Like their products or not, Ford has been on a roll. It all started when the blue oval financed their metamorphosis by mortgaging everything that wasn’t nailed down a year before the bankocalypse. Next came a wave of new products like the Astonesque Fusion, Prius fighting C-MAX and the Euro-derived Fiesta and Focus. Ford’s recovery plan hinges on unifying their worldwide lineup rather than making unique vehicles for every market. Ford calls this plan “One Ford,” while I call it “Ford’s Euro love affair.” The latest warrior in the Euro invasion is none other than the Ford Kuga, you’ll know it as the new Escape. It would appear Ford’s timing couldn’t be better since they just lost the small-SUV sales crown to Honda. Can the European soft-roader take back the crown? Or has Ford gone too far by ditching the boxy Escape for world-wide homogeny?
The old Escape attracted as many buyers because of its practical functionality and efficiency as it’s mini-truck appearance. Several Escape owners I know felt they could step down from an Explorer to an Escape without being emasculated by a “cute-ute.” If this describes you, consider a boxy Jeep Patriot while they last. When Michael Karesh took one for a spin last year he found the design pleasing to the eye, but in a modern crossover kind of way. The new exterior is full of crossover curves and overall looks like a jacked up Focus hatch with AWD. This description isn’t that far off base since the Escape rides on a heavily modified Focus platform. Although it looked smaller to my eye, the new Escape is nearly four inches longer, one inch wider and rides on a longer wheelbase than the last generation. Ford’s baby crossover has also been lowered from a Jeepesque 8.4-inches of ground clearance to a decidedly CUV-like 7.9-inches to improve on-road manners. In a segment dominated by fuel economy claims (and with Ford trumpeting the “lightweight” new Explorer) it is surprising that the Escape has gained 350lbs over the last generation now topping the scales at 3,840lbs as tested. Ouch. (The 2013 RAV4 looses 470lbs for 2013.)
The new Escape doesn’t just share the majority of its interior with the Euro market Kuga. Most of the dashboard is used in the new C-MAX Hybrid, and all three share heavily with Ford’s new world Focus. What does this mean to you? It means the Escape shares no styling cues from Ford’s truck line, a sharp departure from the last model. On the plus side, the parts bin Ford raided to create the Escape is full of high quality switch gear and squishy dash bits. While the earlier Escape’s cabin sold on mini-truck charm, the new Escape ties with the 2013 RAV-4 for the nicest interior in this segment.
Despite growing on the outside, passenger room is largely unchanged with a slight reduction in headroom (1/2 inch in front and 2/10ths in back). The drop in headroom isn’t really a problem since the old Escape has such a high roof-line to start with. Taller drivers will notice that Ford decided to reapportion legroom in the Escape by taking 1.2 inches from the front seats and moving it to the rear. Front seat comfort proved excellent on longer trips thanks to an upright seating position and comfortable padding but shoppers should keep in mind that only the SEL and Titanium models get a power driver’s seat. While there is no power passenger seat at any price, the Escape offers something never seen in this segment: optional full leather upholstery for $895.
Escape S, SE and SEL models come with an old-tech manual liftgate standard. Should you need some assistance, SE buyers can opt for an optional $495 power liftgate. Included as part of an $1,895 package with an up-level audio system and keyless ignition, the SEL model can be had with Ford’s new “hands-free” tail opener. The system (standard on Titanium) uses a sensor under the rear bumper that detects your foot. As long as the car’s key is with you, a gentle upwards kicking motion under the rear bumper will cause the liftgate to open or close. While the feature sounded gimmicky, I found it fairly handy when you have your hands full. Once inside, you’ll find three more cubes of space than the old Escape, but the cargo hold isn’t as square as the old CUV, making bulky item schlepping a bit less convenient.
The Escape S targets fleet shoppers and allows Ford to advertise a low $22,470 starting price. To make sure sales of the base models are limited outside of fleet sales, there is only one option: $295 for the SYNC system with Bluetooth phone integration. As you would expect, SYNC is standard on the $24,070 SE model along with XM Satellite radio and Ford’s “keyless” entry keypad on the door sill. If you dislike MyFord Touch, stop here since the system is standard on SEL and Titanium trims.
If you’re a tech lover like me, the optional (on SE, standard on SEL) $775 MyFord Touch system is a must have. The system uses a high-resolution 8-inch screen in the dash divided into four sections for entertainment, climate, phone and navigation. (If you don’t spent $795 for navigation, the system displays a compass in the upper right.) Rather than the dual 4.2-inch LCDs flanking a speedometer found in other Ford products, the Escape uses a single LCD like the Ford Focus. When MFT landed in 2010, the software had more bugs than a 5-year-old bag of flour. Thankfully, the latest version is more responsive and less problem prone, but MFT is still less reliable than the display audio systems from Nissan, Toyota and Honda. Despite the still-present flaws, this is still the sexiest system in this segment. Unlike the Fusion, Ford has decided to offer their excellent 12-speaker Sony branded audio system in the SEL model, although it only comes bundled with keyless ignition, the power tailgate and backup sensors thanks to the trend of packing features into option packages.
Instead of the typical four-cylinder and V6 engine lineup, the new Escape’s engine bay is home to a four-cylinder only lineup. The base 2.5L engine and 6-speed automatic are largely carried over from the previous Escape and good for 168 horses and 170lb-ft of twist. As you would expect, this engine is only found in the FWD Escape S, a model that Ford expects to be sold almost exclusively to fleets.
Next up is the same 1.6L direct-injection turbocharged “Ecoboost” engine used in the Fusion. Proving yet again that turbos are the replacement for displacement, the 1.6L mill produces more power (178HP) and more torque (184lb-ft) at lower RPMs than the 2.5L while delivering 1 more MPG in the city and 2 more on the highway (23/33 FWD, 22/30 AWD). (Ford has opted not to offer the Fusion’s MPG-boosting start/stop system with the 1.6L for some reason.)
Optional on SE and SEL models ($1,195) and standard on Titanium is Ford’s ubiquitous 2.0L Ecoboost engine. The 240HP boosted four-pot replaces the old 240HP 3.0L V6. While the old V6 cranked out 223lb-ft at 4,300RPM, the 2.0 spools up a whopping 270lb-ft of torque from 1,750-4,500 RPM. In addition to the twist bump, fuel economy rises from 19/25 (FWD) and 18/23 (AWD) to 22/30 and 21/28. Trust me, you’ll never miss those two cylinders. What you will hiss however is the hybrid system. Ford has decided that the closely related C-MAX now replaces the Escape Hybrid in the lineup. It’s important to note that if you decide to feed your Ecoboost engine regular unleaded, you’ll experience about a 10HP power drop vs Premium.
If you need to bring that Ski-Doo or pop-up camping trailer with you, the 2.0L Escape has an optional towing package allowing up to 3,500lbs of trailer pulling. Ford’s AWDsystem is a $1,750 option on all models of the Escape (except for the base S model) and uses a JTEKT multi-plate clutch pack between the front and rear differentials. The system is capable of connecting or disconnecting the clutch pack any time it chooses to direct up to 100% of the power to the rear, assuming the front wheels have zero traction. If all wheels have traction the system can only vary power to the rear rubber from 0-50%.
The old Escape didn’t just look like a little truck, it drove like one too with plenty of body roll, brakes that didn’t inspire confidence and plenty of wind and road noise. Despite the weight gain, the new Escape feels far more nimble than the outgoing model thanks as much to the lowered ride height as the new suspension setup. Drivers will also enjoy a much quieter ride as the Explorer has benefited from the same extensive sound deadening treatments applied to the Fusion and C-MAX. Thanks to the longer wheelbase, and perhaps that extra curb weight, the new Escape never lost its composure on broken pavement.
Thanks to the turbo engine’s torque plateau, straight line performance is improved notably in spite of the 350 extra pounds. We hit 60 in 6.42 seconds, which is 1.5 seconds faster than a 2012 Escape V6 4×4 we got our hands on and about the same speed as the 2012 RAV4 V6. Of course all comparisons to a V6 CUV from Toyota are now moot since Toyota dropped the V6 for 2013. Ford’s 1.6L Ecoboost engine will be the base engine for most Escape buyers and this is the engine that should be compared with the competitions four-cylinder offerings. Regardless of engine choices, Ford’s 6-speed automatic is up-shift-happy and reluctant to downshift unless you bury the throttle. This shifting behavior is nothing new as most manufacturers resort to this kind of programming to improve fuel economy. On the bright side, the broad power band provided by both engines masks the transmission’s shift programming by allowing you to hill climb in high gear.
Our Titanium tester came equipped with all the features you need to traverse the urban jungle, from blind spot monitoring with cross traffic detection to a self-parking system. Ford’s “Active Park Assist” system is easily the most intuitive and easy-to-use system on the market. If you want to see it in action, check out our video on our YouTube page.
Ford claimed our 2.0L AWD Titanium model was rated for 21MPG in the city, 28 on the highway and a combined rating of 24MPG which is an improvement of 4MPG over the outgoing V6. During our 710-mile week with the Escape, we did see an improvement over the V6 tester, but it was only about 2MPG. The reason for this is obvious, in real-world mixed driving where you’re climbing hills and sitting in stop-and-go traffic, curb weight has a big impact since there’s more car to motivate. This the same reason the C-MAX performed below expectations in our tests as well. No matter what your Ford sales person might tell you, no, the 1.6L Ecoboost engine won’t give you the same economy as your old Escape Hybrid. Sorry.
Aside from no longer looking like a butch trucklet, the Escape is better in every way than the outgoing model, and isn’t that what progress should be? Of course, progress rarely comes free. The base Escape is $1,000 dearer than year’s model and our fully-loaded Titanium tester busts the budget at $35,630. With a three-engine lineup, more gadgets than many luxury cars and optional full-leather upholstery, the Escape is both a Kia Sportage competitor and gives the Acura RDX a run for its money. Until we can get our hands on the refreshed RAV4, the Escape is at the top of my shopping list and it should be on yours as well. Let’s just hope Ford doesn’t recall that 1.6L Ecooost engine again.
Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.36 Seconds
0-60: 6.42 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.95 Seconds @ 91.2 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 22 MPG over 710 miles