2020 Ford Escape vs. Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Crosstrek: Plug-in hybrid SUVs compared

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Between the Toyota and the Ford, could this be the year plug-in hybrid SUVs finally make sense?


Ford

Today we learned a bit more about the upcoming 2020 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid, including the SUV’s electric range and EPA-estimated fuel economy. Ford specifically called out the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime with its “best-in-class fuel economy” claim, so let’s see just how the two PHEV SUVs’ specs stack up. 

To put the numbers into perspective, we’ll also be taking a look at the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the plug-in Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid.

Powertrain

With an estimated 209 net horsepower, the plug-in Escape is the second-most powerful SUV on this list, which is interesting, since it’s also the only model that’s not available with all-wheel drive. Presumably, adding the plug (and the larger battery pack that comes with it) interferes with the standard Escape Hybrid’s mechanical on-demand AWD shaft, making the PHEV a front-drive only affair.

The “most-powerful” title of the day belongs to the RAV4 Prime with its combined 302 hp from its hybrid setup. At the front, you’ll find Toyota’s 2.5-liter gas-electric combo while the rear axle boasts an additional electric motor providing on-demand all-wheel drive. The Outlander PHEV features a similar setup with smaller gasoline and electric motors for a total of 190 hp. Compared to mechanical all-wheel-drive systems, electric AWD setups are typically more powerful (since they don’t leach torque from the front end), more compact (without the need for a physical driveshaft) and more efficient (since the rear motor is able to independently contribute to regenerative braking). 

Subaru’s use of its proven Symmetrical AWD system sort of makes sense from a cost-saving standpoint but, at just 148 hp, the Crosstrek Hybrid is the least potent model on this list — less powerful, even, than its own non-hybrid counterpart.

Powertrain

Engine Net power AWD
Ford Escape PHEV 2.5-liter I4 209 hp NA
Toyota RAV4 Prime 2.5-liter I4 302 hp Electric, on-demand
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2.0-liter I4 190 hp Electric, on-demand
Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid 2.0-liter H4 148 hp Mechanical, full-time

Batteries and range

The Escape’s 14.4-kilowatt-hour battery is about average-sized for this class, as are the 3.3 hours it needs to juice up at a Level 2 (240-volt) charging station. (With a standard 120-volt wall outlet, that increases to 10 to 11 hours.) However, without the weight and complexity of AWD to worry about, Ford has stretched the Escape PHEV’s electric range to an impressive 37 miles per charge — a very close second in this class.

The RAV4 Prime boasts the biggest battery. At 17.8 kWh, it’s packing about 24% more energy capacity than the Escape. However, with 100 more ponies and a second electric motor to feed, Toyota only manages to squeeze out two more electric miles than the Ford does. Toyota hasn’t stated charge times just yet, but we expect a Level 2 session to take around 4 hours.

WIth the smallest battery of the bunch (8.8 kWh), the Subaru also has the shortest range at just 17 miles per charge. The silver lining is that it almost has the shortest charge time, at only two hours on a Level 2 plug.

With 22 miles from its 12-kWh battery, the Outlander PHEV’s numbers are nothing to write home about, but it has a unique trick up its sleeve. The Mitsubishi is the only model in this roundup to support DC fast charging (CHAdeMO). At a compatible station it can slam up to an 80% charge (around 17.6 miles) in just 25 minutes. Admittedly, DC fast charging is less of a must-have on a PHEV (which also has a large gasoline power reserve) than it is on a dedicated battery electric, but it’s still a pretty neat trick.

Range and Battery

EV range Battery capacity Level 2 charge time Level 1 charge time DC fast charge
Ford Escape PHEV 37 miles 14.4 kWh 3.3 hours 10 to 11 hours NA
Toyota RAV4 Prime 39 miles 17.8 kWh TBA TBA NA
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 22 miles 12.0 kWh 3.5 hours 8 to 13 hours 25 min to 80%
Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid 17 miles 8.8 kWh 2 hours 5 hours NA

Fuel economy

The whole point of this hybrid hullabaloo is improved fuel efficiency, but with plug-in hybrids your mileage may vary by a significant degree depending on your driving and charging habits. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tries to clear up confusion by separating estimates for initial electric operation in miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) and subsequent hybrid driving in miles per gallon (MPG), so that’s what we’ll be looking at.

Ford’s announcement of 110 MPGe for the Escape’s initial electric miles rockets it to the head of the class. And once the battery is depleted, the SUV is still good for a class-leading 41 mpg until you plug in again or the tank runs dry.

Toyota’s claimed 94 MPGe for the RAV4 Prime makes it a fairly close runner up — Toyota hasn’t yet stated the Prime’s regular hybrid economy — followed by the Subaru at 90 MPGe on battery power and 35 mpg during hybrid operation.

The Outlander’s 25-mpg hybrid operation estimate is, frankly, pretty meh and not much better than the average non-hybrid SUV in this class. The 75-MPGe plug-in efficiency estimate, however, still presents the potential for significantly better average economy over a non-hybrid for those who take the time to plug in regularly.

Fuel Economy

Electric (MPGe) Hybrid (mpg)
Ford Escape PHEV 110 41
Toyota RAV4 Prime 94  TBA
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 74  25 
Subaru Crosstrek PHEV 90  35 

Dimensions and Capacity

Belonging to the same class, it’s no surprise that all four SUVs are about the same size. The Escape boasts the longest wheelbase at 106.7 inches, while the 184.8-inch Outlander claims the longest overall length. The Subaru is the shortest by both measures with its 104.9-inch wheelbase and 175.8-inch overall length.

Dimensions

Length Width Height Wheelbase
Ford Escape PHEV 180.5 in. 74.1 in. 68.6 in. 106.7 in.
Toyota RAV4 Prime 180.9 in. 73 in. 67 in. 105.9 in.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 184.8 in. 71.3 in. 67.3 in. 105.1 in.
Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid 175.8 in. 71 in. 62.8 in. 104.9 in.

Cargo capacity, we’d wager, is a much more important metric for SUV buyers and the RAV4 Prime is the most capacious model here with 37.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind its second row. And where most PHEVs typically sacrifice some space due to their larger battery packs raising the cargo floor, the RAV4 locates its battery beneath the floor, so there’s no spacial sacrifice compared with a non-hybrid.

We’re estimating the Escape PHEV’s 34.4-cubic-foot capacity based on that of the plug-free hybrid with the assumption that its bigger battery will tuck into the area where the AWD system once lived, but we think even a more conservative guess would still place it second in this class. The Outlander ditches the third row of its non-hybrid counterpart to make room for the battery, retaining a respectable 30.4 cubes for storage. (You’d think being the largest of this bunch would net it more of an advantage.)

Once again, the Subie is the runt of the bunch with just 15.9 cubic feet of space behind its second row. Its already small wagon-like shape loses almost 5 cubes of capacity to the battery pack — a compromise necessitated by the mechanical AWD — making it the least desirable choice for hauling bulky items.

Cargo capacity

Volume, seats up Volume, seats flat Battery intrusion (vs. non-hybrid)
Ford Escape PHEV 34.4 cu-ft (est.) 60.8 cu-ft (est.) -3.1 cu-ft (est.)
Toyota RAV4 Prime 37.6 cu-ft    69.8 cu-ft    0 cu-ft
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 30.4 cu-ft    62.8 cu-ft -2.6 cu-ft
Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid 15.9 cu-ft    43.1 cu-ft    -4.9 cu-ft

Pricing

The $35,145 Crosstrek Hybrid struggles even compared to its own non-hybrid analog. We just don’t think its efficiency gains are big enough to justify the compromises to power, price and capacity. Meanwhile, the $36,295 Outlander PHEV rides in the middle of the pack. It certainly has its charms, but doesn’t shine particularly.

The 2020 Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid’s pricing at “under $35,000” should make it an enticing choice. It’s the most efficient model in this bunch and undercuts ’em all on price. On the other hand, this is also the only competitor here that doesn’t feature AWD. For American SUV buyers, this could be seen as a pretty big shortcoming.

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime will be the most expensive model in today’s comparo when it hits the road later this year with a $38,100 sticker in tow. However, for the money, it’s also shaping up to be the best pick. The Prime is the most powerful and most capacious of the bunch and is only just a hair less efficient than the Escape. Based solely on the numbers, we think we have a winner.

Price

Base price Destination charge
Ford Escape PHEV $35,000 (est.) TBA
Toyota RAV4 Prime $38,100 $1,120
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV $36,295 $1,195
Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid $35,145 $1,010

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