2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid vs 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid

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In July 23, 2020
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A few years ago, this wouldn’t have registered as big news. Batteries made hybrids much more expensive, and their drive feel seemed like too much of a compromise to be worth the extra coin. Today, those barriers have largely been lifted, and making the switch to hybrid technology comes with ever-fewer drawbacks.

Take the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid for example. Since Toyota first brought the built-in-Ontario second-generation RAV4 Hybrid to market a couple of years ago, it’s offered a superior drive experience for roughly $2,000 more on average than gas-only models. That’s a gap that an owner can reasonably expect to make up over the life of a vehicle with the hybrid’s better fuel efficiency, which is probably why it’s so popular with reported delivery wait times of six months or more.

The XSE grade tested here — a sport-oriented model exclusively available as a hybrid — costs $41,750 as tested before the $1,815 freight and PDI, and its 163 lb-ft 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine combines with an 88 kW electric motor for a total system output of 219 hp. Until recently, there wasn’t much point in digging too deeply into these figures because the RAV4 Hybrid was an outlier in the segment anyway. But now, a new — or rather, a returning — challenger arrives on the green scene.

Jonathan Yarkony: In the Blue Oval corner, the Ford Escape Hybrid returns for 2020 after an absence of eight years to add yet another hybrid option in the small crossover segment, with a plug-in hybrid due to follow shortly. In those eight lost years, Ford had pinned their hybrid and electrification hopes on the dorky C-Max, a plan which failed abominably, and at the expense of greater volume for the incredibly popular Escape and continuing credibility for Ford in eco-friendly circles. North Americans may love European luxury brands, but they certainly have no taste for their small people mover body styles.

This Hybrid is a return to green credibility for the Ford Escape, and for this test we have a Titanium trim model ringing in at $38,049 with a premium package (panoramic sunroof, 110v power outlet, and head-up display) plus a couple other add-ons taking it up to a very similar $41,299 plus the $1,850 destination charge.

Power for the Escape Hybrid comes from a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine combined with an 88 kW electric motor — no, that’s not a copy/paste error, Toyota and Ford arrived at an eerily similar powertrain configuration. Ford is down on power compared to the RAV4, listing just 200 net hp and 155 lb.-ft. of torque, but it did not feel inadequate when it was time to put your foot down and merge with highway traffic. If anything, the Escape Hybrid might have a bit better throttle response, and it definitely has significantly less weight, tipping the scales at just 1,612 kilograms compared to the RAV4’s 1,703.

One thing I really liked about the Escape Hybrid was the driving coach in the gauge cluster, which showed you how much more throttle you could apply to keep it in EV mode with the engine shut off. However, when that engine did kick in, it was with a bit of a lurch and loud grumble, so we expected better of Ford in 2020. The RAV4 was much smoother and quieter when the gas engine comes online, and although the acceleration of the Escape was sufficient, the RAV4 had a little more to give and also seemed a little more effortless both in its acceleration and its handling. Where the Escape tends to be little rougher over broken pavement and bumps in the road, the RAV4 is more poised, absorbing impacts more soothly and quietly, its steering more accurate and feeling more controlled in corners and curves.

The weight advantage of the Escape also contributes to a slightly better fuel consumption rating, officially listed at 5.4 L/100 km in the city 6.2 on the highway, and 5.8 combined, while the heavier, more powerful RAV4 is just a tick behind at 5.7 / 6.3 / 6.0, respectively. In real world driving, the Escape landed just a little below 6, and the RAV4 just a bit over, so it was too close to say that one had a discernible advantage.

SW: Fuel efficiency is important, and especially so in this face-off, but it’s not everything, and cargo space can be a factor that makes or breaks a purchase decision for a lot of families. The dimensions of the RAV4 are slightly larger overall, but it’s in cargo area where the differences are the most evident. While the Escape clocks in at 974 litres behind the second-row seats, the RAV4 fits 1,059 litres — not a huge gap on paper, but it was enough for us to be able to fit nearly a full hockey bag extra. Drop those second-row seats and you’ll find 1,851.9 litres of space in the Escape but over 100 litres more in the RAV4 for a total of 1,977 litres.

Going back to the published specifications, the Escape claims more headroom in both rows — 1,016 mm and 998 mm respectively, versus a flat 958 mm in the RAV4 — a difference we suspect may be due to the panoramic sunroof, an option that’s not available in the latter. The Escape also claims more leg room at 1,077 mm in the front and 1,034 mm in the rear, as opposed to the RAV4’s 1,042 and 960 mm. But we agree that these figures don’t reflect our real-life observation that the RAV4 feels like the larger and roomier of the two.

JY: And it keeps getting better the farther forward you go in the RAV4, with a pair of truly hospitable front seats. The driver and front passenger seats are nicely bolstered and contoured, covered in synthetic leather and stitched in contrasting blue thread for a bit of a wow factor in terms of appearance. The bolsters aren’t too aggressive, so it’s still accommodating of wider bodies like mine, and does a better job of holding you in place in corners. The Escape’s seats aren’t objectionable or uncomfortable, but they don’t impress much either. They also feature contrasting stitching (white, in this case) and are lightly bolstered, though they are flatter and plainer.

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid

2020 Ford Escape Hybrid interior

Cabin storage is also close but with a slight edge to the RAV4. Both have well placed cupholders, supplementary USB charging ports in deep armrest cubbies, and trays below the infotainment and climate controls, but the RAV4’s wireless charging in that tray beats the Escape’s USB-C connector. The RAV4 also has an additional ledge in front of the passenger for pens, change, parking tickets, or other small items. The Escape’s shifter is a rotary dial, which frees up console space, while the RAV4 has a nice chunky shifter that is more conventional, and I for one prefer that.

SW: If there’s any one aspect of the Escape that could pull ahead of the RAV4, it’s the in-cabin tech. But here’s the thing: there’s nothing at all wrong with the RAV4’s more traditional gauge layout and rather average infotainment system. Both work well with decent usability, and the touchscreen includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone app compatibility (though adding embedded navigation requires adding the Technology package). These systems aren’t flashy, but they are functional and reliable.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid cockpit

The Escape, on the other hand, has a very snazzy-looking fully digital gauge cluster, and the head-up display projects onto a lifting plastic panel and is part of the same optional package as the sunroof. The SYNC 3 infotainment system integrates most functions into the screen, which tidies up the look of the centre stack by eliminating a lot of hard buttons. It also includes navigation as standard to go with those smartphone apps. But SYNC 3 is occasionally slow to load on start-up, and Jonathan couldn’t get it to acknowledge his phone to activate Apple CarPlay on some occasions. It’s prettier and arguably easier to use but, in our experience, isn’t as rock solid as Toyota’s system.

It should also be said that the rest of the Escape’s interior isn’t going to win it any beauty contests. The faux wood inserts don’t look bad in photos, but they aren’t quite as convincing in real life. And the notched look in the door panels only draws more attention to the amount of black plastic employed here.

JY: Yes, despite the leather interior, big panoramic sunroof, and top-notch displays, the Escape quality drops off in the spaces between. The switchgear doesn’t convey the same feeling of quality and even the head-up display was poorly positioned, displaying half on the hood of the car and half on the road, making it a bit tougher to read and slightly distracting. So even though Ford delivers some excellent content at a very similar MSRP (something they did not do in the past and in other segments), they come up a little short on execution, both in the interior and with the driving experience.

The Toyota RAV4 may have a more rugged look to the Escape’s sleek lines, but it’s the RAV4 that is more polished when it comes to interior quality, hybrid powertrain, plus ride comfort and handling. Both vehicles have an excellent array of driving and entertainment technologies, with backup cameras and sensors making parking easy and stress-free, adaptive cruise taking the leg work out of being stuck in traffic, and the hybrid operation saving gas and reducing emissions for a greener, cleaner footprint. But at the end of the day, the RAV4 seals the deal with its better refinement and superior practicality from that little bit more cargo space.

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