Two compact crossovers going head-to-head

Ford has just launched an all-new, fourth-generation Escape crossover, a model known as the Kuga in Europe and some other markets. The vehicle enters one of the most competitive and hotly contested segments where all rivals are hugely talented (there really isn’t one bad car to speak of) and picking one above all others is by no means an easy task. But if you were to choose an important rival to compare the Escape to, then that has to be the aggressive-looking Toyota RAV4.

Toyota went for a dramatic visual reinvention of the RAV4 for its fifth generation since the model had really become rather boring to look at in its previous incarnation. Frankly, no subsequent RAV4 had anywhere near the visual flair of the first generation model, a car that looked better without painted bumpers and side trim - that’s how quirky and cool it was. Now, thankfully, the latest RAV4 tries to rekindle that flame, albeit with fresh, edgy styling that makes it look contemporary, although it doesn’t look visually related to the original RAV4 in the way older generations did.

The Blue Oval, on the other hand, didn’t want to risk anything with its new Escape, so it made the vehicle look pretty much exactly like a puffy high-riding Focus. That’s literally all there is to its design, so in this respect, the RAV4 is already starting to look like the more daring, flamboyant option, yet being a Toyota, it doesn’t automatically have associated shortcomings.

Exterior

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While the previous Toyota RAV4 was dreadfully dreary to look at - a big departure from the playful 1990s original - the latest model is certainly a noticeable presence. Whether you like it or not, its blend of strong creases and sharp lines will grab your attention from any angle. Basically, it went from it’s and forgettable to in-your-face, daring, and polarizing all in the jump from one generation to the next.

The Ford Escape, on the other hand, has been growing more dull and conservative with each generation, and the very latest one is no exception.

It is a predictable mix of current Blue Oval styling elements that really doesn’t grab your attention like the Toyota does. It is, therefore, the more restrained looking of the two, and the car you are more likely to pass by unnoticed in if that’s something you want to do.

These two vehicles feature very different approaches to the problem of designing and styling a compact crossover, and chances are that by the end of the exterior visual analysis, you will have a clear favorite... or you won’t like either of them.

Front

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The Escape has very high-set front light clusters that almost look as if they’re sitting on top of the car’s snout, instead of being integrated into the fascia. And speaking of snouts, the Escape’s grille is about the most memorable part of its front end design, especially since it looks like it’s upside down compared to other modern Fords.

There’s not a lot going on with its fascia, and for some, the restrained design will be much more pleasing to the eye than what Toyota is proposing with its new RAV4 whose front fascia is the exact opposite of the Ford’s.

While the Escape doesn’t have any details that don’t need to be there for a functional purpose, the RAV4’s front end looks like it was styled by a highly disciplined katana-wielding ninja sculptor - I think it’s really good, nicely straddling the line between boring and overstyled.

The Toyota RAV4, like the Escape, has a tall fascia with fairly high-set headlight clusters, yet because the hood visually extends over them, it doesn’t look as tall as the Ford. Its grille is split into three parts with a small slat on the very top, then the actual grille and then another opening further down on the bumper. It’s definitely more interesting than the Ford’s design and, to my eye, no less attractive; quite the contrary, actually.

Side

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While both vehicles may have very vertical looking front areas, when viewed from the side, from then on, the Ford has a much smoother, more flowing design than the Toyota. The Escape has nice proportions, and it is pleasant to look at, although compared to the RAV4 it looks much less like an SUV and more like a raised hatchback - that’s neither a negative nor a positive point in my book, but it is worth mentioning.

The RAV4 looks every bit the little SUV, though.

It visually sits higher off the ground through the way it’s designed (even though its ground clearance is only marginally larger than the Escape’s).

Plus, it’s got those pieces of bare plastic cladding around the wheel arches, the side sills and really all around the lower edge of the vehicle. The Escape has this too (although not in the Kuga ST Line spec for Europe that gets body colored plastic trim), but it somehow looks less rugged and capable, even though we don’t yet know just how capable it is off-road.

Regarding the two vehicles’ rooflines, the RAV4 appears to have a more flat roof that should translate into excellent headroom for passengers in the back, while the Escape does taper off more towards the rear and this could make it less capable at carrying people wearing tall hats in the back.

Rear

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Moving to the rear, the RAV4 again pulls the mini SUV visual trick, while the Escape just looks like a taller hatchback. I again feel the need to mention that in my view, neither approach is good or bad, but each lends its respective vehicle a very different look and feel. And I’m sure this is probably reflected in their character too, as the RAV4 should be the better vehicle out of the two for going off-road.

What’s interesting is that they both have very similar light cluster designs, just rendered in the two cars’ different styles (as well as similar proportions when viewed from behind).

The Toyota’s lines are more angular and more defined, while those on the Ford are more rounded to fit with that car’s overall aesthetic.

In fact, there are many similarities between the two cars’ rear end design - the main difference is that one is smoother and more rounded, while the other is edgier with more clearly defined edges and creases.

Even the design of the lower bumper and the places where the tailpipes exit seem to be very similar, as is the placement of the number plate. Essentially, the have similar design cues (and strikingly similar rear light cluster), but their different styles do set them apart quite a lot from the back.

2020 Ford Escape 2019 Toyota RAV4
Wheelbase 106.7 105.9
Length 180.5 180.9 inches (LE, XLE, XLE Premium, and Limited), 181.5 inches (Adventure)
Width 74.1 73 inches (LE, XLE, XLE Premium, and Limited), 73.4 inches (Adventure)
Vehicle height 68.6 67 inches (LE and XLE), 67.2 inches (XLE Premium and Limited), 68.6 inches (Adventure)
Track, front curb 62.4 63 inches (17-in wheels), 62.6 inches (19-in wheels)
Track, rear curb 61.8 63.7 inches (17-in wheels), 63.3 inches (19-in wheels)

Interior

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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Both cars have very contemporary and pleasant interiors, but of the two it’s actually the Ford Escape that feels like the more luxurious place to travel.

The Toyota RAV4 looks perhaps even more modern, but due to the broad use of hard, scratchy plastics inside, you run the risk of actually touching one of them, and at that moment any and all feeling of it being a premium vehicle fades away.

But the RAV4 is a Toyota, so it’s screwed together almost flawlessly, giving off a distinct air of durability and dependability. I say ‘almost flawlessly’ because as some reviews have shown, some parts are not quite as solid as they could be. The center console, for instance, moves from side to side if you try to move it and this isn’t really something you’d expect from a Toyota. Its interiors are usually rock solid regardless of what interior element you may decide to try to push or pull on.

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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Life aboard the new Escape, especially if you spec it right, feels ever so slightly more upmarket.

There are more soft-touch materials in its cabin than there are in the RAV4 and it does minimalism better too.

One area where the Ford looks far better regards the infotainment screen placement and integration.

In the Ford, the infotainment is displayed on an eight-inch touchscreen display, while in the Toyota it’s either a standard seven-inch or optional eight-inch screen, so in terms of size, they are evenly matched. However, with the way Toyota has designed and placed the buttons around the screen’s bezel, it looks like something you’d expect to see in an early-2000s Mitsubishi, not a brand new generation crossover that’s entering a competitive market segment where any mistake will result in an advantage for the competition.

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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At least the Entune 3.0 multimedia system that comes as standard on the RAV4 has most the functionality and connectivity you’d expect, including Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay and even Amazon Alexa voice commands.

But overall, the ambiance inside the new RAV4 also depends on whichever model you go for - the top of the range Limited trim with two-tone leather and the optional panoramic glass roof looks quite different inside than a base SE and is far more attractive.

But all RAV4s have plenty of cool design touches inside that still make the vehicle highly recommendable. Firstly, I really like the nice rubberized surrounds for the climate control and infotainment dials. Then there is just the practicality of the thing - huge door pockets, cavernous glovebox, and center armrest cubby, plus it’s also very comfortable to travel in as well; an improvement over the generation it has replaced.

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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By contrast with the RAV4’s cutting edge feeling cabin, the Ford’s feels more traditional and restrained. There are no dramatic design details here, but it blends classic and new features brilliantly. The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is integrated exactly like you would have done for regular dials - it has the same cowl above, and the rest of the dash surrounding it feels, familiar and non-threatening.

Ford has aimed for serenity while traveling and the Escape’s interior does a good job of achieving that.

According to official measurements, the Ford has 56.7 inches of front shoulder room, 55.8 inches of rear shoulder room, while headroom in the rear is 40.4 inches. The Toyota has 57.8 inches of front shoulder room 56.4 inches of rear shoulder room and 39.5 inches of rear headroom in vehicles equipped with the optional panoramic roof, so they are actually extremely evenly matched; you couldn’t make the decision to pick one over the other just based on interior passenger space.

2020 Ford Escape 2019 Toyota RAV4
Headroom front/rear inches 40.0/39.3 39.0/39.5
Legroom front/rear inches 42.4/40.7 41.0/37.8
Shoulder room front/rear inches 57.6/56.0 57.8/56.4
Hip room front/rear inches 55.2/53.3 54.3/47.7
Total passenger volume cu. ft 104 98.9
Cargo vol. behind first row cu. ft. 65.4 69.8
Cargo vol. behind second row (maximum) cu. ft. 37.5 37.6

Powertrain

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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Ford has made it clear that its aim is to sell as many electrified versions of the new Escape as possible. Firstly, though, the all-new Escape is on average 200 pounds (91 kilograms) lighter than the previous model, so all versions of it will be better on fuel and faster gauged against the exact same versions of the previous model.

But it’s still the hybrid powertrains that everybody seems to be talking about, and the first one is the non-plug-in hybrid model that mates a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle gasoline engine to an electric motor, currently available only in front-wheel drive guise (although later an all-wheel-drive option will be added by 2020). The setup provides 198 combined horsepower, it allows for a top speed of 85 mph / 136 km/h in pure EV mode, although it can’t go very far like that.

If you want to travel longer on electricity alone in your all-new Escape, then the plug-in hybrid is the model for you. It has a claimed range of 30 miles / 49 km, thanks to a 14.4 kWh battery pack and with 221 horsepower on tap, it should be pretty brisk on the move too. Ford says the Escape PHEV’s battery should fully charge from fully-drained to 100 percent in no more than 11 hours using a Level 2 wall charger.

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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But those who prefer a non-electrified model still have plenty to choose from. The entry-level gasoline engine is the three-cylinder 1.5-liter EcoBoost with 118, 148 or 187 horsepower and cylinder deactivation. Or, if you want more shove, then the 2.0-liter EcoBoost with 250 horsepower will provide hot hatch-like acceleration. All-wheel drive and automatic transmissions are available on higher-powered models.

Diesels are still on offer for the European market where buyers will be able to choose between the EcoBlue Hybrid mild hybrid powertrain that runs a 148 horsepower 2.0-liter diesel and has a belt-driven starter/generator that does away with a traditional alternator thanks to the use of a 48V electrical system, as well as a more powerful 187 horsepower 2.0-liter diesel or a weaker 118 horsepower 1.5-liter diesel.

2020 Ford Escape drivetrain specifications

1.5L EcoBoost 2.0L EcoBoost 2.5L FHEV 2.5L PHEV
S, SE, SEL SEL,Titanium SE Sport, Titanium SE, SEL, Titanium
Configuration Aluminum block and head, In-line 3 cylinder Aluminum block and head, In-line 4 cylinder Aluminum block and head, Atkinson-cycle I-4 Aluminum block and head, Atkinson-cycle I-4
Bore and stroke 3.31 x 3.54 in. 3.44 x 3.27 in. 3.50 x3.94 in. 3.50 x3.94 in.
Displacement 91.4 cu. in./1,497 cc 122 cu. in./1,999 cc 152 cu. in./2,488 cc 152 cu. in./2,488 cc
Compression ratio 10.0:1 9. 3:1 13.0:1 13.0:1
Horsepower (targeted) 180 hp 250 hp 198 hp 209 hp
Torque (targeted) 177 lb.-ft. 275 lb.-ft. N /A N /A
Transmission 8-speed automatic 8-speed auto with SelectShift® with paddle shifters PowerSplit: Electronic Co ntinuous Variable Transmission PowerSplit: Electronic Co ntinuous Variable Transmission
2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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Toyota, on the other hand, has completely removed oil burners from its new RAV4 engine lineup, even in Europe where diesel-powered examples were still finding homes. But now, the Japanese giant is putting all its eggs in a hybrid basket for those who want the most frugal version possible. For most markets, only the hybrid is offered, and some select markets do get the 2.5-liter four-cylinder with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

But it’s clear that Toyota not only expects the hybrid to be the big seller, but it is actually pushing for it - in fact, they advertise it as “All SUV. All Hybrid,” so the intention is pretty clear.

The RAV4 Hybrid has 219 horsepower combined from its four-pot and electric motor.

Unlike with Ford and its Escape designed to be driven mostly on tarmac, Toyota encourages drivers of the new model to actually take it off-road.

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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It even offers three flavors of all-wheel-drive system - there’s the standard on-demand system with the usual front-wheel drive, automatic all-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive lock modes. Then there’s the hybrid model which is essentially a front-wheel drive vehicle with rear wheels powered by electric motors. And there’s also a third option, available for higher spec models that come with more features including torque vectoring.

So when it comes to powertrain choices, the Ford has the Toyota beaten. It simply offers more choice (that includes and exceeds what Toyota offers) and in the current market context (when people in Europe and other places are still buying diesels), the Escape / Kuga is just a more appealing, well-rounded package than the Toyota RAV4.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Drivetrain And Performance

Toyota RAV 4 Drivetrain Specs
Engine 2.5-liter Gasoline 2.5-Liter Hybrid
Horsepower 203 @ 6600 176 @ 5700
Torque 184 lb-ft @5,000 163 lb-ft @3,600
Electric HP N/A 172 (f &r)
Electric Torque N/A 238 lb-ft (f & r)
Transmission Eight-Speed Auto CVT
Drivetrain Layout FWD or AWD AWD Only
0-60 mph 8.2 seconds 7.8 seconds
Top speed 130 mph 130 mph

Pricing

Ford has not announced pricing for the new Escape / Kuga, and since the entire model structure is now different, the pricing scheme will be inherently different too. The current model starts from $24,105 in the US, while in Europe, the base price for one is just over €20,000 (it slightly varies from market to market).

The new Toyota RAV4 has already been on the market for a few months, and it can be had in the States from $27,700, while in Europe it kicks off at around €27,000. These are both prices for the hybrid version as it seems to be the main model on most markets.

Escape pricing estimated based on 2019 model
Model Price
Ford Escape S $24,105
Toyota RAV4 LE $25,500
Ford Escape SE $26,500
Toyota RAV4 XLE $27,300
Ford Escape SEL $28,445
Toyota RAV4 XLE Premium $29,500
Ford Escape Titanium $32,620
Toyota  RAV4 Adventure $32,900
Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid $33,700
Toyota RAV4 Limited $33,500

Final thoughts

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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The 2019 Toyota RAV4 and 2020 Ford Escape (or Ford Kuga in Europe) are two quite different answers to the same question. The former is a more aggressive, tougher contender that can and will take you off-road further than you expect, plus it also looks so much better than the outgoing model both inside and out. The latter is for those who prefer the look of a hatchback but who may need the higher ground clearance and additional space provided by a high-riding crossover.

The Escape is addressed at those who also enjoy driving their car quickly on a twisty road, an area where we’re positive the Ford will be much better than the Toyota, even without having even seen one in the metal yet.

The flipside of this is that you won’t be able to venture as far off-road in the Escape as you would in the RAV4, although exactly by what margin remains to be seen once these two vehicles are tested back to back.

The Ford also has the more upmarket looking and feeling interior, a lot more powertrain options that will attract a broader buying public and the image of being one of the best vehicles in its class to drive. The RAV4 is aimed at those who genuinely need a crossover as it really does what it says on the box - it takes you off-road and is pretty good on the road too, plus the latest one just looks so cool, especially if you get one of those special versions with factory off-road bits.

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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In terms of design, I think the Toyota RAV4 is better than the new Escape / Kuga because it’s more individual looking (it’s not a bigger or smaller version of a vehicle that’s already part of Toyota’s lineup) and it is more true to the crossover/SUV formula in that it is a vehicle you can still rely on once tarmac runs out and for those situations it is the clear winner.

But for buyers who exclusively drive their crossover in the city, the friendlier looking Escape might make more sense, especially with its multitude of available powertrains. You buy the Escape to take your family to the waterpark on weekends, if that’s your sort of thing, or you buy the RAV4 if you want to strap some mountain bikes to the back of it and take to the mountains, if that’s more your style.

Further reading

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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Read our full review on the 2020 Ford Escape.

2020 Ford Escape (Kuga) vs 2020 Toyota RAV4
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Read our full review on the 2019 Toyota RAV4.

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