The all-new Ford Escape is soon to land in Australia. Can it make an impact against the Skoda Karoq and Toyota RAV4?
This is the new Ford Escape, the brand’s latest SUV. It’s an all-new model, and Ford has overhauled the car in every key area to give it the best chance of coming out on top in a very competitive sector. So we’re going to find out if it does exactly that in this comparison test in one of the first markets it has been released.
Here, we’ll find out how well Ford’s mild-hybrid tech works in the diesel hybrid, with the petrol plug-in hybrid arriving later in the year to our shores. More importantly, we’ll see how the new Escape stacks up in key areas such as practicality, kit, comfort and tech.
The Karoq and the RAV4 are some of our favourites in this class, so the Escape has a big task if it wants to beat its rivals. The Skoda offers lots of practicality for the price, and the Toyota drives well, so can Ford’s new Escape make its way into the top tier of mid-size SUVs?
Design & engineering
The Escape is based on Ford’s C2 platform, so it shares tech and chassis components with the Focus hatchback. This is very similar to the arrangement on its rivals; the RAV4 is related to the Corolla hatchback, while the Karoq and Octavia are closely linked. Each SUV shares traits with its family car sibling, too.
In the Escape’s case, it’s the car’s ride and handling which are strong points. This is thanks in part to MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear set-up, which helps with comfort and agility. The Escape also has a similar interior to the Focus; the large central touchscreen on the dash is the same, and even small features such as the gearlever and starter button will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a Focus. Interior quality in the Escape is good, matching both rivals here for the standard of its materials. The Toyota feels slightly better built, but with a more fussy design, while the Karoq’s look is plainer, but a bit classier.
The new Escape is well equipped in Titanium trim, because sat-nav is standard, along with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus lane-keep assist, LED lights, wireless phone charging and keyless entry.
Our test car is powered by a 2.0-litre diesel with mild-hybrid technology. This system recoups power under braking, storing it in a small battery and using it to boost efficiency in conjunction with the stop-start system. Ford calls this Escape a hybrid, but it’s a long way from the RAV4 here, because it can’t run on electric power alone – the PHEV will.
The torque advantage was reflected in our in-gear tests, because the Escape was the best performer. In fifth and sixth gears, the Ford went from 80-110km/h in 7.4 and 9.8 seconds respectively, which was a reasonable gap ahead of the Skoda’s 7.6 and 11.6-second times.
The Ford accelerated from 50-80km/h in 3.3 seconds in third and 5.1 seconds in fourth gear, which was identical to the Karoq. The CVT-equipped RAV4 doesn’t have gears as such, and took 2.8 seconds in that test, and 4.1 seconds in the 80-110km/h sprint.
In daily driving, the Escape is punchy and easy to drive, because you rarely have to change down a gear to speed up out of a town or village, for example. The low-down torque means you can squeeze the power on and get up to speed smoothly.
There’s more for the driver to enjoy here as well, since the Escape is great to drive for an SUV. There’s a bit of body roll, but it’s well controlled, and the car has plenty of grip, too. It’s not as playful as the lower-slung Focus, but it has a similar feel through corners. It’s composed and there’s a natural weight and plenty of precision to the steering.
While the Ford doesn’t ride quite as smoothly as the Toyota, it’s a match for the Karoq, so it scores highly in this section because it blends both aspects very well. There’s a little vibration over rough roads, but the dampers do a good job, especially at higher speeds.
As for the mild-hybrid system, it’s only noticeable in traffic, because it helps the stop-start system to react quickly. When the engine’s running, it’s quiet enough at a cruise, with a bit of background rattle, and only starts to sound harsh as you get higher up the rev range. There’s no reason to rev it too hard, though, because there’s a noticeable drop-off in power after 3,500rpm. It’s best to keep it relaxed. This is the case in both rivals, although in the Toyota that’s because of the CVT box rather than the engine itself.
The Escape has between 475 and 526 litres of boot space thanks to a sliding rear seat, adding some extra practicality.
The RAV4 has 580 litres – it’s very spacious – and the Karoq offers 521 litres. These are two of the most practical models in the family SUV class, but the Ford matches them with its added versatility touch. The boot is easy enough to access, and there’s room for three or four big suitcases.
There’s enough space in the rear for adults, too, but again the Escape drops back when compared with its rivals. The Toyota has more room, and the Karoq is the most spacious of all, thanks to neat packaging that makes the most of the space available.
The Ford returned 6.3L/100km on test, which works out at $2678 a year in fuel over 20,000km. We expect the Escape petrol plug-in hybrid, which can drive on electric power exclusively, will be more economical. The hybrid Toyota returned 6L/100km – at a cost of $2526 over the same period – while the Skoda returned 6.2L/100km for an annual fuel bill of $2626. Those figures are close enough that it won’t make too much difference which car you pick. They’re all pretty economical.
This latest Toyota RAV4 is available as a hybrid and here we’re testing it in entry-level trim since it’s closest to the Ford and Skoda on price – but standard equipment is similar.
Design & engineering
Toyota’s SUV uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine with an electric motor, and as with all other Toyota hybrids, it sends power to the wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This means it doesn’t have gears as such, and instead changes ratio continuously. It’s not much different in normal use than any other automatic gearbox, but it becomes more obvious when you need more power, because it holds the engine at a certain rpm for maximum acceleration.
The engine and electric motor combined produce 160kW, which is the most here. As with the Escape, the RAV4 is front-wheel drive only, despite its SUV shape – but most owners will appreciate the fuel economy gains, and won’t miss having four-wheel drive.
Under the skin is the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, which also underpins the C-HR, Corolla and Prius models. The RAV4 features MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear – a sophisticated arrangement that brings big benefits for ride and handling.
Inside, there are a few cheap-looking materials around the cabin, but build quality is good. The display on the dash looks dated and is a pain to use, but the Toyota is great at the simple things you do every day, such as changing the air-conditioning settings. The chunky buttons are well placed and easy to use when you’re on the move.
Standard kit is good even in the entry-level model. Every RAV4 features cruise control, lane-keep assist, a reversing camera and full smartphone connectivity (Android Auto and Apple CarPlay) as standard.
The RAV4’s suspension layout means that it’s surprisingly good to drive for an eco-focused SUV. It’s not quite as sporty as the Escape, with a bit more body roll and slightly less precise steering, but it’s far from wayward, and there’s plenty of grip.
Most importantly, it’s comfortable. Rough roads are noticeable in the Toyota but aren’t unpleasant, and it’s very smooth on the freeway. A high driving position means it feels bigger from behind the wheel than its rivals, although it’s no more difficult to manoeuvre around town.
The electric motor means it’s at its best in urban environments; the low noise levels are very relaxing, especially when the engine shuts off while cruising. It’s also silent while waiting in traffic, even if the all-electric running is more limited than we’d like.
When the 2.5-litre engine does come on, it’s a bit noisy. Sometimes it charges the battery up at idle, but it’s mostly because of the CVT gearbox.
If you require faster acceleration and put your foot down, it sends the revs soaring to maximise power. This is because the petrol engine under the bonnet doesn’t have a turbocharger, so its peak power comes quite high in the rev range, at 5700rpm.
It’s an unpleasant noise, but the Toyota is quite quick, so you’re soon up to speed and able to lift off the gas. The RAV4 was faster from 0-100km/h in our tests than its rivals, taking 7.8 seconds, while the Kuga and Karoq took 9.3 and 8.4 seconds respectively. It also went from 50-80km/h quicker than the others: the Toyota took 6.8 seconds, the Ford took 8.7 seconds, and the Skoda took 8.5 seconds.
Hybrid cars need somewhere to store their bulky batteries, but the RAV4’s boxy shape and SUV styling mean it hides them well. The boot floor is a little on the high side, but there’s still lots of room on offer, with 580 litres of space available. It’s bigger than the Escape and beats the Ford when it comes to total space with the seats folded, too.
Leg and headroom in the back are excellent, and even tall adults will be able to sit comfortably, thanks to the RAV4’s boxy shape and high roofline. However, the Toyota’s rear seat backs are quite reclined, so do check if passengers will be comfortable with this.
The driving position is good, with lots of adjustment and comfortable front seats. Standard-fit parking sensors and a reversing camera are useful for manoeuvring in tight spots, because rear visibility could be better.
The Skoda Karoq is a favourite family SUV. Available for this test is the diesel, with Australian models powered by a 110kW/250Nm petrol.
Design & engineering
The Karoq sits on the widely used VW Group MQB platform, so it shares parts with lots of other models, such as the Skoda Octavia and larger Skoda Kodiaq. There are MacPherson struts up front, and while front-wheel-drive models have a torsion beam at the rear, our test car’s four-wheel-drive layout means it gets a multi-link set-up. There’s not too much difference between the two configurations, though, because all Karoqs are good to drive.
Adaptive dampers are available. It lowers the car by 10mm and allows you to choose damper settings when cycling through the different driving modes.
While the Ford uses mild-hybrid tech and the Toyota is a full hybrid, the diesel engine here is entirely conventional. The 2.0 TDI motor produces 110kW, which is the same as the Escape’s, but there’s a bit less torque (at 340Nm to the Ford’s 370Nm).
The DSG gearbox drives all four wheels here, although we’d recommend a front-wheel-drive model because it will be cheaper to run, and few will need off-roading capability in a Karoq. It might be useful for towing, though, because it helps with traction on wet grass – and the Skoda has the highest towing capacity here, at 2100kg.
The Karoq’s interior has a neat, modern-looking layout. It could have a bit more flair, because it’s dominated by black plastics, but build quality is good.
The Skoda’s turbocharged diesel gives it lots of flexibility; unlike the Toyota, its auto box keeps revs low. Maximum torque arrives at 1750rpm, so cruising refinement is good.
The DSG gearbox is very good in most situations: it shifts swiftly and smoothly, and manual changes are quick enough. Unfortunately, it’s a little jerky and laggy at low speed, especially when the stop-start system cuts the engine. The box comes into its own when you consider acceleration, though, because the Karoq was quite a bit quicker at the track than the Ford, which has an identical power figure.
The Skoda took 8.4 seconds to go from 0-100km/h and 8.5 seconds to go from 50-110km/h, times helped by the quick shifts of the DSG box; the Ford took 9.3 and 8.7 seconds in those tests respectively. The Toyota was quicker than both because it’s the most powerful car here, but all three vehicles meet the minimum level of performance we’d expect from a family SUV such as these.
The Karoq is well controlled in corners and remains composed on country roads, keeping the worst potholes from crashing through the suspension. It’s good at speed too, and matches its rivals when it comes to comfort.
It’s not as good to drive as the Ford, though. Body roll is more controlled than in the Toyota, but the steering is numb and a little light, although it’s precise.
We’re testing a Karoq with a fixed rear boot space of 521 litres; models in Australia feature ‘Varioflex’ seating in the rear, which means the 60:40-split bench can slide forward and back, allowing you to prioritise load capacity or legroom.
Yet even without them there’s lots of room in the back of the Karoq. The high roofline and big windows mean it has an airy, spacious feel.
There’s up to 1630 litres of boot space available with the rear seats folded, which isn’t quite as much as the RAV4, but the Skoda is still a practical choice. It’s got the biggest towing capacity, as well as the tightest turning circle. It means the Karoq is the most manoeuvrable and easiest to drive.
First place: Ford Escape
The Escape is a great return to form from Ford. It’s still the family SUV for keen drivers, because it handles brilliantly, and is nearly as versatile as the Karoq, despite slightly less passenger room. The mild-hybrid tech boosts efficiency – and should be even better with the incoming PHEV – while strong infotainment, a good level of safety kit, equipment, and enough space for the family make it a solid mid-size SUV.