Look only at the range figure, and very little separates the Ford Escape PHEV and the Toyota RAV4 Prime. Only eight kilometres. How each one got to that range figure, though, is a very different story, one that can completely change the economics of each one based on where you live. We'll get into that disparity, along with the other differences between these two popular plug-in crossovers.
Powertrain, Performance, and Economy
Starting with those plug-in electric powertrains. The RAV4 Prime relies on a 2.5-litres gas engine that makes 176 hp. Pair it with one electric motor that drives the front wheels and another that drives the back and you have 302 hp in total, enough to make the RAV4 Prime the second-quickest vehicle in the company lineup. On paper, at least. While it is quick on the road, it never feels quite as quick as the figures suggest it should, likely because much of that power is reserved for the last bit of pedal travel and compact crossovers don't exactly encourage foot-to-the-floor behaviour.
Ford also uses a 2.5-litre four, this one with 165 hp. Just one electric motor drives the wheels here, and that means two very important things. One, it makes just 221 hp in total and two, the Escape PHEV doesn't offer all-wheel drive. Ford says it might down the road, but for now the automaker felt that efficiency was more important to buyers than AWD, and that there's still a strong market share for front-drive crossovers.
The Ford driveline feels only slightly less powerful on the road while being slightly noisier when the gas engine is on. Both are similarly CVT-driven and the best we'll say here is that the torque of an electric motor does a great job of smoothing out CVT feel.
Ford's driveline feels more conventional than the RAV4, with a less pronounced transition into gas power and smoother regenerative brake operation. It's splitting hairs, though, and both perform well using electric power.
Between charges, Ford's efforts to push efficiency have paid off. Its 14.4 kWh is significantly smaller (thus lighter and cheaper) than the RAV4's 18.1 kWh pack, but delivers a 60 km estimated range to Toyota's 68. When you're using gas instead of electrons, it wins again, 5.8 L/100 km city vs 6.0. In our real-world driving conditions, which means well below freezing and winter tires, both managed around 40 km indicated on a full charge.
That 14.4 kWh pack will punish Ford in the value game, though, and we'll come back to it.
Toyota's overly-boosted steering feels odd compared with Ford's more traditional weighting. Especially when you're parking, when it's easy to slam the RAV4's wheel onto the steering stops, which is jarring to the vehicle and your hands. Both ride smoothly, and I'd say the Escape has a slightly softer ride, but both are comfortable and quiet, especially in electric modes.
On paper, these crossovers are very similarly-sized, but Ford's cabin feels much more spacious. Significantly more headroom, at least a pompom's worth on your toque in the front, makes the Escape more pleasant front and rear. We found Escape's larger (and flatter on top) door openings easier to get in and out of for driver and passenger both short and tall.
If you're looking for small stuff storage, phones, wallets, and the like, the RAV4's pair of dashboard shelves are a lifesaver, and we appreciate the clever detail Toyota has added.
Ford has given the Escape extra legroom for rear passengers by letting you trade knee space for cargo room. Have tall passengers and no gear? Slide the seat rearward. All cargo and short passengers, then slide it forward for more room in the back. Around 20 cm of slide makes quite a difference to adjust for your priorities.
Slide Ford's second-row back and you get 869 litres of space, slide it forward for 974, and fold the seats for 1,852, all accessed through a large opening. Toyota's cargo space is similarly easy-access and gives you 949 litres of room, making it largely a draw between the two. How much cargo the RAV4 carries with the seats folded is a mystery - Toyota doesn't like to print that figure for its models.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been must-haves for a few years now, and both of these crossovers offer them. They have WiFi hotspot access available as well for data sharing. Ford's 8.0-inch screen is an inch smaller than Toyota's, but the thin bezel (versus Toyota's excessively austere buttons surrounding the screen) makes it look larger. Ford's Sync3 system isn't the brand's newest, but it's still a generation ahead of Toyota's. It's brighter, more intuitive to use, and is much smoother and quicker in operation. The difference is as stark as dragging out a smartphone from 2010 and holding it to a new iPhone.
Both have the usual plug-in features like preconditioning, and while Ford's is slightly easier to use on-screen, the app is a better way to set it up for both. Neither did much to help you find charging infrastructure through the onboard navigation, leaving you to your own apps for some juice.
Both offer a head-up display if you climb the options list, along with an opening roof (Ford's is bigger). Both give you a heated steering wheel, too, but only Toyota offers ventilated seats to keep you chill in the summer.
On the active safety side, both get pre-collision systems with pedestrian detection as well as lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise, and blind spot alerts. All of the basics are on both, but Escape offers active park assist that can parallel or perpendicular park for you, they also offer Ford's Co-Pilot360 Assist+ that adds lane centreing to the assistance suite for highway driving along with Evasive Steering Assist, a last-chance assistance feature that can help you steer around a potential collision if there's not time to brake.
It's hard to go in two more different styling directions than Ford and Toyota have here. Toyota has leapt on the rugged styling of its 4Runner and Land Cruiser SUVs and applied that to the smaller package that is the RAV4. Chunky fenders and sharp lines translate to the interior where you'll find volume knobs with a tractor-tire-like coating. Toyota has also gone with sombre for the inside, which is available in black and black, with some dull-finish silver trim.
Ford gives you the option of brightening up with a sandstone cabin option. Faux maple wood trim is also offered, again adding some warmth to the Escape. Ford's interior feels more open than does Toyota's, we also found most controls easier to access and operate.
On the outside, Ford has abandoned the rugged styling of the original Escape models and leaned on making it less boxy and curvier. The Porsche-like styling is appealing, and Ford has the Bronco Sport (though not offered as a PHEV) for buyers wanting to look tough. We like Escape's styling, a friendly face in a world of increasingly (and overly) aggressive small crossovers.
Value is, ultimately, the tricky part with these two plug-in crossovers and their very different missions. Ford's choice to go for efficiency over ultimate range paid off and gave the Escape an electric range close enough for the difference to be negligible to the Toyota's in everyday driving while offering a lower sticker price and better fuel economy.
What Ford missed out on, by about half a kilowatt-hour, is the big government incentives. Toyota qualifies for an $8,000 incentive in Quebec and $5,000 federally. Ford misses out on the (especially arbitrary) 15 kWh battery size cutoff and so qualifies for just $2,500 from the feds and $4,000 from Quebec.
So even though an Escape SE PHEV starts from just $38,449 to the RAV4 Prime's $44,990, after incentives that Ford could end up being $31,949, the RAV4 would then be $31,990. That's for Quebec buyers, who benefit from the largest incentives in the country, so it's a best-case scenario (or worst case if you're Ford) in that province.
Buyers in Ontario (and most of the rest of the country) would see the Escape PHEV remain thousands cheaper than the RAV4 Prime, more than enough to put on the best winter tires to negate the Escape's front-wheel drive and pay for years of gas and electricity.
Ignore incentives, which can change at a campaign trail's whim, and a tarted-up Escape PHEV Titanium stickers for less than a base RAV4 Prime, offering much more equipment for that money. If you're in a hurry to get your PHEV, price might not even matter. We've heard that the popularity of the RAV4 Prime, along with a lack of supply, means there aren't any to be found and wait times are in the months or longer to get one, meanwhile plenty of dealers have Escape PHEV models on the lot.
Toyota's extra power and all-wheel drive appeal to our enthusiast sides, but Ford offers a much lower price - again depending on incentives - almost as much EV range, and better fuel economy when the power runs out. Tipping the scales in favour of the Escape, its interior is a much nicer place to sit and its infotainment offering is miles ahead. Give this one to the Ford, but either way, we'd pick these PHEVs over their gas and conventional hybrid counterparts.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.