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Battle of the hybrid family SUVs: Toyota RAV4 to be rumbled by new Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander and Eclipse Cross, and Ford Escape

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has prompted a rush among rival carmakers to get their affordable electrified models to Australia.

Get ready for a wave of affordable family friendly mainstream mid-size SUVs over the next 12 months, as carmakers enviously eye off the incredible sales success of – and long waiting queues for – the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.

While reluctant to publicly acknowledge Toyota for finally convincing Australians to embrace electrification en-masse since the RAV4 went hybrid in 2019, the head of one rival brand admitted that their plans to follow suit have taken on a new urgency.

“While I wouldn’t say Toyota’s success has directly been responsible for our coming hybrids, because they were scheduled for introduction to Australia long before the RAV4’s release, it is yet more validation that we are on the right track,” they said. 

"And for this we are grateful."

With the RAV4 hybrid setting the battleground in the mid-size-SUV segment, the field of similarly sized hybrid models using various forms of electrification is about to get much bigger.

Here are five of our most-anticipated affordable hybrid mid-size SUVs.

2022 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross PHEV

Some say the extensively redesigned Eclipse Cross has transformed from ugly duckling to beautiful swan, and the aesthetic changes certainly do make the small-family targeting compact SUV from Japan a more appealing prospect.

But the big news is the Series II version’s acquisition of Mitsubishi’s lauded plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) powertrain.

The 2022 Eclipse Cross uses the same twin-motor all-wheel-drive system as the larger Outlander PHEV, so it’s a proven technology, with an electric motor up front and one on the rear axle, as well as a large-capacity drive battery and a 2.4-litre internal-combustion engine (ICE) under the bonnet, for an electric-only driving range of more than 50km.

As the Eclipse Cross sits beneath the Outlander, expect PHEV prices to start from under $40,000, reaching upwards of $50,000, when sales commence in Australia later next year.

Toyota, by the way, offers a RAV4 PHEV elsewhere as the Prime or Plug-in Hybrid, but that has yet to be pencilled in for Australia. The success or otherwise of the Mitsubishi rival may determine if or when that happens.

2022 Nissan X-Trail e-Power

The fourth generation of Nissan’s evergreen mid-size SUV will debut as a 2022 model with e-Power, a form of hybridisation where an electric motor drives the wheels while an on-board ICE only ever acts as a generator for recharging. It is not yet clear what size or capacity that engine will be.

The battery is comparatively small compared to a regular EV, and there are no cords or plugging-in required, helping to save packaging space inside the car, keep prices down generally and eliminating the inconvenience of having to find a charging station, all while the potential range between petrol refills is multiplied.

Yes, e-Power isn’t quite as sensationally economical on paper as a plug-in electric vehicle hybrid (PHEV), but such a system is generally more frugal on fuel than a conventional series-parallel hybrid as per Toyota’s, and up to 1.5 times more efficient than a normal ICE.

2022 Nissan Qashqai e-Power

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Set for a global unveiling sometime late in 2020 or very soon after the new year, the 2022 Qashqai will mirror its closely related all-new X-Trail big brother in also adopting the plug-less e-Power petrol-electric powertrain, but within a more style-orientated and compact package designed for smaller families and urbanites.

Reports suggest that the Qashqai e-Power may employ a new 1.5-litre ICE to charge the lithium-ion battery pack, though that has not been confirmed. It’s also speculated that the current model’s diesel will be dropped altogether to make room for e-Power globally.

For Australia, the third-generation Qashqai will follow its 2014 predecessor as well as the 2008 Dualis original in being sourced from the United Kingdom rather than Japan, and so will be highly specified with all-new high-tech multimedia and the latest in driver-assist technology, for it must battle premium European alternatives chasing after the same buyer.

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

In some ways, the existing Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been as seminal as the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S in introducing mainstream buyers to the pros (and cons) of electrification. Available globally since 2013, it is now history’s bestselling PHEV.

Early next year will reveal a complete redesign, brandishing an all-new body and interior, as well as big strides in refinement and driveability. See the 2019 Engelberg Tourer concept for the styling direction the 2022 Outlander is taking.

We also hear that the CMF Common Module Family C/D architecture also underpinning the 2022 Nissan X-Trail and Qashqai will find its way underneath Mitsubishi’s mid-size SUV, as the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance strives for improved efficiencies to stave off crippling losses.

While the ICE versions are slated to gain some Nissan engines, it is widely rumoured that a variation of the current Outlander PHEV’s 2.4-litre ICE will be utilised in the next-gen version… which means that both X-Trail and Qashqai will also gain PHEV tech to sit above the coming e-Power versions mentioned above.

2022 Ford Escape PHEV

OK. Pending Ford’s ability to address the overheating concerns and alleged fire risk affecting early models overseas, the Spanish-built and German-engineered Escape PHEV is now on track for an Australian release late next year. This is a 12-month delay that undermines what could be the driver’s PHEV of choice.

Behind that gaping grille is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder ICE, while an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack combo is good for more than 50km of zero-tailpipe-emissions driving. Together, the PHEV powertrain is said to average just 1.5 litres per 100km.

Right now, only the $52,940 ST-Line grade is electrified, but by the end of 2021 Ford may see the wisdom of broadening that PHEV range in a downward direction, for a much-needed uptick in sales. We sure hope it does.