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2021 Ford Escape vs. 2021 Kia Sportage: Which Is Better?

Among compact crossovers, the 2021 Ford Escape and 2021 Kia Sportage each have optional all-wheel drive and turbocharged upgrade engines. But which is better?

Quick Facts

  • 2021 Ford Escape is available as both a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid.
  • Kia Sportage SX Turbo offers 240 horsepower and a sport suspension.
  • While both offer all-wheel drive, neither is a true off-roader.

2021 Ford Escape

2021 Ford Escape
Base price: $26,080 / Read our 2021 Ford Escape review 

What we like: Choice of engines, including two hybrids; optional all-wheel drive; active safety features come standard.

What we would change: Generic looks; 8-speed automatic can be jerky; steering could be more communicative; the base engine is underpowered.

Overview: Redesigned as recently as 2020, the Ford Escape offers a comfortable ride and plenty of usable cargo room. The base engine is a wheezy 1.5-liter three-cylinder connected to an 8-speed automatic, but a better choice is the upgrade 2.0-liter turbo. There are also two hybrid choices, including a plug-in. Front-wheel drive is the base, but all-wheel drive is available on all trims except the plug-in hybrid and the only choice with the turbo. There are also a couple of different drive modes. Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 suite of driver-assist and safety functions comes standard on all trims of the 2021 Escape, although the base trim does not get the full touchscreen or Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. The interior is pleasant and comfortable, and we like the redundant buttons for some of the infotainment functions. Resale values are generally about midrange for compact SUVs.

What’s new for 2021: Despite a full redesign for the 2020 model year, there are several changes for the 2021 Escape. The hybrid is now available on the SE and SEL trims, and standard on the top Titanium trim. One of our favorite features about the Escape is Co-Pilot 360, and 360 Plus (available on the Titanium trim) now includes adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition. The Technology package now includes a hands-free power liftgate and memory settings for the driver seat and mirrors, and the Convenience package now gets a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat, keyless entry, and LED lighting. The Titanium trim also offers a new 19-inch wheel design, and models equipped with the 2.0-liter turbo can be equipped with a  Class II Trailer Tow package.

Features and technology: There are five trim levels of the 2021 Ford Escape, with the base S getting the 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine, the Co-Pilot 360 suite of safety features, different driving modes, second-row sliding seats, a 4.5-inch display monitor, two USB ports, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. Next up is the SE trim, which is the first one with the 8-inch touchscreen with Sync 3 and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. It also gets heated front seats with 10-way power adjustment for the driver, as well as keyless entry.

Next up is the SE Sport, with a 2.5-liter engine and an electric motor. It also includes a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, and black accents. The top two trims are the SEL and Titanium, with the SEL powered by the 2.5-liter turbo and the Titanium getting the hybrid powertrain, although the hybrid is also available as an option on the SEL. Features on the SEL include memory front seats, remote start, and sport contour bucket front seats. The top Titanium trim gets a B&O sound system, dual-zone climate control, and ambient lighting, as well as Co-Pilot 360 Plus, with more features.

What does the future hold: After a redesign last year, we don’t expect much in the way of drastic changes to the Escape, although we would like to see improvements to the 8-speed auto and more communicative steering. Find a 2021 Ford Escape for sale near you

2021 Kia Sportage

2021 Kia Sportage
Base price: $25,110 / Read our 2021 Kia Sportage review

 What we like: Smooth ride; good standard features; optional turbocharged engine; great warranty.

What we would change: Make more driver assistance features standard; improve city fuel economy and increase cargo space.

Overview: In production now for 28 years, the Kia Sportage has evolved from bare bones to a sporty compact crossover. It has a choice of engines, optional all-wheel drive, and trim levels ranging from the basic to the more luxurious, comfortable, and even sporty. Either way you slice it, the 2021 Kia Sportage offers a lot in a small package, with good basic features, lively driving manners, and with the upgrade turbocharged engine, even a sport suspension. Even in base trim, the Sportage comes decently equipped, with a choice of driving modes; an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth, and a USB port; and a 6-speaker/160-watt sound system. There are a handful of driver aids, but it’s not until the upper tiers where you find the more advanced safety features. While less than some other competitors, the Sportage’s cargo space is still sufficient, going from 30.7 cubic feet beyond the rear seats up to 60.1 cubes with them folded. All Kias come with the company’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

What’s new for 2021: The Sportage remains virtually unchanged for 2021, save new Nightfall Edition and Nightfall Edition Premium packages for the S trim level, replacing last year’s Sunroof and Premium packages. These include such things as piano-black exterior accents, special design 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, and a special rear badge.

Features and technology: Five trim levels for the 2021 Kia Sportage range from the cloth seats in the LX to the upper SX Turbo, which includes a turbocharged 240-horsepower engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, and paddle shifters. All-wheel drive is an option on all trim levels. But the basic LX is decently equipped, starting with cloth upholstery, a 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, air-conditioning, three driving modes, a dual-level cargo floor, and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth, a USB port, and a 6-speaker/160-watt audio system. Safety features include forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic high beams. The next up S trim includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 18-inch wheels, power-folding mirrors, and roof rails, as well as the optional above-mentioned Nightfall packages.

Beyond that, the EX gets a 10-way power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rear-seat USB port, and keyless entry and ignition. Aside from what is mentioned above, the SX Turbo gets a panoramic sunroof, leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, a navigation system, satellite radio, and wireless phone charging.

What does the future hold: After nearly three decades of success, Kia knows it has a good thing with the Sportage, so expect only incremental changes before a complete redesign. We would add the full range of driver assistance features even on the entry-level, and possibly an optional hybrid. Find a 2021 Kia Sportage for sale near you

Escape vs. Sportage: Strengths comparison

Escape Benefits: Driver-assist functions come standard; optional hybrids; better fuel economy.

 Sportage Benefits: More communicative steering; more standard equipment; longer warranty.

2021 Escape vs. 2021 Sportage: Which is better?

There are good things about both the 2021 Ford Escape and 2021 Kia Sportage, with both offering a choice of engines and usable space. If you must have a hybrid or need extra space for cargo, the 2021 Ford Escape is the choice here. However, the Sportage just offers more, from a luxurious interior to a sporty suspension for those so inclined. Not to mention the assurance of its 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Find a 2021 Ford Escape for sale or Find a 2021 Kia Sportage for sale

2021 Ford Escape 2021 Kia Sportage
Popular Powertrains
Engine 1.5-liter turbo I3 2.4-liter I4
Horsepower 181 hp @ 6,000 rpm 181 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 190 lb-ft @ 3,300rpm 175 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission 8-spd automatic 6-spd automatic
Fuel Economy 30 mpg (23 city/27 highway) 26 mpg (23 city/30 highway)
Also Available 2.0-liter turbo I4; 2.5-liter I4 hybrid and PHEV; CVT 2.0-liter turbo I4
Basic warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 10 years/100,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety Rating 5 Stars 5 Stars
Max Seating Capacity 5 5
Wheelbase 106.7 inches 105.1 inches
Overall Length 180.5 inches 176.4 inches
Width 74.0 inches 73.0 inches
Height 66.0 inches 64.4 inches
Turning Diameter 38.4 feet 35.4 feet
Headroom, Front 40.0 inches 39.3 inches
Headroom, Rear 39.3 inches 39.1 inches
Legroom, Front 42.4 inches 41.5 inches
Legroom, Rear 38.9 inches 38.2 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 57.6 inches 57.1 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 56 inches 55.1 inches
EPA Passenger Volume 104 cubic feet n/a
EPA Cargo Volume 68.3 cubic feet 60.1 cubic feet

Doug Lloyd
Doug Lloyd is an author specializing in comparison tests. A veteran of the automotive press world, Doug started at Sports Car International and Vintage Motorsport magazines and has worked at both Porsche Panorama magazine and Doug is also a jazz piano player and a composer for television.

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