It’s quite trendy nowadays for auto writers to trash the very notion of the crossover, mostly because it doesn’t fit in with their self-defined image of being a swashbuckling, tire squealing, craft-beer-drinking car guy. Also, the economics of writing about cars tend to dictate a certain set of values and behaviors upon said auto writers, meaning that they aren’t incredibly likely to have families or, you know, own a lot of stuff. Finally, don’t forget that in the world of automotive journalism, anything mainstream is lame and everything that sells in single digits annually is awesome.
Thus, it’s now become incredibly bold for an auto writer to say something that is patently and plainly obvious to the vast majority of people who actually buy new cars. So I will: The 2016 Ford Escape is a good vehicle that fits the needs of a great many consumers, and it represents a fair value in the automotive marketplace.
I know, I know. I’m supposed to hate crossovers and everything they stand for. I’m supposed to lament the fact that Ford could be offering a particularly awesome station wagon. But I won’t, and my week with the Ford Escape in South Dakota is a wonderful example of why you shouldn’t either.
(By the way, Ford already builds an awesome station wagon. It’s called the Flex, and nobody buys it, except for yours truly.)
I picked up the Escape at the Rapid City Regional Airport in South Dakota in the middle of a blizzard. How fortunate, then, that this particular model came equipped with Ford’s Intelligent 4WD, which I put to good use nearly immediately on my drive to the hotel. The Intelligent 4WD system, which is actually all-wheel drive, even comes with this handy graphic to show you just how much power is being sent to each wheel, mesmerizing you at a time when your full attention should be dedicated to driving in the wretched conditions that are causing the system to send power to the rear wheels in the first place.
South Dakota assumes all who live there know how to drive in snow and ice. After all, it snows there approximately 346 days per year, and plowing is mostly done by other drivers who act as though everything is completely normal when snow is falling at a rate of a foot an hour. Luckily, my rental was up to the task, kicking snow away with ease and maintaining a true course through the squall.
The most important change for the 2016 Escape is the addition of SYNC 3, which is supposed to be an improvement over the much-maligned MyFordTouch system used in prior incarnations. As you can see, the screen is large and easy to read in both day and night conditions. SYNC is designed to work with several mobile apps, including Spotify and Pandora. However, I found it somewhat frustrating to use the SYNC Spotify app as I couldn’t select individual songs, only specific playlists. I decided to just select my phone as a USB source and use Spotify from the screen of my iPhone 6S Plus.
The interface is a good combination of touchscreen functionality and real life, honest-to-God buttons should you prefer to use them. Stereo sound quality from the nine-speaker system was outstanding, proving to be equally proficient at reproducing modern jazz and old-school hip-hop.
A good example of addition by subtraction can be found in the removal of the auxiliary input jack from the head unit, which nobody ever uses anymore yet was the default input source for previous versions of SYNC.
The cabin of the Escape is a pleasant place to spend one’s time, even in SE trim. Seating is comfortable and supportive, and everything seems to be located where it should (granted, I daily drive two Fords, so take that with a proverbial grain of salt). The steering wheel is the best I’ve found in a crossover and is similar to the example found in my Fiesta ST, with comfortable handholds positioned at 10 and 2. Gauges are simple and easy to read, and the steering wheel buttons make navigation equally simple to perform.
Back seat room is a little lacking for my taste; the smallest in the class when it comes to legroom as well as shoulder room. This photo shows how much legroom there isn’t when there’s a 5-foot-9-inch driver sitting up front. The Escape and others in the smaller CUV segment seem to fit a very particular family — one that’s not quite big enough for a family to carry around everything needed for a toddler/infant, nor for full-sized teenagers to fit comfortably in the back seat. But if your kids are between the ages of 5 and 12 — bingo! — the Escape is for you. Or, you know, if you’re a DINK family with a female driver who just likes to sit up a bit higher. Whatevs.
The cargo area is a little more in line with the competition, checking in at 34.3 cubic feet — less than CR-V and RAV4, but more than the Equinox. It had no problem handling my 26-inch suitcase and computer bag with plenty of room to spare.
However, where the Escape shines in comparison to all other small CUVs is in the driving experience. While horsepower numbers are comparable across the segment, the Escape has a little more torque, which was quite noticeable in the winter conditions encountered on my way up to see one of the nation’s great landmarks, Mount Rushmore.
As you can see, weather conditions were best described as gross on the afternoon I made my way through the Black Hills National Forest up to see the visages of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln (any one of whom I’d rather vote for than the options in the 2016 field, even if they are dead). The highway leading to Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a twisting descent and ascent through the hills, full of sharp turns and guard rails that are entirely not up to the task of preventing you from tumbling to a snowy death should you miss one of those turns.
The Escape handled it all with the facility of one of its little ST brothers. (An Escape ST — now there’s a tantalizing thought! It already uses that same 1.6-liter turbo four from the FiST. Hmmm.) The feedback the Escape provided was also not unlike what I’d expect from from of Ford’s hot hatches — communicative and instantaneous. Despite every survival instinct I had telling me to slow down, especially considering the increasing precipitation I was experiencing, the Escape seemed disappointed unless I drove it harder.
Here’s a gratuitous picture of Mount Rushmore to prove that I made it to the top. I was the only idiot stupid enough to drive all the way up there in the snow, and the park rangers seemed genuinely surprised to see me when I pulled the Escape into the garage. (Entrance to the park is free, but parking is $11. Sucks if you’re driving solo.) However, standing there alone at the base of the memorial … well, I’ll just say that it wasn’t a moment that I’m likely to ever forget. If you’re ever in South Dakota, you should go check it out.
Now, as far as things I didn’t like much about the 2016 Escape: the gas mileage still sucks, and SYNC 3 can’t fix that. I saw a combined 22.2 miles-per-gallon, which is pretty dismal for a CUV of this size. Let’s assume that I could have coaxed another mile-per-gallon out of it by not hooning around as much, but that still sucks. Still, I owned a four-cylinder Equinox for over two years and never saw anything above 23 combined.
My Escape, optioned out with SYNC 3, eight-inch touch screen, nine speakers, and Panoramic Sunroof (which was quite lovely, by the way) stickers for $30,310, but Ford currently has $2,000 of incentive cash available on Red Carpet Leases, which makes a zero-down, 12,000 mile annual lease around $360/month over 36 months. What a fantastic deal.
Much of that incentive likely has to do with the fact that Ford has announced a new-for-2017 model year Escape, which looks to be an all-around improvement on this aging model. However, the one you can buy today is pretty damn good, and I suspect it wouldn’t be unheard of to get a current Escape for significantly under invoice as dealers try to unload them. If getting a great car at an even greater price is more important to you than having the latest and greatest, I’d swing by your Ford store to negotiate on a 2016 Escape as soon as the 2017s start showing up.
In fact, if they can get me out of my Flex at anything like positive equity, I’ll probably be right there with you.