Ford Escape is not the first compact crossover, but it has been a best seller over the last 13 years and leapfrogged the Honda CRV for 2013 compact-crossover sales leadership.
There are a lot of reasons for its success and number one is fuel economy. The all-new 2013 Escape all-wheel drive version with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost four cylinder has an EPA rating of 22/30 mpg city/highway and 25 mpg combined city/highway. That highway rating qualifies it for membership in Clean Car Report‘s 30 mpg AWD club.
The 2013 Escape is a radical departure from its former old school boxy styling. It’s essentially an American take on Ford’s highly regarded Kuga sport utility sold in Europe. It shares the basics of its structure with a variety of Ford vehicles that include the Focus compact sedan and hatchback and the C-Max hybrid hatchbacks. This is a state-of-the-art platform boasting a well-sorted four-wheel independent suspension.
While the previous Escape carried design elements popular with the truck-based SUVs that dominated in the late 1990s, the 2013 replacement looks more like a sleek new compact station wagon with a slightly elevated ride height. That’s essentially what it is: a four-door, five-passenger utility vehicle based on the underskin platform of the Focus compact car.
The shaped-in-Europe body design features trendy air intakes that dominate a bold nose, wheel arches that are muscled-up and a raked-back windshield. The rear is highlighted by large angular taillamps, a small spoiler and dual exhaust tips.
It’s also larger inside and out, growing 3.5 inches in overall length and 2.8 inches in wheelbase. That makes the new Escape about as long overall as the compact-crossover norm. The nearly 40 inches of front and rear seat headroom is among the best in class, but there’s less rear-seat legroom than in the Honda CRV or Toyota RAV-4. Escape also trails the Honda and Toyota for cargo volume, with a so-so 34.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 68.1 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.
The 2013 Escape’s cabin features swooping shapes and a curved dashboard of complex intersecting angles. Grained and soft-touch panels, faux aluminum trim, and sturdy-feeling switchgear are well above the norm for this class.
The new dashboard incorporates a display screen for the many infotainment features. It cascades into a sloped center console that contributes to a cockpit feel. Ice blue gauges are housed in large pods that locate an LCD information screen between the speedometer and tachometer.
Escape offers a tiered lineup that includes the base S, better equipped SE and top-line Titanium models. Exterior and interior trim and appointments escalate accordingly, and even the base model comes standard with keyless entry, power locks, windows and mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable driver’s seat, cruise control, air conditioning and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, a USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
For model year 2014, a rearview camera and Ford’s innovative Sync system become standard. Sync provides hands-free connectivity for communications, navigation, and entertainment services.
Gee Whiz Features
The Ford Escape is the compact-crossover technology and connectivity leader – while also offering some novelties sure to impress neighbors.
Optional is the MyFord Touch with navigation. This system builds on Sync, and essentially replaces conventional dashboard buttons and knobs with touchscreen interfaces. Smart phone users quickly learn its operation, for others it can be frustrating.
Also available is the Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert to warn of vehicles in the driver’s over-the-shoulder blind spot or those approaching from the sides when backing from a parking-lot space.
In the impress-the-neighbors category, the Escape offers Ford’s Active Park Assist, which can identify a suitable parallel parking space and literally take control to steer an Escape into it while the driver simply modulates the brake pedal. Similarly, the available hands-free power liftgate allows an owner carrying the keyless-entry fob in a pocket or purse to unlock and open the power rear hatch by simply waving a foot below the rear bumper.
A trio of four-cylinder engines – two are EcoBoost – comprise the Escape’s power lineup, and each connects to a six-speed automatic.
Ford’s EcoBoost engines use a turbocharger for an added “boost” of power. They use direct fuel injection to optimize combustion, and have variable camshaft timing for intake and exhaust efficiencies that enhance fuel economy.
Offered only on the base model is a conventional 2.5-liter 168-horsepower engine carried over from the previous Escape. Available in
front drive only, it returns an EPA-estimated 22/31/25 mpg.
The top engine choice has been the EcoBoost 1.6-liter that puts out 178 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque and has the best fuel economy: 23/32/25 mpg with front drive and 22/30/25 with AWD. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost is the sportiest engine rated at 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque with fuel economy rated at 22/30/25 with front drive and 21/28/24 with AWD.
Escape’s AWD system is crossover-typical – normally operated in front-drive and automatically reapportioning power to the rear wheels when the fronts begin to slip, and never intended for severe off-road duty. Working in concert with Torque Vectoring Control and Curve Control, it improves handling on dry pavement, as well as wet, snowy or icy roads.
On The Road
The Escape sits low enough to allow ease of entry and exit, but high enough to give a good view of the road ahead. Steering wheel adjustments along with the height adjustable driver’s seat make it easy to find a comfortable driving position.
Up front, we were cosseted in firm, well-bolstered seats upholstered with comfortable charcoal black fabric. As a compact, controls lay easily to hand, although fussing with MyFord Touch was an irritant.
From a stop, the 1.6-liter’s spunky quartet of cylinders aided by the turbocharger delivered a very brisk send off. It took a couple of days to train the right foot’s pressure on the accelerator pedal to avoid jackrabbit starts. But the turbo’s boost of power was appreciated when merging onto the Interstate and passing on two lane highways. Cruising was basically effortless and there was surprisingly little wind or road noise.
We found the ride quality to be firm yet supple. In theory, the European suspension design should give the Escape good ability to isolate bumps without transferring harsh impacts to other wheels. In practice it works well, too – the overall ride was comfortable, and good damping meant it settled down quickly after crossing larger road rash. The suspension kept the body roll well under control on the few sharp curves encountered.
The electric power steering is reasonably well tuned, not sports car-accurate, but quick and light enough. Brakes were a tad touchy but yielded short, straight stops.
A fill-up after 179 miles of mixed driving yielded 27.7 mpg, almost 3 mpg more than the EPA’s estimated 25 mpg combined city/highway.
At first glance the Ford Escape is competitively priced. The 2014 model-year base S starts at $22,700. The step-up SE has a sticker price of $25,550 for front drive, $27,300 for AWD. Competitive yes, but once you starting adding those nifty options, it becomes one of the most expensive choices in its class. And then there’s the flagship Titanium priced starting at $29,100 for front drive and topping $30K for AWD.
But what you get for you money is an uncommonly talented compact crossover. The Ford Escape offers sexy exterior styling, a top-drawer interior, more connectivity and high-tech features than any competitor and, if fun driving is important to you, it’s the benchmark for handling.
Oh, there’s also that 30 miles-per-gallon on the highway across the board.
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