Rivals: Best-selling small SUVs put to the test on pavement and dirt
The small SUV offers most of the utility of a large SUV at a scale that's a bit easier to live with in the sometimes cramped quarters of urban driving.
With sporty looks, lots of room for people and things, and plenty of creature comforts and features to fill that space, well it's no wonder this is one of the largest, most hotly contested classes on the road today.
We've rounded up three of the best and we're gonna put their performance, their livability, and a bit of their off road street cred to the test.
Now, these are the three top selling models, so if you're favorite's not here, well don't blame me.
Blame the sales figures.
Although, I'm pretty sure you'll find some sort of way to blame me anyway.
Nevermind, let's hit the road and find out which of these small SUVs is king.
This 2017 Ford Escape SC is well surprising but maybe not all of those surprises are good ones.
Let's start in the engine bay.
We've got the 1.5 liter eco-boost engine option.
That's the smallest of the three here.
It's a turbo-charged four cylinder that made it to a six speed automatic and all wheel drive.
It's 179 horsepower and 177 pounds feet of torque.
Is on par with that of the Toyota, and maybe just a few horsepower shy of the Honda.
But only just barely.
And like those engines, this performance is pretty good, but not necessarily exceptional.
It's not going to wow you with its power.
On the road the [UNKNOWN] sort of splits the difference between the very responsive steering of the Honda and the very comfortable ride of the Toyota.
However I feel like comfort's probably the most important thing in this class, which may give the edge back to the Rav 4. Interestingly its 24 miles per gallon combined is the worst of the three here, despite it having the smallest displacement engine.
Without a significant fuel economy advantage I'm left kind of wondering what's the point of going with a small turbo charged engine.
I mean Yes, this is the most efficient Ford Escape that you can buy.
That doesn't really mean a whole lot when you're cross-shopping it with other brands.
As dashboard technology goes, Sync 3 is actually pretty good, particularly when compared to the Toyota InTune system, and especially when compared to the old MyFord Touch system that Ford used to use.
Here we've got a very responsive system that's got a lot of really cool built in apps.
Including about a half dozen for Android and iOS devices, like Glimpse and Spotify.
The navigation system's actually pretty good and features like Android Auto, Apple Carplay and Ford's own telematics and connectivity features.
Are just the icing on a very delicious technology cake.
Honestly I think that the Ford out-techs both the Ford and the Toyota, and in a competition like this where the performance is so close, I think that the features are going to be the thing that really puts the Escape over the edge.
I'm driving the 2016 Honda CRV and to be honest I don't really like this car.
The engine is fine, it's got a direct injection 2.4 liter.
That does 185 horsepower 181 pound-feet of torque.
That puts all power to the wheels through a continuously variable transmission, and I like the direct feel of the throttle.
That's all right.
Fuel economy should average about 27.
I've been getting about 25.
But I don't really like the ride quality here.
It's a little bit too rough.
I prefer something softer in a small SUV.
And Honda has all these weird little quirks.
For example, if I want to activate the adaptive cruise control first I have to push this button labeled main on the steering wheel.
But main, what the heck is that?
And then if I want to use the lane keeping assist, first I have to push this button down here on the lower dashboard, then push this other button here on the steering wheel.
It's like why make it so complicated.
On the navigation head unit here is some pretty old technology.
There's no Apple Car Play or Android Auto.
And entering an address is just really tedious, even using voice command.
All these little bugs on this car and quirks will just end up annoying me over time.
And amongst my colleagues, I think I got the short straw.
This 2.5 liter, 4 cylinder engine in the 2016 Toyota RAV 4, behaves pretty much exactly how I expected it to behave.
That's neither great, nor terrible.
Got 170 95 horses, and that's enough to get me up to speed toddling around town as well as up on the highway.
And a seven speed automatic transmission should [UNKNOWN] pretty quickly, but you're gonna go through some pretty loud linkage going from park to drive
Now, when you get out on the road, the RAV4 is not exactly an auto cross master but that's okay cause most RAV4 buyers aren't either.
Instead what you're met with is a very solid ride that really is the most comfortable at a ball four.
This all-wheel drive system is an on demand all-wheel drive system.
So it defaults to front wheel drive, and that helps get its EPA fuel rating up 25 miles per gallon combined.
Now me with my lead foot, I'm only seeing 21.5.
On my top of the line limited model, I also have the optional $1,400 advanced technology package, which is totally worth it.
With that I get a seven inch high definition touch screen, a bird's eye camera, navigation and a JBL auto system.
The in tune infotainment system really is one of the best in the business.
Not only do I get a lot color graphics.
I also get a ton of information that's all done up in a configurable platform but it's far from perfect.
To enter a navigation destination I've gotta go through at least two screens.
And while there's plenty of apps that are available through the Intune Gateway App, I also don't have Android Auto or Apple Car Play.
one advantage that the Rav 4 has over my competitors is that I can get this car in a hybrid as well.
That's gonna offer me better gas mileage, and even better horse power and torque.
Now for off-road and low grip situations, this Escape is equipped with an all-wheel drive system.
That's an on demand system that sends all of its power to the front wheels until things get slippery.
And then it can send up to half of that back to the rear.
Now this example was sent with a sport package that includes big 19 inch wheels, and very street oriented tires.
And I think that's gonna cost me a little bit in the final challenge here off-road, but I have a lot of faith in this all wheel drive system to make up for that.
Additionally, I've got the best ground clearance here, about an extra inch over the next best competitor, and that's gonna help me with breakover angles and not scraping the under carriage on the rocks and such.
Now the Honda Cr-V doesn't really have much in the offroading department.
It's got an on wheel drive system that [UNKNOWN] towards the front wheel then puts them into the rear wheels if necessary.
I don't have any control over it, there's no descent control, there's no differential lock, so it just kind of works on it's own, and hopefully it works well.
I do have 6.8 inches of ground clearance.
That's the middle ground between the cars we have here.
That's not bad, I've got pretty good tires, too.
All I really have, with the conveniency variable transmission, I have a low range, and I have it in that now, hopefully that's the thing that's going to help me out in this off-road area.
I do have one disadvantage in this Rav-4 and that's my ground clearance it's only 6.3 inches and that's the least of all three of these cars but I'm rolling on Toyo open country tires.
Those are gonna be good for this kind of light duty off-roading that we're gonna do here at Hollister.
And here's my secret weapon, I've got 172 pound-feet of torque
And that can be locked for the split 50/50 front to rear, so when I'm going up any kind of hills with some soft bend, I think I'm going to do okay.
Last test of the day, we've got a bit of a hill climb challenge lined up.
We're at an off road park.
And we've got ahead of me a very steep, very sandy hill.
And we're gonna see which of these all wheel drive systems handles this very low grip but high torque situation better.
Let's see what this one will do.
So we're going down into the bowl and approaching the hill.
About 30 or 40 feet so we're just gonna come at it.
The Escape doesn't have any sort of locking differential or anything so I'm just in automatic mode and just keeping steady pedal pressure and it's climbing right on up.
Here we are at the top, success.
Alright now let's see if the other guys have better luck.
Alright, about ready to try the Honda CRV on the hill climb part of this challenge and it's a tough hill.
Pretty loose and I'm gonna build up some momentum to try to make it up.
Here we go.
Here we go.
Here we go.
Now it's bogged down and it's not gonna make it up.
It made it about halfway up the hill and gave up.
That was it.
The hill climb.
This is my favorite part.
I'm in my element.
Now this hill looks a lot Little soft, looks a little steep, so I'm gonna carry as much momentum as I can right here coming down into it.
Everything's good, nothing's slipping, steady on the throttle.
Slipped a little bit there.
Look at that, my gosh, climbing just like a champ.
Those guys don't have nothing on me.
Okay, so we've finished all of our testing.
We're nice and dirty and so are these SUVs but it's time to pick the king of the hill.
Now, they're all very closely matched as far as price, performance and interior space.
That includes cargo volume but only one them can win today.
How'd your CRV fair?
Well, [LAUGH] the Honda CRV, obviously did not do great in the off road section.
Attention gives it good travel response.
And it has a decent on road handling.
But ultimately, it doesnt really measure up to the other cars.
Right, yours is the best on the road.
Meanwhile, the Ford Escape is the best tech car, of the three.
With things like Sync three and automatic parallel parking.
Rounding out a very strong list of features, that we all like.
Plus it passed all of our tests today and did pretty good off-road.
And on-road I think it's balance of the three.
But you've gotta give it up to the Toyota Rave-4.
I mean not only did she handle that hill so easily, I had so much fun I went ahead and took the bigger hill to the left and it scooted up that like it wasn't no thing.
Plus when I was on the pavement I had a very comfortable ride and all in all it's a very nice place to spend your commute RIght.
I think we can all agree, and it's no surprise based on the fact that we basically got it on a dirt pedestal here, that the winner of today's episode of Roadster Rival is a 2016 Toyota RAV4.