokee: The Cherokee’s curvy exterior prioritizes style over interior space. There’s enough space for two adults in the rear row, but if you’re looking for the maximum amount of real estate for humans, other compact crossovers are the choice here.
That said, there’s an ample 39.4 inches of headroom in front of the Cherokee, and that shrinks only by an inch for second row occupants. Leg room has the same sort of gap: you’ll find 41.1 inches to stretch out up front and 40.3 to do the same in back. Jeep quotes a smallish 24.6 cubic feet of storage in the trunk, but you can drop the second row seats to liberate up to 54.7 cubes.
Bottom Line: We can’t call this one until we get official measurements from Ford.
Bronco Sport: We’re happy to report the Bronco Sport doesn’t look like a reskinned Escape with big-bro Bronco styling cues. The Sport is still boxy, but the proportions work on the smaller footprint, at least to our eyes. The bluff nose with its round headlights and intersecting DRLs make the family connection, while a tall greenhouse suggests great sight-lines out. A tidy rear treatment also allows the Sport to look less like a Wrangler than the regular Bronco, though we’d argue that’s down to the dual necessities of heritage styling and packaging for the bigger model.
Cherokee: Chances are you had a strong opinion on the Cherokee’s looks when it first arrived in the middle of the last decade. Jeep facelifted it for 2019, dropping the squinty headlights for more traditional—some may say boring—units. The angular wheel arches and distinctive rear treatment remain however, setting the Cherokee apart from other cars on the road and indeed within the Jeep lineup at large.
Bottom Line: As always, style is subjective. The fresher looks of the Bronco Sport sway us, though.
Bronco Sport: Ford is charging a premium for the Bronco Sport, no doubt in part due to its nature as a spin-off of one of the brand’s icons. The sub-compact actually lists for more than the larger Escape. MSRP plus destination is $28,155 for a Bronco Sport Base, versus $27,580 for an all-wheel drive Escape S.
That entry price will net you the 1.5-liter three-pot engine: an eight-speed auto and 4×4 drivetrain are standard no matter which trim you pick. Next up the ladder is the $29,655 Big Bend, followed by the Outer Banks at $33,655. The Badlands is only $500 more than the Outer Banks, and it’s the cheapest option to pick up the more powerful 2.0-liter turbo-four. As it prioritizes off-roading even more than the Outer Banks trim, the Badlands sticks to cloth seats, smaller all-terrain tires, additional drive modes for its Terrain Management System, and metal bash plates. At the top of the pile is the limited-edition First Edition. It combines the off-road chops of the Badlands with more interior amenities and unique styling elements. Ford will build just 2,000 First Editions, and it’ll set you back $39,995 if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one.
Cherokee: The Cherokee undercuts the Bronco Sport across the line. It starts at just $27,580, though it’s important to note that’s for a front-drive Latitude model. A 4×4 model will run you $1,500 more, and you’ll need an additional $1,945 to move up to the V6 engine. The Upland is the least expensive trim with standard four-wheel drive, requiring $32,460 for the 2.4-liter engine. Meanwhile the cheapest way into a standard V6 is the $31,640 front-drive Latitude Lux. Where it’s available, the turbo 2.0-liter engine is either $2,245 more than the 2.4-liter, or a $500 upgrade from the V6.
Looking for the most off-road-appropriate model? That’ll be the Trailhawk, which starts at $36,250 with the 3.2-liter V6. At the top of the pile is the Trailhawk Elite, which add leather and other interior niceties for a $3,440 premium over the regular Trailhawk. Opt for that and the turbo engine and you’re looking at a price tag of $39,945. It’s only $50 less than the Bronco First Edition—though every exterior color except white is an at-cost extra.
Bottom Line: In terms of metal-for-the-money, the Cherokee wins, with a lower entry point for the bigger model. That’s before we factor in any price gouging dealers might partake in, as well as discounts on the older Jeep.
If you’re looking for a smaller crossover that’s ready for the occasional off-road bash, it looks like Ford could have a winner on its hands with the Bronco Sport. It’s smaller than the Cherokee but its boxier shape should minimize any interior space differences between the two. It is pricier though, and offers less drivetrain options to fine-tune where it lands on the road/rocks spectrum.
One thing’s for certain: we can’t wait to find out how the two compare from behind the wheel when the Bronco Sport starts arriving in dealers in late 2020.