Originally introduced in 1995, the Honda CR-V debuted as North America's first crossover, though that name wasn't in use yet. Almost two decades down the line, a multitude of other small car-based SUVs are available, not the least of which is the Ford Escape.
Both popular choices among consumers, the 2012 CR-V takes a tactful approach to courting old customers back by remaining mostly the same while the 2013 Ford Escape runs in a radical new direction compared to its boxy SUV-styled predecessor.
A modest makeover for the 2012 CR-V, the 2013 Ford Escape follows in the make's new design language, packing in the old boxy shape for more fluid lines.
At the base level, both the Escape and CR-V come with comparable four-cylinder engines. In Honda's case, a 2.4-liter inline four gets 23 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway with 185 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque: enough to pass comfortably but not to give a very muscular driving feel. The same 2.5-liter four cylinder makes it into the entry-level 2013 Escape as last year's model had, but it's been tweaked for better highway fuel economy with a 22/31 rating.[vs-comparsion-table]
While Honda only offers one engine option, Ford has historically offered a hybrid and V6 option as well. Both of those have been axed this year and replaced by 1.6- and 2.0-liter Ecoboost engines. Hardly a replacement for a hybrid, the 1.6-liter is the most fuel efficient with 24/33 mph city/highway while the 2.0-liter provides a V6 replacement with 240 hp and only one mpg less than the base engine with 22/30 mpg.
New for this year, the Escape comes standard with a six-speed automatic through the range including the base model where last year a manual transmission was also available. Honda's five-speed automatic remains the same as last year and is also standard through every level.
An interior comparison would have been a different story last year with Ford's old escape in the mix, but along with the new engine lineup, the 2013 model gets a completely rethought interior that feels sleek and European. Honda fans will feel at home in the CR-V, which isn't a bad thing, but Honda didn't take any chances with changing its historically winning formula.
For the 2013 model year Ford is offering more rear-seat legroom and a little more cargo space, though the Honda still boasts more in both categories. The CR-V offers 38.3 inches of second row legroom while the Escape is rated at 36.8 inches. As for which one can carry more groceries, the Honda wins again with 37 cubic feet while the Ford is rated at 34. Drop the second row seats and the CR-V remains in the lead with 71 cu-ft versus 68 on the Escape.
Despite having a little less space than its Japanese competitor, the new Escape has a segment-first optional feature that makes all the difference: a hands-free lift gate. That means walking to the car with both hands loaded with shopping bags or groceries won't be a problem. Just kick your foot under the rear bumper and the door opens itself. That option, however, is only available on pricey top trim models.
Choosing between the CR-V and Escape last year was as much about looks as anything else. The Ford looked more utilitarian while the Honda had a typical crossover facade, but that difference is dissolved this year thanks to Ford’s new global design language.
Priced at $23,295 to start and running up to $31,195 for the Titanium model including a $825 destination fee, the new Escape gets more expensive than last year. The CR-V is a hair less expensive, costing $23,125 to start and topping out at $30,825 including an $830 destination fee.
As usual, Honda offers the familiar option that won’t surprise you, but it probably won’t “wow” you either. Expect better fuel mileage from the CR-V than the Escape in all cases now that Ford’s hybrid version is scrapped. That doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of people finding the Escape to be more appealing, especially those that want more power. In that case, the 2.0-liter Ecoboost will be the clear choice, especially because it only sacrifices a little extra fuel.