Medium-sized SUVs are one of Australia's most popular motoring choices. A cross between a utility vehicle and an urban vehicle, SUVs are the ultimate "do it all" choice.
Ideal for families, adventurous couples who need a car that can carry their kit, and drivers who like a set of wheels that can perform confidently off-road as well as on the tarmac, the ultimate SUV needs to be not only a jack-of-all-trades but also a master of versatility.
Here we take a look at two of the key players in the SUV market: the Ford Escape and the Subaru Forester. Both well-made vehicles, ultimately the one that's right for you will depend on individual preferences and needs. We provide some vital details on each model, as well as discuss the pros and cons of these well-matched 2021 SUV options.
Compared with the 2019 and 2020 version of the Escape, the 2021 offering has had quite a makeover! Sporty styling, a wealth of features (including an excellent suite of safety options and driver-assist details), and an engine that delivers on torque without compromising on petrol consumption mean the Escape is likely to give its more popular rivals (the Toyota RAV4 or the Mazda CX-5, for example), a good run for their money.
- Longer, lower, and with the option of a tasty sports body kit, the Escape blends stylish sophistication with a touch of the feral, resulting in an eye-catching, impressive exterior. Look out for the roof-top spoiler, privacy glass and dual exhaust.
- In addition to the standard, 2l turbo-petrol engine, there is also an option for a 2.5l plug-in hybrid model, which significantly improves fuel efficiency.
- Plenty of "little extras": from variable boot space through to proximity unlocking, an 8" colour infotainment screen, AEB, adaptive cruise control, ISOFIX anchorage points (for children's car seats), and several driving modes, the Escape scores highly on both safety and tech.
Interior and Exterior design
As indicated earlier, the exterior design of the Escape is one of its major drawcards. Depending on which version you opt for (there are three: entry-level Escape; the ST-line; and the Vignale), determines features such as the type of grille, headlight choice; and trim. Owners can choose from one of eight colours for the exterior.
The interior is spacious (which is vital in an SUV), although parents with car-seat-aged children may find the relatively narrow opening angle of the rear doors an issue). Relatively poor rear visibility means reliance on the rear-view camera is a necessity, rather than an option.
Both the entry-level Escape and the ST-line (available in AWD and FWD) utilises 2.0l turbo petrol engine that provides 367Nm torque and has a fuel consumption of around 8.6l/100km. The 2.5l hybrid option has the same torque as its non-hybrid counterparts (367Nm), but fuel consumption drops to around 1.5l/100km.
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Seamless connectivity is the aim of the game when it comes to the Escape's tech. The SYNC3 infotainment system enables drivers to control the sat-nav, sound system, and phone using voice-operated controls. Wireless charging is a particularly handy detail.
A five-star ANCAP rating ensures the Escape is ideal for safety-conscious motorists. The model includes a wealth of static safety features (such as airbags and ISOFIX anchorage points) as well as numerous driver-assist features.
AEB with pedestrian detection, a split-view camera, traffic sign recognition, parking assist, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and tyre pressure monitoring are just some of the Escape's safety points.
The price of the basic Escape starts at around $25,990, with the ST-line beginning at around $37,990. The Vignale entry-point is about $46,590, whilst the hybrid option costs about $52,940.
Benefiting from the introduction of a hybrid in the 2021 line-up, the Forester continues to provide owners with a strong mix of performance, comfort, versatility, and space.
- Reviewers rave about the Forester's handling, which is good news if you're a driver who likes to drive.
- There's plenty of space, even in the back.
- Impressive range of tech - including an intriguing drowsiness alert!
- Excellent safety record.
Interior and Exterior Design
The Forester's exterior probably isn't its strongest point. Some people may find it a little boxy, with nondescript styling.
That said, who looks at the exterior of the vehicle when you're driving? Inside, the Forester benefits from a spacious interior, which incorporates a wide variety of gizmos and gadgets. It's certainly not the most up-market interior but does contain everything needed for a comfortable trip.
The standard engine for the Forester, regardless of version, is the Boxer 2.5l 4-cylinder petrol engine. There is also a hybrid version, which has a similar engine. Torque is around 239Nm for the standard model, and 196Nm for the hybrid. Fuel efficiency is around 7.4l/100km, and 6.7l/100km for the standard petrol engine and the hybrid respectively.
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A 6.5" LCD touchscreen provides the infotainment interface in the Forester. Compatible with Siri, as well as Apple Carplay and Android Auto, the interface has Bluetooth capability. Drivers benefit from a range of innovative features, including the Eyesight driver-assist system and a Drive Monitoring System that will alert the driver if signs of drowsiness or distraction are detected!
Like the Escape, the Forester has a 5-star ANCAP safety rating. The vehicle incorporates numerous anti-collision technologies, such as symmetrical AWD, a comprehensive Driver Monitoring System, Pedestrian Alert system, Rear-view camera, and Vision Assist (predominantly technologies to improve visibility).
Mechanical aids to safety include airbags, height-adjustable seat belt anchors, a passenger "safety cell", and seat belt warning lights.
The Forester comes in seven different variants. The entry-level Forester starts off at around $39,838, with the most expensive model starting at around $45, 297.
Pros and Cons
Both of these SUVs look set to offer reliable performance and a good driving experience. The Ford Escape definitely has the edge when it comes to torque, with its powerful 2l engine providing significantly more bang for your buck than the Forester.
That said, reviewers have rated the AWD traction and overall handling of the Forester highly, whereas some commentators have found the Ford lacks control and responsiveness at times. The Escape has slightly higher fuel consumption at 8.6l/100km, whilst the Forester uses around 7.4l/100km - a negligible difference.
The Ford's smaller opening angle for the rear doors may be a drawback for families with younger children, who need to be able to easily access the car seats. Although, for owners who need plenty of boot space on occasion, the Ford's ability to utilise some of the rear cabin space to provide extra boot space is a plus.
Some commentators have also found the Ford's seats to be somewhat narrow and uncomfortable - a problem for taller drivers, or those embarking on a longer trip.
The tech for both vehicles is roughly comparable: both have a reasonable degree of connectivity, and a colour infotainment screen. There are little differences between the two, but which is preferable in tech terms is largely a matter of opinion: wireless recharging (the Escape) v additional charging points in the rear (the Forester), for example.
The Forester does include a fairly extensive selection of driver surveillance measures (the driver monitoring system), which includes features such as facial recognition and drowsiness alert. Depending on taste, this could either be a helpful aid to good driving, or an irritating electronic nanny system that feels intrusive.
Safety is ANCAP 5-star in both cases.
If you're a driver who loves to drive, and for whom performance (and cost) are priorities, then possibly the Forester is the one for you. Great for the school run, the Forester makes a convincing off-road and adventure vehicle, at a reasonable price.
Alternatively, if you value a stunning exterior, plenty of punch under the bonnet, a wealth of features, and don't mind paying a little more, the Escape is probably a better bet.