Road Test: 2005 Jeep Liberty CRD 4WD Diesel Vs. 2005 Toyota RAV4 L Internal Combustion Vs. 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid AWD Hybrid
What the Future Holds: Hybrids, diesels, internal combustion - which has the most promise?
Two opposing automotive truths have emerged in the past decade. One: The SUV craze won't go away. Two: As long as SUVs are here, there will be politically correct people around to hate them. Ford Motor Company chairman William Clay Ford Jr. tried to bridge these two realities back in 2000, when he announced his company would improve its corporate-average fuel economy for SUVs by 25 percent by 2005--a goal he later conceded Ford couldn't meet.
Even though Ford fell short on this claim, its 2005 Escape Hybrid is a major piece of the plan to improve its image. Ford has won the race to market with the world's first production hybrid gas/electric-powered SUV, having beat the Lexus RX 400h by about half a year. While automotive analysts say the average person won't give up his big SUV until gas hits $3/gallon, we'd guess there are quite a few drivers who'd like to keep the versatility and utility of their SUVs but don't want to spend so much money to keep them running.
The European solution for large SUVs and other heavy vehicles is the diesel engine. Diesel fuel still generally costs less than gasoline in Europe--here, it's about the same price as unleaded premium. Diesels are popular in Europe because the E.U.'s fuel-economy measurement gives more weight to highway mileage, where the engines gain much of their fuel-economy advantage, while gas/electric hybrids are big news in the U.S., because the Environmental Protection Agency's fuel-mileage loop favors the stop and go of city and rush-hour driving. Hybrids that shut off the piston engine at idle and rely on battery powerpacks pick up significant mpg numbers in these tests, generally with higher city ratings than highway.
This won't keep automakers with a big presence (and turbodiesel production) in Europe from trying to sell diesels here. After 2007, when lower fuel-sulfur standards in this country help solve the diesel-particulate problem, expect to see more diesels trickle in, especially in trucks. The Jeep Liberty CRD is here now, just in time to face off against conventionally powered competitors like the Toyota RAV4 and alternatives like the Escape Hybrid.
You must take a five-speed automatic when you order the CRD for the Jeep and a continuously variable automatic for the Ford Hybrid, but the RAV4 is still offered with a manual gearbox, so our example in this test gets that fuel-saving advantage. All three were equipped with all- or four-wheel drive--the former for the Escape and RAV4, the latter for the Liberty. The Liberty is the one true off-roader here. Its torque-biased turbo-diesel felt strongest during off-road testing, a dirt-and-sand exercise that was soft-road enough to keep the Ford and Toyota from getting hung up. It's in low-range, when climbing short hills and puttering around in the muck, that the turbodiesel's stump-pulling torque feels powerful and so right for such a vehicle.
This test throws away the vagaries of U.S. EPA-versus-European fuel-mileage cycles, because these three players were driven the way you drive. For the highway loop, roughly 280 miles were covered to and from an off-road course. Highway miles were broken up by a short foray into the off-road park in wet sand following rain and 40-something-degree weather. Off-roading totaled no more than five miles. Traffic flow on Michigan highways runs 70 to 80 mph consistently, which was our maintained speed for the loop.
Two half days were spent in the city in more day-to-day driving conditions. Imagine covering your commute, running errands, picking up the kids from practice, meeting clients for lunch, and the like. The 200-mile route wound through Detroit and its nearby suburbs, once again at speeds to keep up with 25- to 40-mph traffic. There were no drag-racing-style starts, but this was no Sunday drive, either.
Expectations were high for the Liberty CRD. While America still has a bad taste in its mouth from the fumes of late-1970s GM diesels, in Europe, modern diesels are scent-free, smooth, quiet models of good NVH and refinement, with turbocharged loads of low-end torque and decent performance. The prospect of driving a truck and getting economy-car mileage is irresistible. Europeans, who pay upward of $5/gallon to keep these things on the road, must know a lot about economy.
In city driving, the Escape Hybrid trounced the Liberty CRD, 34.0 mpg to 21.7 mpg, and even the RAV4 topped the Jeep, with 26.7 mpg. Credit the Ford's ability to run on pure electric at stoplights and from a stop up to about 20 mph before its gas engine kicks in. Use the heater, defroster, or air-conditioning continually, and your mileage will drop because that forces the engine to continue running at stoplights. In addition, the Escape Hybrid also won the highway contest, although not as handily, with 25.7 mpg versus 22.8 mpg for the Liberty CRD. The RAV again split the two, with 23.8 mpg.
Overall, the Escape scored best again at 27.5 mpg on the combined loop, with the RAV4 at 24.5 mpg (slightly trumping its EPA rating) and the Liberty at 21.7 mpg. You pay a price for such economy; the Escape, as equipped, is a hefty $7000 more than the Liberty Sport CRD. The Jeep's Italian-built turbodiesel is a $1950 option on the Sport's $21,385 base, plus $1220 for that required five-speed automatic transmission. If you buy the hybrid this year, you can cut into the Escape's seven-grand premium with a $2000 tax credit, still not enough to drop it below $30K with the optional in-dash fuel-mileage monitor. The credit was to be phased out, dropping to $1000 in 2005, $500 in 2006, and zero in 2007, but it was extended as part of last year's federal tax-cut bill.
Why is the diesel thirstiest? The Liberty's CRD doesn't represent the latest in turbodiesels, and it does have clatter and vibration below 2000 rpm, where it spends a lot of its time. Idle is downright rough, like diesels from the pre-electronic fuel-injection days. It's almost the exact opposite of the Escape Hybrid, which can be perfectly still and silent at idle. We imagine some would prefer the Jeep's more rugged, big-truck rumble as an alternative to the golf-cart putt-putt feel of the Escape and RAV four-bangers.
In contrast to the old-school feel of the turbodiesel, the Escape's hybrid engine is state-of-the-art. It's an Atkinson-cycle full-hybrid like Toyota's: it'll run pure electric, but also uses the charged electric motor to give the SUV extra oomph for acceleration and passing. Our track tester was amazed at how quickly the gas engine recharged the electric motor. A gentle return run down the drag strip nearly recovered the battery, and, after two runs, it was back up to full charge, helping aid the engine with acceleration.
Off the line, the Liberty offers wheelspin launches, even with four-wheel drive engaged. From there on, the power and torque diminish, with the wind going out of the turbodiesel's sails by 60 mph.
The RAV4 trumped its competitors by at least 2.1 seconds to 60 mph and by about 1.5 in the quarter. Compared with the Liberty and Escape, the RAV4 is in the hunt for passenger and cargo space, despite being about eight inches shorter in overall length and four inches shorter in height than the Liberty or Escape.
As everyday drivers, there's nothing new about the Escape or Liberty, let alone the RAV4. While its overall quality is good, the Toyota interior suffers from hard, cheap plastics. It's a somewhat buzzy, but maneuverable trucklet. The Liberty has the most upright stance, and you sit tall in the chassis at the expense of headroom. The dashboard is shallow and close to the cowl for interior space, so there's not much room for the cubbies and drawers necessary for a modern life full of cell-phones, parking cards, and fast food. The Escape has lived with a low-rent interior upgrade of 2005. It's still not an Escape high-point, even when equipped with leather-faced seats (the Liberty and RAV4 have cloth). The Escape is the compromise SUV, feeling tall like the Liberty, but nearly as carlike in ride and handling as the RAV4.
Which one's best? Each stands out, though not exceptionally, with special qualities and for different reasons. The Liberty feels at home off-road, and, if you're part of the group who does serious 4x4 driving or needs to carry some heavier boxes or family members, the CRD is about the best engine you can have (at a reasonable sticker price). The RAV4 offers better-than-good fuel mileage and is the most fun to drive--a quality that diminishes with the optional automatic trans or with two passengers. For its fuel-economy numbers, it's second place, but for cost-effectiveness, it's number one.
Ultimately, the numbers tell the story, and for good fuel economy, the Hybrid Escape comes out on top. The Escape isn't the most stellar vessel for such a sophisticated powerplant, and, for its price, there are plenty of other choices, but the city fuel economy is impressive. If you want to be socially responsible and still have good visibility, versatility, and a decent amount of foul-weather confidence, the Ford Hybrid Escape is as good as current technology gets.
|Ford Escape Hybrid||Jeep Liberty CRD||Toyota RAV4 L|
|Location of final assembly||Claycomo, Missouri||Toledo, Ohio||Toyota City, Japan|
|Body style||Four-door SUV||Four-door SUV||Four-door SUV|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, AWD||Front engine, 4WD||Front engine, AWD|
|Airbags||Dual front, f/r curtain||Dual front||Dual front|
|Engine type||I-4, alum block/head, AC electric motor||I-4, turbodiesel, iron block/alum head||I-4, alum block/head|
|SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm||133 @ 6000 (gas) 94 @ 3000 (elec)||160 @ 3800||161 @ 5700|
|SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm||129 @ 4500 (gas) 150 @ 0 (elec)||295 @ 1800||165 @ 4000|
|Transmission type||Continuously variable auto||5-speed auto||5-speed manual|
|Rpm @ 60 mph||1300-5400||1750||2650|
|Crawl ratio (1st x axle x low range)||N/A||30.4:1||N/A|
|Track, f/r, in||61.1/60.2||60.0/59.7||59.3/58.9|
|Headroom, f/r, in||40.4/39.2||40.7/42.1||41.3/38.3|
|Legroom, f/r, in||41.6/36.3||40.8/37.2||42.4/32.6|
|Shoulder room, f/r, in||56.3/55.9||56.5/56.5||54.1/53.7|
|Cargo vol behind f/r seats, cu ft||65.5/27.6||69.0/29.0||68.3/29.2|
|Ground clearance, in||8.0||6.4||6.7|
|Curb weight, lb||3839||4296||3075|
|Payload capacity, lb||680||1100||1000|
|Towing capacity, lb||1000||5000||1500|
|Fuel capacity, gal||15.0||20.5||14.7|
|EPA mpg, city/hwy||33/29||22/27||22/27|
|Observed average mpg||28||22||25|
|Range, miles, city/hwy||495/435||451/554||323/397|
|Recommended fuel||Unleaded regular||#2 diesel||Unleaded regular|
|Suspension, f/r||IFS, struts, coil springs/IRS, multilink, coil springs||IFS, control arms, coil springs/Live axle, coil springs||IFS, struts, coil springs/IRS, control arms, coil springs|
|Steering type||Rack and pinion, electric assist||Rack and pinion||Rack and pinion|
|Turns, lock to lock||3.3||3.6||2.9|
|Turning circle, ft||37.7||35.9||35.4|
|Brakes, f/r||11.9-in vented disc/11.9-in disc, ABS||11.3-in vented disc/11.2-in disc, ABS||10.7-in vented disc/11.9-in disc, ABS|
|Wheels||16 x 7.0 cast alum||16 x 7.0 cast alum||16 x 6.5 steel|
|Tires||235/70R16 104T Continental Contitrac EcoPlus||225/75R16 104S Goodyear Wrangler ST||215/70R16 99S Dunlop Grandtrek ST20|
|Standing quarter-mile, sec @ mph||17.7 @ 79.3||17.5 @ 74.5||16.1 @ 84.0|
|Price as tested||$32,450||$25,970||$20,701|