This year is when the entry-level plug-in crossover market really starts to heat up. Both Ford and Toyota have new models in the 2020 Ford Escape and the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime. They join the segment veteran Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which has been available in the U.S. since the 2018 model year. And of course that means it's time to look at how the numbers add up while we wait for our chance to drive the new competitors. You can find a chart with all the details immediately below, followed by more detailed analysis.
One of the key factors for any hybrid, particularly plug-in models, is how little fuel they use. Overall, the Ford Escape is the winner with 100 mpg-e, the fuel economy equivalency for the vehicle when assessing it with a full battery. The Toyota is close behind with 94 mpg-e. We're expecting the Escape to also be a bit more efficient when running only on gas, as it reportedly gets 41 mpg. The RAV4 will likely get 40 mpg, or possibly slightly less, since the non-plug-in RAV4 Hybrid achieves 40 mpg combined. Running solely on electric power, though, the RAV4 edges out the Escape with 42 miles of range versus 37. Behind both of them is the Mitsubishi with just 22 miles of range, 25 mpg on gasoline only, and 74 mpg-e with a full battery. One unique feature the Mitsubishi claims is DC fast charging capability, meaning 80% of its electric range can be restored in just 25 minutes, possibly allowing for more electric use depending on where you're driving it.
While fuel economy is a priority for hybrids, customers won't want to compromise on other features. The Toyota is easily the least compromising, as it returns impressive range and efficiency while also providing a whopping 302 horsepower and all-wheel drive. The Mitsubishi also has all-wheel drive, but a comparatively paltry 190 horsepower. The Ford produces slightly more power at 200, but is front-wheel-drive only. While low in comparison to the RAV4 Prime, the Mitsubishi and Ford have very competitive output to many comparably-sized conventional crossovers with base engines, such as the Honda CR-V, Chevy Equinox and others.
Size and space
Naturally one of the reasons for buying a crossover is for its practical shape for comfortable hauling of people and stuff. In this regard, all three crossovers are very close. The Escape wins out with legroom, the Toyota with shoulder room. Headroom is split between the Toyota and Mitsubishi. The king of cargo capacity is clearly the RAV4, though, with about 7 more cubic feet of space behind the rear seats than either other crossover, and about 3.5 cubic feet more space behind the front seats than the next most capacious Mitsubishi.
Price and availability
The clear winner in the price game is the Ford Escape. It has the lowest base price before tax credits, and we expect it will qualify for the full $7,500 federal tax credit, meaning it should be available for less than $30,000 when all is said and done. The Mitsubishi has the next lowest base price, but its shorter range means that it has a smaller tax credit, and will still cost over $30,000. Most expensive is the Toyota RAV4, but that price premium does net you an impressive powertrain. And because of its range, it will likely get the full tax credit, meaning it will likely cost about the same as the Mitsubishi. The Mitsubishi's main advantage is that it's on dealer lots right now, in case you're in a hurry to get a plug-in crossover. Also worth considering is a used example of the Outlander. Kelley Blue Book estimates dealer prices for used Outlander PHEVs start between $20,000 and $26,000 for 2018 models.
If you don't need quite as large a crossover as the three mentioned above, there are two smaller plug-in options to consider: the 2020 Kia Niro PHEV and 2020 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid. The Niro is particularly compelling as it starts at just $30,610 before $4,543 worth of tax incentives, making it the cheapest option available. It's also the most efficient, returning 105 mpg-e or 46 mpg on gas only. Its range is on the smaller side with 26 miles and only comes with front-wheel drive. The Subaru isn't as great a value, starting at $36,155 before a $4,502 tax credit. But it does feature all-wheel drive, and it's more efficient than the Mitsubishi with 90 mpg-e and 35 mpg on gas. Both the Kia and Subaru are roughly 10 inches shorter than the other crossovers, but have very similar amounts of passenger space. Their cargo space is smaller, though. The Kia has 19.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 54.5 behind the front seats whereas the Subaru has 15.9 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 43.1 cubic feet with them down.
Update: A previous version of this story had a chart without labels for specifications. A labeled chart has been added.