Why now is a good time to buy a hybrid SUV: Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and Hyundai Tucson leading new petrol-electric charge

Nothing happens overnight in the car industry. It takes years to develop individual models and decades for widespread change to take place.

But like the way water can slowly carve away at rock, the car industry does slowly evolve into something new.

Take both SUVs and hybrids as an example. At the start of this past decade, it was passenger cars with conventional internal combustion engines. But as the decade progressed, SUVs became more popular, and hybrid technology became cheaper and more widely available.

So now, as we sit in 2020, there are a wide range of hybrid SUVs available from mainstream brands that are either available now or will be in dealerships in the short-term.

Toyota RAV4

The Japanese giant has taken a slow and steady approach to hybridisation that’s beginning to pay dividends. Having established its hybrid credentials with the Prius, it has begun to spread the technology across its range, including the latest RAV4.

Combining its popular mid-size SUV with a hybrid powertrain option was an instant hit, with the waitlist blowing out to six-months at one point. Toyota has managed to ramp up supply to meet the demand, but the fact a RAV4 Hybrid can be had from $35,490 before on-road costs (and stretch to $44,490) should help it stay popular.

The powertrain in this case is a 2.5-litre petrol-electric combo, which teams a four-cylinder engine making 131kW/221Nm with an electric motor making 88kW/202Nm; for a combined power output of 160kW for the two-wheel drive models.

The four-wheel drive version gets a different system, adding an on-demand 40kW/121Nm electric motor on the rear axle for a total system output of 163kW.

Fuel economy is rated at 4.7-litres per 100km for the two-wheel drive model, and 4.8L/100km for the AWD.

Subaru Forester e-Boxer

Following in the wheel-tracks of Toyota’s success with the RAV4, Subaru moved quickly to add its own hybrid SUV to its local line-up. Actually, two of them, because it’s also offering the smaller XV with the same drivetrain.

The Forester e-Boxer uses a 110kW/196Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and 12kW/66Nm electric motor that’s housed inside the transmission. Fuel use isn’t class-leading, but it does drop to 6.7L/100km from 8.1L/100km that bigger, non-hybrid 2.5-litre engines consumes; which explains a big part of the appeal of a hybrid SUV.

The e-Boxer is priced from $39,990 for the Forester Hybrid L, with the Hybrid S priced from $45,990.

Ford Escape PHEV

Arriving late to the party, Ford has opted to skip ‘conventional’ hybrid powertrains and jump straight to plug-in hybrid technology with its new-generation Escape.

Due to arrive by the end of September, the Escape PHEV will be the flagship of the new range that the Blue Oval hopes will be more competitive against the likes of the RAV4 and Forester.

However, unlike Toyota that offers a range of trim levels with the hybrid powertrain, the Escape PHEV is a single specification – the ST-Line priced from $52,940.

It is a more advanced system though, combining a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor that makes a combined 167kW.

Crucially (and where a plug-in differs) is that the Escape PHEV can run on battery-power alone for approximately 50km. It also means an incredibly low fuel economy figure of 1.5L/100km.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

The Japanese brand was one of the first to enter the hybrid SUV market when the current Outlander arrived with a plug-in hybrid option in 2012.

Fortunately for Mitsubishi, a new Outlander PHEV is reportedly on the way in 2021, which will bring updated technology to keep it competitive with its newer competition.

Details are still scarce but it’s expected to be based on the same platform as the all-new Nissan X-Trail now that Mitsubishi has been absorbed into the RenaultNissan Alliance, and it will have styling cues from the 2019 Engelberg Tourer concept.

The engine is likely to be an evolution of the current 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol and twin electric motors (one on each axle). Expect it to improve on its current electric-only range of 54km, which would give it a small edge on the Ford Escape PHEV.

Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

Image credit: AtchaCars Image credit: AtchaCars

It’s become something of an open-secret (or arguably a requirement for a modern SUV), but the new-generation Tucson due in 2021 will add a hybrid variant.

There are no official details yet, but reports from South Korea suggest it will be a parallel hybrid system, most likely the powertrain already seen in the Santa Fe overseas.

In the bigger SUV, the combination of a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and 44kW electric motor make a total system output of 169kW. But no details yet on its fuel efficiency.

There is a PHEV option too, with the Santa Fe also offered in selected markets with the same turbo petrol engine paired with a bigger 66kW motor and 13.8kWh lithium-ion battery.

Nissan X-Trail e-Power

Having only just taken the wraps off the all-new X-Trail (aka Rogue in the US market), there’s still a wait for the new Nissan. It will most likely arrive in late 2021 or early 2022, but should introduce an electrified option to the range in the form of the brand’s unique e-Power hybrid system.

It’s unlike either the parallel hybrid used by the RAV4 or the PHEV in the Escape and Outlander, instead taking elements from both for what the company claims is more efficient but also user-friendly.

In short, e-Power uses the petrol engine to charge a battery that’s connected to an electric motor to drive the wheels. It’s a deliberately small battery, that saves both weight and money, so it can’t retain a big charge. That means the petrol engine has to keep working to top up the charge.

According to Nissan, the benefit of this system is the petrol engine runs at optimal revs, by simply charging the battery, which makes it more than 1.5 times more efficient than a conventional petrol engine.