Toyota RAV4 VS Ford Escape
- Massively practical
- Impressive standard inclusions
- Ultra-comfort ride
- Manual not great
- Thrashy engine
- Might be too big for some
- Strong engine
- Fun chassis
- Good equipment
- Squidgy front seats
- Awkward touchscreen
- No extra power
It speaks to the wide-ranging, seemingly infinite appeal of the Toyota RAV4 that a manual version of it even exists.
Sure, only the base car can be fitted with it, and we’re confident it will impress those vocal few people in every single comment section who demand it, but is it actually any good? Or does a manual gearbox tarnish the rather excellent package that is CarsGuide's Car of the Year 2019 overall winner?
While we’re at it, we’ll also give you the low-down on what the cheapest RAV4 is like. Read on to see what we thought.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Ford Escape had a bit of a false start a few years back before things were put right with a facelift and an interior sorting-out to bring it into the game. With the endless rise of the SUV, makers now have to find ways to attract a few more punters - or a few more dollars per punter.
The idea of adding performance-inspired variants isn't new, of course - hatchback ranges are now awash with GT-line and other 'GTI-lite' variants which seems to be working quite well, thanks very much.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
When Toyota launched the new RAV4 it couldn’t afford to get it wrong.
It didn’t. Even this absolute base car is incredibly well equipped, superb when it comes to comfort, and offers the largest cabin in the mid-size segment.
I’m as surprised as you possibly are that Toyota even sells it as a manual, but honestly, it’s this car’s worst attribute. It only serves to tarnish the drive experience. Pay the extra and get the auto.
The Escape ST-Line is the second of its name I've driven and again after the Focus, I've come away liking it. While there's no full-fat ST to help make sense of the brand, it's nice to have a mid-size SUV that isn't German come to the party with a bit of driver appeal (okay, technically it is German...).
I think the Escape is a bit underrated and it's sadly inevitable that the ST-Line will suffer the same fate. But, that's the warzone that is Australia's SUV market.
Does the Escape ST-Line have enough oomph to grab your attention? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The RAV4 has come far in its design and aesthetic since the previous generation. It’s much better at grabbing your eye as it cruises past, and although it borrows a lot from the Kluger which has been on the market for a while now, it still strikes the eye as modern and angular.
The double-barreled snout, air dams and chunky wheelarches add a sense of capability to its contemporary guise. Even this base car gets chunky alloys and is covered in contrast black plastic cladding, adding to its look over base-model competitors. The blue tinge of LED headlights rather than the dull tones of halogens seal the deal.
Around at the rear it modernizes the dated Kluger formula with squared-off light fittings and a roof spoiler. The wholly unnecessary dual-exhaust is nice, too.
The interior is where the most base model tells are. You’re greeted by a sea of grey plastics, although to Toyota’s credit, many of them are soft to the touch. It’s all too easy to notice the blanked-out buttons, covered over climate control dials and six-speed gearshifter that looks like it was dropped out of a last-generation Corolla.
While the big screen nestles in the dash, 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen and silver highlights help counteract the base-model blues, there’s no escaping a nasty plastic steering wheel.
The overall visual aesthetic of the RAV4 is still cool, though. On the inside there are great textures hidden everywhere. There’s a triangular pattern in all the storage areas designed to help stop objects from moving, stripped rubbery textures on the inside of the door handles and rubbery turbine patterns on the air-con and volume knobs. Nice touches.
The seats are in a plain pattern but nice to the touch and should be fairly easy to clean as they are comprised of a rugged synthetic material.
All that adds up for a cabin ambiance that easily outclasses most price-competitors, and even higher-spec cars from rival brands.
The Escape exited the womb as Kuga but was renamed in line with Ford's expanding SUV range. They start with E, you see - Everest, EcoSport etc. In fact, I had an Escape a while back that still had Kuga sill plates such was the speed of the change.
The Escape is a reasonably familiar sight on our roads but it's not exactly selling the way, say, the Mazda CX-5 does.
To this base, the ST-Line adds a set of dark finish 19-inch alloys, blacked out grille, fog-lamp surrounds, roof rails and rear valance. It's fairly mild. The lower ride height does help, though. It could look a bit meaner, but that's not really the point of the ST-Line brand.
Inside you have the same seats as the rest of the range along with red stitching on the shifter and steering wheel. A set of alloy-face pedals, stainless steel kick plates and ST-Line floor mats complete the changes.
The interior is otherwise unchanged, and that's no bad thing, except we have to talk about the touchscreen. It works really well and is a good size but the awkward angle of the surrounds make it hard to hit the targets. It's a bit of an own-goal because otherwise it's very good.
I parked this RAV4 next to a last-generation Toyota Kluger and really shouldn’t have been surprised how close they were in size. Still, bracket creep means the RAV4 is now truly gigantic compared to its forebears and that means family practicality all over.
It’s things as simple as the fact that both doors are massive and open very wide, allowing for super easy access to any seat for less mobile passengers, those lifting cargo up into the cabin, and those who might need to fit child seats.
Leg and headroom for the front two passengers is stellar, and the driver’s position is very adjustable, even with the base manual-adjust seats. Visibility is up with segment leaders like the Subaru Forester, as the RAV4 is essentially a glasshouse with massive windows and wing-mirrors.
Even the dial cluster is huge and legible, and there are big dials for operating the air conditioning and multimedia while you keep your eyes on the road.
You’ll find storage areas everywhere with that triangle pattern for holding objects in. All the bottleholders (two in the doors, two in the centre console) are massive, and there’s a huge trench in front of the shift-knob suitable for even the largest phones.
There’s even a long trench above the glove box for… aesthetic purposes? It has the no-slip surface, but objects would hurtle towards passengers under heavy acceleration, so I fail to see the point of it.
There's one USB port, one 'aux' jack, and one 12-volt socket for front passengers.
In terms of rear legroom, your second-row passengers will hardly be flying economy. I had a abundance of legroom behind my own driving position. Arm and headroom were also plentiful.
All doors have a soft strip across them for elbows. There’s a drop-down arm rest even in the base car, and the same chunky, grippy doorcards with a big bottle holder.
Rear passengers get a set of air vents on the back of the centre console, too.
The boot is ridiculous with a class-leading 580-litres (VDA) of space. It’s wide and unimpeded by styling bits, and you can even stow the roller cover under the floor paneling when not in use.
The GX ships with a space-saver spare, but you can upgrade to a full-size alloy spare for $300. If you do so you’ll remove the false-floor paneling.
The Escape is one of the roomier mid-size SUVs, although it doesn't quite match the interior flexibility of the VW Tiguan. Rear seat space is generous, with good head and legroom and plenty of foot room.
The tailgate opens high and wide, which is handy for loading up. The boot will take between 406 litres (rear seats up) and 1603 litres (rear seats down). There are four cupholders - two up front and two in the rear armrest, with bottle holders in each door. The central armrest bin is deep and accommodating, and there are a few good spaces for stashing loose bits and pieces.
Price and features
That’s right. The GX manual is the cheapest way to get into a Toyota RAV4 today. Starting at $30,640 (MSRP – before on-road costs) we’d even consider it great value despite the manual 'box.
To understand why you just have to take one look at its specification sheet. Remember, this mid-sizer competes against the (also surprisingly still manual) Nissan X-Trail ST ($29,890), Honda CR-V Vi (auto - $28,290), and Mitsubishi Outlander ES ADAS (auto - $33,290).
If you’re happy milling your own gears, you get better kit than the auto entry-level CR-V, the manual X-Trail ST and even significantly undercut the entry-level Outlander (if you include the fact that the Mitsubishi requires the ADAS pack to even compete on safety).
Included spec on this absolute base car includes not-so-budget stuff like 17-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (which will ship have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto imminently, but if you buy a current-stock car you will have to return to the dealer for a software upgrade), DAB+ digital radio, built-in sat-nav, manual air conditioning (this base grade strips the cool little screens out of the dials), auto LED headlights, a 4.2-inch display in the dash, front and rear parking sensors, and heated auto-folding wing mirrors.
Other regular sort of spec items include six speakers and a reversing camera.
That’s the best kit at this price in the mid-size SUV world by a solid margin. That’s not all though, even this manual RAV4 features the full 'Toyota Safety Sense' suite. More on that in the safety section of this review (spoiler: It’s good).
Among the few giveaways that the GX manual is the cheapest one is the turn-key ignition, cloth seat trim, and urethane steering wheel. Still… are you really going to complain against its unprecedented list of inclusions at this price?
Options are limited to premium paint (every colour except for ‘Glacier White’ - $600).
The ST-Line weighs in at $39,990 (plus on-road costs), an easy $5000 below the top-of-the-range Titanium. Standard are 19-inch gunmetal alloys, a nine-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, front and rear fog lights, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, partial leather trim, heated and folding power mirrors and a space-saver spare tyre.
Our car had the absurdly good value 'Technology Pack'. For $800 it's a no-brainer because you score upgraded forward AEB for high speeds, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, driver attention detection, auto high beam, active cruise and tyre pressure sensors. Just a pity it's not standard, really. Also on board was the useful but debatable hands-free tailgate for $950.
Engine & trans
The six-speed manual version of the GX as tested here can only be had with a 127kW/203Nm 2.0-litre non-turbo petrol engine.
Those power figures are so-so and you’ll need to push up the rev-range (and compromise your fuel economy while doing so) to make the most out of them because there’s no turbo.
There are more sophisticated powertrains available in this segment with superior outputs, although not many at this price.
The manual transmission does let you wrangle the most out of this engine, although I was less impressed with the way it feels. More on that in the driving segment.
The manual version of the RAV4 wears a claimed/combined fuel consumption rating of 6.8 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. That’s pretty low, although nowhere near as low as the Hybrid auto’s amazing 4.7L/100km combined rating.
Over a week of driving in conditions I would consider true to combined freeway/urban driving, I scored 8.0L/100km which is not bad at all considering the RAV4’s size.
The RAV4 drinks base grade 91RON unleaded petrol and a 55L fuel tank. There’s no diesel version this time around.
Ford reckons you'll use 8.6L/100km on the combined cycle. In the real world, including a roughly 200km round trip run from Sydney up to the Blue Mountains we recorded 10.2L/100km.
The only drama is that it runs only on 95 RON premium unleaded. Having said that, it's obvious rivals do too if they have anything like the available power of the Ford engine.
The idea of a six-speed manual with rev-matching technology (complete with three modes) sounds fantastic on paper. Comment section pundits will be overjoyed. The bad news is it’s simply not that great.
It seems to be geared quite tall, and there’s a long throw between each cog. There’s not much feel to it locking in, nor is there any feel through the extremely light clutch pedal, so I admittedly ground the gears on more than one occasion.
As much as I hate to admit it, I prefer the CVT auto in this SUV for the same reasons I believe all SUVs this size should have spongy suspension.
It’s not meant to be a driver’s car. This is a practicality appliance for families that just so happens to have wheels. It should be comfortable and easy to use.
Thankfully, the rest of the RAV4’s drive experience is exactly that. The suspension has a lovely soft comfort-focused tune, and the combination of soft springs and small wheels (shod with relatively high profile rubber) makes for a quiet and refined cabin.
Of course, the trade off is that the RAV4 is hardly a corner carving sport machine, but ask yourself – do you need that?
The steering is very light, making the big body easy to swing around city streets, but it does lose a little feeling at speed.
As already mentioned, the visibility is excellent out of this car, the amenities are easy to use without becoming distractions, and it’s reassuring that the safety stuff is all really rather good.
A riveting drive the RAV4 is perhaps not, but it nails the brief as an easy-to-use family machine.
Like the Focus ST-Line I drove a little while ago, the Escape has no more power than any other car in the range. A hot SUV it isn't. The changes are restricted to the bits that make the car handle and grip, and even then, it's not a lot.
The ST-Line rides 10mm lower and has stiffer anti-roll bars to further rein in any body roll in the corners. Critically, the gunmetal 19-inch alloys are wrapped in Continental Sport Contact tyres, which is not the sort of rubber you expect on a mid-size SUV. This is a good thing.
One of the key changes to the ST-Line is the steering. The last time I drove an Escape I was struck by the inert steering. Things are much improved in the ST-Line, with a much more involving set up letting you know what's going on underneath.
As a day-to-day proposition, it's a very comfortable machine. I feared for the squishy feeling of the front seats but this was unfounded - a long day at the wheel yielded none of the fidgetiness soft seats can cause.
The lower ride height also makes it quite easy to get in and out of and it's an easy car to manoeuvre apart from a big-ish turning circle.
That engine is as good as ever - strong, torquey and well matched to the six-speed automatic. The all-wheel drive system is also very happy to play ball, as it is in the Titanium with the same engine.
Even though this is a rare manual, it doesn’t miss out on much of the RAV4’s impressive standard active safety suite.
Included is auto emergency braking (AEB – with pedestrian and cyclist detection day and night), active cruise control (yes, even on the manual), lane departure warning (with lane keep assist), but no ‘lane trace alert’ available on the auto, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert.
That’s among the best active safety in the entire mid-size SUV category, and it’s all on the manual base model. Toyota’s here to win.
The RAV4 also has an above-average seven airbags, hill start assist, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera (pretty good), and ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the outer two rear seats.
It also has the expected stability, traction, and brake controls.
Somewhat unsurprisingly once you’ve digested all that, the RAV4 wears a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating (with excellent scores across the four new categories) as of May 2019.
The ST-Line comes loaded with seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, lower-speed AEB, reverse cross traffic alert, blind spot sensor, reversing camera, rollover stability and forward collision warning.
The $800 Technology Pack adds high speed AEB, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, driver attention detection, auto high beam, active cruise and tyre pressure sensors.
The RAV4 is covered by a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty that Toyota thankfully upgraded to earlier in 2019.
But that’s not quite the whole story. If you keep your service record genuine and up-to-date Toyota will cover the engine for an extra two years, and you’ll also be covered by seven years of roadside assist and a 60-day money-back guarantee (if your car should suffer an issue which renders it ‘undrivable’ inside that period).
The five-year base coverage also includes panel work and any genuine accessory you might have fitted.
The RAV4 requires servicing once a year or every 15,000km whichever occurs first, and is covered by a capped price of just $210 (incredibly cheap) for the first four years.
The RAV4 is built in Japan.
Ford now offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty across the range. Roadside assist is via a membership to your local motoring organisation and if you service it with Ford, you get a 12-month extension.
Ford's 'Service Price Guarantee' program is a kind of capped-price servicing thing, with pricing for the services (every 12 months/15,000km) and some additional items. The first service is $350.