The compact crossover segment is today one of the biggest and most competitive segments in the American market, with entries ranging from the Toyota RAV4 to the Chevrolet Equinox. Ford’s offering, the Escape, has always been a solid and reliable performer, and one of the segment’s best-sellers. But if you were looking for refinement, charm and comfort, well, you’d be advised to look elsewhere.
Until now, anyway. The maker has an all-new version of the Escape in the pipeline for 2013, and after spending a full week behind the wheel we’ve discovered that it maintains the flexibility and functionality that buyers have long expected while delivering the sort of creature comforts and driving dynamics that one could only hope for.
Better yet, the 2013 Ford Escape also scores with a new powertrain line-up that can haul and tow with the best in its class even while delivering significantly better mileage than before.
The redesigned 2013 Ford Escape is more than just an update. The maker has redesigned the crossover from the ground up, and like the 2012 Ford Explorer, Escape has migrated to a new unibody platform that it now shares with the nimble Ford Focus and soon-to-launch C-Max people mover.
The platform has been stretched four inches compared to the Focus to maximize cargo space without sacrificing cabin roominess. Compared to the old Escape, meanwhile, the new model is about an inch wider and several inches lower.
That new formula translates into a feeling of added roominess at the shoulders and hips without sacrificing headroom. And the 2013 Ford Escape, if anything, seems to have enhanced outward visibility, often an issue with other cute-ute designs.
The prior model was a bit of an anachronism. Models like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V had long ago moved away from their SUV roots, at least from a visual standpoint. The styling of the new Escape is no longer anchored in the past. The revised dimensions work well from a styling standpoint, the 2013 remake a handsome and well-balanced vehicle that has more in common with Ford’s car-based models than its old, body-on-frame trucks.
While the 2013 Escape retains a single-bar grille, the huge air openings below the bumper are more “hot-hatch” than truck. The sweeping, almost coupe-like roofline flows into a well-dimensioned hatch that maintains a reasonably sized piece of glass.
Even more impressive is the way Ford has reworked the 2013 Escape’s cabin. The old model suffered from an interior design that could most charitably be described as cheap-and-cheerful. The 2013 re-make is decidedly up-market, our Titanium edition finished in leather, with accents of chrome and piano black making it easy to forget this is a “utility” vehicle.
The new model benefits from some recent updates to Ford’s infotainment technology making it easier to operate while bouncing and jouncing down the sort of roads Michiganders laughingly call a highway. A minor disappointment was the decision not to offer Escape buyers the absolute latest in software which means you won’t be able to operate smartphone apps, such as Pandora, from the touchscreen. But they can still be played through the vehicle’s USB input.
The base 2013 Ford Escape carries a reasonable $22,470 base price. Our all but fully-loaded Titanium edition bumped that up to a hefty $34,735. That’s the sort of number that might take some getting used to by most compact ute buyers, and we expect most will land somewhere in the middle of that range.
But the Titanium certainly offers a lot for the money, down to the surprisingly efficient Ford park assist system. First introduced on the redesigned Taurus, several years ago, it may be the easiest auto-park system on the market. Our Titanium also included an array of safety features, including blind-spot monitoring and Cross-Traffic Alert.
We learned the value of that technology quickly, a loud warning tone advising us to hit the brakes as we started backing out of a tight parking spot in a crowded lot. The radar-based system acts like a pair of eyes mounted on the rear fenders watching for oncoming traffic.
But perhaps the most pleasantly surprising new feature uses a pair of sensors hidden below the rear bumper. Kick your foot as if looking for the muffler and the power tailgate will open with a beep. We learned to appreciate that feature on a visit to Detroit’s Eastern Market; loaded with bags of produce we didn’t have to put everything down to get into the large cargo bay – and we used the same feature to close the hatch when we reached home.
The only downside: it takes a little time to get used to the precise motion that activates the system, Ford making sure it didn’t inadvertently go off if a cat ran under the bumper or an errant soccer ball rolled by the sensor.
Overall, the technology in the Escape, down to the pleasantly simple way to pair a Bluetooth phone, lives up to Ford’s promise of delivering high-tech vehicles at a mass market price.
One bit of advanced technology has been dropped for 2013, however, the new Escape no longer offering a hybrid option. Beyond the weak sales, Ford planners recognized that they could deliver essentially the same sort of mileage numbers without the inherent costs and performance sacrifices.
Indeed, the bigger of the two EcoBoost engines now coming for 2013 handily matches the performance and 3,500 towing capabilities of the old Escape’s 3.0-liter V-6.
In its new trim, there are three powertrain options available, starting with the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four base engine rated at 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque.
The two EcoBoost alternatives are a 1.6-liter version delivering 178 hp and 184 lb-ft; and a 2.0-liter version bumping that to 240 hp and 270 lb-ft. The roughly $3,000 premium for the bigger engine may set off some flags for most buyers but we found it the most capable and fun-to-drive of the options.
It was also notably smoother and generally quieter than the old 3.0-liter V-6, though the EcoBoost will come through with a throaty rumble to underscore its capabilities under full acceleration. Tentative numbers would suggest it will get you to 60 from a standing start in a bit under 7 seconds.
While you can feel some of the added heft, meanwhile, the 3,791-pound Escape proved surprisingly nimble on the road, negotiating curves with aplomb. The rack-mounted electric power steering unit gives us hope that more makers will be able to deliver good mileage without compromising road feel.
As to mileage, the 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, even in all-wheel-drive trim delivers a solid 21 mpg City out of the 2.0-liter Ecoboost, the EPA Highway rating at 28. The base 2.5-liter I-4 will get you 22/25, while Ford estimates the 1.6-liter EcoBoost will deliver 23 around town and 33 on the highway.
Overall, the new 2013 Ford Escape is likely to take potential buyers by surprise. It may seem shocking to those used to the old, boxy ute but we don’t expect many folks to be disappointed with the changes. The only downside is pricing, at least on the high end. While you may sacrifice a few days dropping from the Titanium to SEL or SE editions the lower price tag should win over buyers on a budget.
Considering Ford’s increasingly solid reputation we wouldn’t be surprised to see the new Escape win over traditional CR-V and RAV-4 customers. If they didn’t at least take a closer look at the 2013 Ford Escape they’d only have themselves to blame.
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