If there’s been one success from a year in which we’ve seen a solid downtown in new car sales, it’s the Toyota RAV4.
The car that started the SUV trend 30 years ago has sold consistently well, with Toyota unable to get enough of the hybrid variants and the nameplate becoming the best-selling car on the Australian market for the first time in August 2020.
Both are counted as newcomers to the segment, with the Ford (below) coming in as an entirely new generation while Honda’s CR-V scores some subtle styling tweaks and new kit as standard.
The two of them certainly have the upper hand in terms of being newer, but is the substance there to trouble the Toyota?
Let’s pitch each against one another to see how the three compare on paper. For the purposes of direct comparison, we’ll look at the higher-specification end of the scale between the trio.
Equipment and Technology
The Ford Escape has experienced the greatest change of all, superseding a seven-year-old iteration in its predecessor.
With that comes a whole brace of new tech, equipment and safety features.
The most impressive updates are found in the overhauled interior.
The top-spec Vignale is positioned as the luxury-focused variant of the three-model range, featuring items like an 8.0-inch touchscreen with SYNC 3 and Apple Carplay/Android Auto connectivity, head-up display, leather appointed and heated seats, panoramic sunroof, power tailgate and advanced auto park assist.
All versions will also come with the FordPass Connect embedded modem as standard that brings remote vehicle functionality and connected services such as remote vehicle lock and unlock, key vehicle information and the ability to schedule your next service, all via a dedicated phone app.
In Honda’s corner, a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen takes pride of place in the centre stack, supporting Apple Carplay/Android Auto functionality and wireless phone charging.
The centre console has been redesigned for 2021, with improved storage spaces and easier access to charge ports, and the cabin on the high-end VTi-LX grade features seat heating, leather-appointed upholstery and power-adjustable driver's seat.
The comparable Toyota RAV4 Cruiser equips part-leather heated seats, power memory driver seat, JBL sound system, panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting.
It also has an 8.0-inch touchscreen for controlling interior functions and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone pairing.
Engine and Drivetrain
The Escape's volume-selling 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine – which is fitted to the Vignale range-topper – is used across the range, and produces 183kW/387Nm.
An eight-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the wheels.
It’s available with either front- or all-wheel-drive in the ST-Line and Vignale, and claimed combined fuel economy is 8.6L/100km.
A hybrid engine is available, though is only sold in ST-Line trim, and it won’t arrive until late 2021.
Upper-spec versions of the Honda CR-V use a 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder engine that sends 140kW/240Nm to all four wheels via a continuously variable transmission in the CR-V VTi-LX AWD.
MORE Toyota RAV4 review
The RAV4 Cruiser is powered by a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine that powers the front wheels only.
Outputs for that powertrain are 127kW/203Nm, which is down on rivals, though a hybrid option is available for the Cruiser specification for $2500 in front-wheel-drive form, or $5500 for AWD.
Safety ranks high on the Escape's feature list and the new model has been awarded the full five-star rating by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), with particular praise awarded for its autonomous emergency braking system (AEB).
It also features lane departure warning, evasive steering assist, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot detection, lane keep assist and a driver impairment monitor.
Honda’s Sensing active safety suite features on the CR-V VTi-LX, with items like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, AEB, and road departure mitigation system.
Autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, stability control, seven airbags, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors and rear seatbelt reminders are standard on all RAV4s.
Positioned as the luxury-spec variant with associated high-end trimmings, the Ford Escape Vignale is the most expensive in the range at $49,490 (plus on-road costs).
That said, the Escape ST-Line PHEV FWD will take its place when it arrives in late 2021.
The Honda CR-V VTi-LX AWD costs $2000 less (than the Ford) at $47,490.
While not available on VTi-LX spec, consider too that Honda is one of the few medium-size SUVs that is able to cater for seven passengers, should you opt for that seating arrangement in other specifications.
At $40,915, Toyota’s basic RAV4 Cruiser is a relative bargain in comparison, though it doesn’t match up spec-for-spec with the other two.
It has a smaller engine, has front-wheel-drive and doesn’t feature the same volume of equipment.
At $40,915 for a fairly high-spec Toyota RAV4, it makes for good buying. Even stepping up to the AWD hybrid version will only cost $46,415.
The RAV4 has the runs on the board with Aussie buyers; the brand holds strong appeal, the new, bolder interior and exterior design have resonated well, and the variety of drivetrains gives buyers choice.
Getting one in your spec and colour, though, may mean a bit of a wait.
Ford's great hope is the Escape, and it's a solid return to the mid-sized SUV ranks for a company that has definitely struggled in this area.
Lack of choice, especially with the delay in the hybrid version, may hurt sales in the short term, though the execution is good.
The CR-V, meanwhile, also has strong links with a loyal buying audience, and its more subtle styling will find favour with those not enamoured by the RAV4's more rugged looks.