Toyota Kluger VS Ford Escape
- Quiet and refined
- GX is well-specified
- GXL and Grande are pricey for not much benefit
- Deeply ordinary entertainment system
- Sharp steering
- Sporty accessories
- Peppy engine
- Dated controls
- Tight cabin
- Harsh ride
Like the statues of Easter Island, the Toyota Kluger casts a huge shadow over the Australian motoring landscape. It's a strong seller for Toyota, having been around for ages and is one of three large SUVs in Toyota's armory next to the evergreen Prado and disappointing Fortuner.
Competition, of course, is growing ever more fierce. Hyundai is about to drop a new Santa Fe, the Kia Sorento gets better every year and more manufacturers are joining the party. Most notably, Mazda's CX-9 is also loaded with safety gear and a potent 2.5-litre turbo engine.
The intensity of the battle became apparent in my esteemed colleague Matt Campbell's recent comparison test where the Kluger came last behind the Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9, thanks largely to Toyota's reluctance to fit the same advanced safety features.
They heard Matt (that's what he reckons, anyway) and recently added some important safety tech to the 2018 Kluger. Let's have a look to see if it's enough.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Aussies are now favouring SUVs much more than sedans and hatchbacks, and no segment is more bountiful than for mainstream mid-sizers.
With cars such as the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 finding success by combining practicality, tech and a high-seating position, for small families looking to haul the kids and some gear over long distances, Ford’s Escape should also be in contention.
However, sales of the Escape have slowly decreased this year (possibly due to a new-generation model around the corner), but is the soon-to-be-superseded model lacking any crucial ingredients that will keep it off your consideration list?
We’ve got the Ford Escape ST-Line to find out if it has what it takes to hang with the best in the mid-size SUV segment.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The 2018 Kluger is still a very solid car, with tons of room for you and your things. And your family and their things. It remains way out in front (although the new Santa Fe is lurking menacingly) and the boost in safety gear will help ensure it stays there.
The pick of the range is still the GX which is now a much stronger proposition with the extra safety features. There's little of real interest in the higher models, you can't get better headlights (a curious state of affairs) or a better stereo, so it's difficult to understand the appeal.
The Kluger will serve you and your family well in a solid and unspectacular way. Given most of us like that in our cars, it's easy to see why it's a hit.
Does the Kluger's new safety focus do enough to lure you away from the competition? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Ford’s Escape ST-Line still proves to be a competitive SUV player so late in its lifecycle due its strong foundations.
While the only area it really excels at is its handling performance, thanks to the variant-specific changes, not everyone wants, or even appreciates, a sharper handling family hauler.
Other big letdowns are the in-car controls and in-cabin tightness, which look like they will be smoothed out in a new-generation model due to launch mid-year. But for now the current Escape is still a solid all-rounder.
The Kluger is handsome in a squared-off, what-are-you-looking-at kind of way. That big bluff front-end makes the car look rather bigger than it is, which is quite an achievement because it's pushing two metres wide and 1.73m tall. It's not the longest in its class, though, coming in at 4.89m.
Despite it hailing from the US, it's not too blinged-up, but neither is it CX-9 pretty. Some might find the grille reminiscent of a krill-hoovering whale or Bane from Batman, but it's certainly distinctive.
The cabin is like the exterior - nothing flash, but what you see is what you get. Materials are mostly pretty good and it leans towards thoughtful and practical rather than sexy. Normally I'd say, "just like me", but I'm none of these things.
The interior dimensions of the big bruiser match its eclipse-causing exterior. No matter your size - well, within reason - you'll find plenty of space in the first or second rows. The third row features decent space for kids and very patient adults for short trips.
Aiming to put the ‘sports’ in ‘sports utility vehicle’ (SUV), the Ford Escape ST-Line at least tries to differentiate itself from the usual high-riding fare.
From the outside, the ST-Line scores a sports bodykit and lower suspension, giving this Escape variant a more road-hugging appearance.
Its road presence is also helped by blacked-out (18-inch) wheels, grille, fog light surrounds, roof rails and rear valance. But don’t expect the cosmetic changes to morph the mild-mannered mid-size SUV into a snarling supercar.
Next to its Ambiente and Trend siblings, there's no doubt the Escape ST-Line stands out, but we’ll leave you to decide if it's the right amount of sporty, or needlessly gawdy.
The sporty touches also apply to the interior, which gains leather and cloth upholstery, front sports seats, and red contrast stitching throughout.
We’re big fans of the interior changes, which elevate all the touch points such as the steering wheel, seats and shifter to feel extra special.
Functionally however, the Escape is starting to show its age, especially the multimedia system, but more on that next...
The big question people ask me about the Kluger is "How many seats are in there?" - every Kluger packs seven seats, with two flip-up seats in the boot. Boot space dimensions are obviously dictated by whether they're up or down. With the seats down, you've got a decent 529 litres, leaving you with good luggage capacity and a cargo cover to keep it all hidden away. Lift the seats with the straps and you've got just 195 litres, about the same as a small hatchback.
Put the second and third rows down and Toyota says you'll have 1117 litres, but I reckon that's conservative.
The cabin is well-planned for families. Every row features cupholders - front and middle rows have a pair each, while those banished to the third row score two each, a total of eight across the car.
Back in the front row, the tectonic split in the dashboard is lined with a soft rubbery material, making it a great place to sling phones, keys and odds and ends. Between the seats is a massive 24-litre storage bin that a small grandparent could ride in. On second thoughts, that's probably not a great idea.
Measuring 4524mm long, 1838mm wide, 1749mm tall and with a 2690mm wheelbase, the Ford Escape ST-Line offers enough space for either four adults or small families, but is slightly smaller in size than some of its key rivals.
Up front, there is plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room for passengers, but we couldn’t shake the feeling of the cabin closing in around us.
The door pockets are also thin and made up with scratchy hard plastic, though the storage bin between the diver and front passenger is generous and accommodating of larger items such as a big bag of chips.
The rear seats, while usable, suffer from the same failings as the front seats and feel a bit too snug.
Adults can comfortably sit in the two outboard pews, but the middle seat should be relegated to children or people you just don’t like very much.
Headroom is good, but legroom is somewhat lacking, and we had to reposition the front seats to be comfortable in the second row.
The boot offers 406 litres of volume with the all seats upright, expanding to 1603 with the rear seats folded flat. Both admirable figures that mean the Escape can comfortably fit a stroller, groceries, and more.
Price and features
There are three models in the Kluger range and how much you pay will vary depending on your thirst for standard features. Our price list features RRP prices and are a guide only - your dealer might be convinced to reduce the cost.
The GX opens with the lowest price - $44,500 for the 2WD and $48,500 for the 4WD. Specs include six-speaker stereo, 18-inch alloys wheels (no 17-inch alloy wheels anymore), front and rear air conditioning, Bluetooth, forward and reverse camera, active cruise control, rear parking sensors, remote central locking, auto headlights, power windows and mirrors and a full-size spare wheel.
The GXL adds an lazy 10 grand in comparison to the GX - $54,950 (2WD) and $58,950 (AWD). The GXL adds a GPS navigation system, DAB digital radio, rear-cross traffic alert, keyless entry and start, partial leather seats, and electric tailgate with separate glass hatch.
The Grande - again, for a further 10 grand plus, is available for $65,646 (2WD) or $69,617 (AWD). You'll get the same satellite navigation as the GXL, 19-inch rims, electric sunroof, rear-seat entertainment system with 9.0-inch screen and Blu-Ray and heated and ventilated front seats.
The entertainment system is powered by a 6.1-inch touch screen in the GX and 8.0-inch in the other models, which also include satellite navigation. The software package is distinctly 2006, painfully so in the GX. The system includes AM/FM radio, CD player and USB. There's no DVD option, however.
Colours include 'Crystal Pearl' (white), silver, 'Rustic Brown' (looks better than it sounds), 'Predawn Grey', 'Rainforest Green', 'Merlot Red' (dahling), 'Deep Red', 'Cosmos Blue' and 'Eclipse Black'. All but the black are $550 extras, which is not modest but not extortionate either.
Toyota's accessories list is well-stocked, with items like nudge bar (which is remarkably well integrated), side steps, cargo barrier, roof racks (no roof rails, though) and various plastic shields, driving lights, floor mats, towbar, parking aids and blind spot monitor.
You're out of luck if you want a Toyota-branded seat belt extender or bull bar.
For comparison, the cheapest CX-9 is $700 less (than the GX), but with a higher spec level, while the fully-loaded Azami is also around $800 cheaper (than the Grande) but - again - better-equipped.
The Korean rivals, while older and slightly smaller, are significant cheaper - the Kia Sorento is priced from $42,990 to $46,990 while the Santa Fe starts at $40,990 and finishes at $57,090 (albeit not a petrol V6). All these cars are well-equipped, with more modern features and tech.
Priced at $39,990, before on-road costs, the ST-Line is available in exclusively with in petrol form, and sits below the petrol and diesel Titanium grade priced at $45,840 and $48,340 respectively.
Inside, sports seats replace the standard items. They're trimmed in a combination of leather (accent) and suede, with contrast red-stitching featured on the armrests, shifter boot and steering wheel.
While we love Ford’s Sync system, which is intuitive to use on the go thanks to its big, bright screen, implementation in the Escape leaves a little to be desired.
The screen is recessed to avoid unwanted glare, but the CD player (yes, you can get one in 2020!) nestled above is needlessly chunky and cumbersome.
The buttons found below the screen are also unnecessary when all functions can be handled by the touchscreen.
Further down the centre stack are the climate controls, which, while useable, feel spongey and are not well laid out.
The switchgear in the Escape ST-Line is average when the competition delivers polished and refined controls.
At least the steering wheel-mounted controls are quick and easy to use for the driver, including highly visible and clearly laid out cruise control functions.
Other standard equipment includes, push-button start, a gesture-operated powered tailgate, keyless entry, and automatic parallel parking. The auto parking function is easy to use, requiring only the push of a button and a dab of throttle.
Those after more advanced features however, such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, tyre pressure monitoring and lane-keep assist will have to shell out another $800.
Engine & trans
Across the range, Kluger buyers are treated to the same engine specifications - a 3.5-litre V6 petrol. The big unit devlops 218kW/350Nm to help move the two-tonner.
As to whether the V6 features a timing belt or chain, it's the latter. The engine uses standard (OW-30) oil and 0-100km/h acceleration times are around nine seconds.
Towing capacity is the same for each model, coming in at 700kg for unbraked trailers and 2000kg braked. We haven't yet carried out a towing review.
Powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, the Escape ST-Line punches out 178kW/345Nm, making it one of the most potent mainstream mid-size SUVs on the market.
Drive is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
Though all this might sound mighty on paper, keep in mind the engine is working to haul a 1700kg-plus SUV, which does tend to dull straight-line performance a little.
Overall, the Escape ST-Line’s engine is a punchy little unit that will happily rev out to its 6500rpm redline, even if it doesn’t produce the most sonorous noise at the top end.
The automatic transmission is also a good, if not great, one, that quickly up-shifts and manages slow-speed around-town duties just fine.
You will be able to catch it out when applying more throttle, though, with the six-speeder unsure when to change down and slow to do so when it makes up its mind.
And if you aren’t happy leaving the Escape ST-Line in automatic mode, there are always the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to play with.
For its engine size and overall weight, fuel economy is always going to be marginal and continues to be the Kluger's weak spot. For the front-wheel drive, Toyota claims 9.lL/100km on the combined cycle. The heavier 4x4 version recorded an official combined fuel consumption figure of 9.5L/100km.
These mileage figures would be a stretch - in a week of gentle suburban running around in a GX AWD, we copped a figure of 13.7L/100km.
The fuel tank capacity is a handy 72 litres, meaning a decent run between fills, especially when you're out on the open road.
Obviously, without a diesel engine, there are no diesel fuel consumption figures.
Our two weeks with the Escape ST-Line returned a fuel consumption average of 11.7 litres per 100km, while official figures peg the mid-size SUV at 8.2L/100km.
To be fair, we drove the Escape ST-Line exclusively in inner-city conditions, often during peak hour through Melbourne’s CBD.
You never really forget that the Kluger is a big unit. Ground clearance is a not-inconsiderable 200mm and the turning circle a fairly lazy 11.8 metres. People don't seem to mind that it feels big, and is one of the few in the segment that I feel like I'm climbing up into with my 183cm (six-foot) frame rather than stepping in.
From behind the wheel you can practically see the curvature of the Earth you sit so high. Fire up the near-silent V6 and you're struck by how incredibly smooth it is. Also smooth is the ride - the long travel suspension is probably exactly the same as it is for our American cousins vs, say, Hyundai's habit of setting up its cars for Australia.
Everything is soft and squidgy but in a reassuring way, even the warning beeps aren't too shrill or irritating. The steering is light and with the occasional moment of vagueness but again, it's all very predictable. The brakes, though a bit spongy at the top of the pedal, are more than up to the task of washing off speed in the unlikely event you've overcooked things.
The engine continues unchanged. There's enough horsepower to get you going and hold a decent clip, it will keep you out of trouble and do what Toyotas generally do - look after you. Performance is hardly the key point of the Kluger - it weighs in at a fairly unapologetic 2005kg in AWD form - but, as I say, there's ample power to keep you moving.
We're yet to perform an exhaustive off-road review, but our experience is that the Kluger has reasonable off road ability.
Thanks to its lowered suspension, thicker anti-roll bars and sharper steering rack, the ST-Line doesn’t flounder and sag like other SUVs when introduced to a corner.
Don’t get us wrong though, the changes don’t turn the Escape into a hot-hatch-scaring corner carver, but the ST-Line certainly feels more planted and put together than the vast majority of mid-size SUVs.
In fact, we’d put it up there as one of the best steering mainstream SUVs on the market, alongside the direct and communicative Mazda CX-5.
The by-product though is that the Escape ST-Line is a bit firmer over bumps and uneven road surfaces.
Whilst its not enough to take away from its overall polished and likeable dynamics, buyers who have young families that may prioritise comfort over sportiness will be better off looking at other Escape variants.
The Kluger arrives from the US with seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls and rear parking sensors.
The 2018 Kluger is really about the battery of new safety features in the lower models. Added to the GX and GXL are pre-collision warning, forward AEB, lane departure warning, active cruise and auto high beam. GXLs also pick up a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert. As you can imagine, the Grande has the lot.
There are three top-tether anchors for the middle row as well as two ISOFIX points.
As before, the ANCAP safety rating stands at a maximum five stars, awarded in November 2016.
Ford has kitted out the Escape ST-Line with all the safety equipment you would want in a new car in this class.
As previously mentioned, buyers can also option in adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, lane-keep assist and a tyre pressure monitor for an additional $800.
With a long list of standard safety, the Ford Escape was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when it was assessed in early 2017, which also applies to the ST-Line that was introduced in mid-2018.
Toyota's three year/100,000km warranty also comes with a fixed price servicing plan. It seems the Japanese company can get away with the short warranty because of the long-held reputation for reliability and few problems or faults.
I've certainly never heard complaints from Kluger owners, or Toyota owners generally for that matter. Having said that, Hyundai and Kia both smack Toyota out of the park for warranty length and in Hyundai's case, lifetime fixed price servicing.
Service costs are fixed via Toyota's 'Service Advantage' pricing. For the Kluger you'll pay $180 per service for the first 36 months or 60,000km. You'll have to visit the dealer every six months or 10,000km for the stamp in your owners manual, which is always good for resale value.
Few owners report any genuine issues, such as engine problems or tranmission problems.
Like all new Ford Australia models, the Escape ST-Line comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, along with five-year anti-corrosion assurance.
Service intervals are every 12 months/15,000km, with the first service due in two months/3000km.
The first full service will cost $360, while the second is $495 due to a brake fluid replacement that needs to be done every two years.
Service number three is back at $360, but the fourth service jumps to $750.
The Escape’s service schedule repeats this pattern until the 150,000km/10-year service, which requires a drive belt and radiator coolant replacement, increasing the cost to $895.