Others are coming, but presently these two are the only (non-plug-in) hybrid players in the mainstream compact crossover segment.
Both are powered by a combination of 2.5-litre gas engines, electric motors and continuously variable transmissions.
Their fuel-consumption numbers are a wash: Ford, 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres combined city and highway driving; Toyota, 6.0. Yet they also diverge in unexpected ways. On the Toyota, all-wheel drive is standard and uses an electric motor to drive the rear wheels; on the Escape, AWD is optional, and it dispatches drive to the rear wheels mechanically via a driveshaft.
The grade walks are also different. Toyota offers the RAV4 Hybrid in four trims, ranging from $32,350 to $42,790, while Ford sells the Escape Hybrid in only the top Titanium trim, asking $38,049 with AWD. Our RAV4 sampler was the third-rung, quasi-sporty XSE trim, which, at $38,750, is priced a little higher than the top Escape, even before the $2,830 technology package.
All soft curves and smooth surfaces, the Ford looks distinctly car-like. It needs to do this, in order to win over potential buyers for the cars Ford no longer makes, and can afford to do so because a forthcoming sister model will cater to those who want their crossover to look more like an SUV.
The RAV4’s chunkier shape is inherently more SUV-like than the Ford’s, though the XSE trim layers on an asphalt-athlete veneer with a black grille and roof, larger (18-inch) black wheels and lower-profile tires.
A 10-way driver’s seat, standard on all except the base trim, provides ample at-the-wheel adjustability. Unique to the Ford, a rotary gear selector frees up centre-console storage space, while the Titanium trim includes a nicely rendered all-digital gauge cluster. The eight-inch touch screen is proudly free-standing, and screen-based functions are easy to use – but thankfully not mandatory in the case of basics such as audio, heating and air conditioning. In the eyes of some, however, fit and finish are a tad low-rent. Rear-seat space ranges from generous to voluminous, thanks to a sliding seat (though Hybrids have about 50 millimetres less rear legroom than conventional gas Escapes).
Visibility is outstanding at the wheel of the RAV4, and there’s no Prius-style weirdness to the cockpit. Only the hybrid-typical digital gauge cluster, with a digital speedometer, and hybrid power gauge in place of a tachometer, is notably different from other RAV4s (though we would have liked a clearer indication when running in electric-vehicle mode). The shifter is a conventional handle, and although Toyota’s screen logic isn’t the most intuitive, there’s plenty of hard-button redundancy. Rear-seat room is par for the class, though it can’t match the Escape’s seats-slid-back legroom, and the hip-room measurement seems oddly tight.
Our only drive in the Escape was a 73-kilometre rural amble in warm weather, which (unfairly) helped it achieve a remarkable 42 per cent of the trip in EV mode, to yield an average 5.6 L/100 km. Don’t expect to duplicate that in long-term daily driving. The Escape didn’t need favourable conditions to establish its dynamic merits, namely a gas engine that’s nicely muted even when it is running, a pliant ride and steering that encourages keen drivers to exploit its lithe chassis.
With more system power, the RAV4 should be a little quicker than the Escape, and that’s confirmed by Car and Driver’s zero-to-97 kilometres an hour acceleration times of 7.3 seconds and 7.7 seconds, respectively. But the RAV4’s gas engine is noisier, even in moderate driving, and although the XSE’s sport-tuned suspension delivers taut, balanced cornering, lifeless steering dulls the fun-to-drive potential. Over a mid-March week, about two-thirds highway driving and the rest all short trips with cold starts, we saw a real-world 7.5 L/100 km.
Even the base Escape is well equipped with tech mod cons, but the Titanium goes above and beyond. Items the Escape has that the (more-expensive) RAV4 omits include fully automated parking, 4G LTE Wi-Fi and available head-up display (HUD), which projects speed and other information onto the windshield to minimize distraction. How does Ford do it? In part by making a glass sunroof optional; it’s combined with the HUD in the $2,300 Premium package.
The Toyota does include a standard moonroof, but its list of standard communitainment and driver-assist features is shorter than the Escape’s. That’s true even if you spring for the $2,830 Technology package to add items such as embedded navigation, wireless phone charging and rear cross-traffic alert, which are standard on the Escape. That said, the Toyota’s Tech package does include rear cross-traffic braking, not available on the Escape.
The regular Escape’s cargo dimensions are close to the RAV4’s, but the Hybrid loses some to battery storage. Cargo volumes are 34.4 cubic feet, max, when the rear seat’s up and 60.5 when it’s down. But the Escape does score on versatility as the rear seat slides fore/aft, though the Hybrid loses the gas model's two-position floor panel. A hands-free power liftgate is standard.
The RAV4 doesn’t lose any of its cargo space in Hybrid form, and it has the Ford beat by the numbers: 37.5 and 69.8 cubic feet, respectively. But it lacks the adjustability offered by the Ford, and only the Limited trim has a hands-free power liftgate.
Even if you have to pay extra for the roof skylight that’s standard on the equivalent RAV4, the Escape Hybrid seems a better value. We also found the Ford a little more pleasing to drive. That said, the Escape is very much a clean-sheet new design; you may want to pay a bit more for the peace-of-mind promised by Toyota’s reputation for reliability. Alternatively, you could also pay less for a RAV4 Hybrid by choosing a lower trim that has no equivalent in the Ford showroom.
Ford Escape Titanium Hybrid
- Price: (minimum/as tested): $36,549/$40,349
- Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder gas/88-kW electric motor
- Transmission/drive: Continuously variable/all-wheel drive
- Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 5.5 city/6.4 highway
- Alternatives: Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
- Price: (minimum/as tested): $32,350/$41,570
- Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder gas/88-kW and 40-kW electric motors
- Transmission/drive: Continuously variable/e-all-wheel drive
- Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 5.7 city/6.3 highway
- Alternatives: Ford Escape Hybrid, Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid
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