For me, a new Ford Escape is personal. Our 2002 model was simply the best car we’ve ever owned.
With its optional V-6, it was powerful, it was as maneuverable as a go-kart and it had an interior that simply could not possibly have fit inside what looked like a smallish sport utility on the outside. Tough grey plastic cladding on the bottom gave that original Escape a rough and read, youthful look and it brushed off road debris without trouble.
There’s a good reason buyers have made it the best-selling small SUV on the market. It may have been a box, but it just worked.
But now Ford has built a new Escape, with swoopier styling, new powertrain options and a modern interior. The question is whether this new Escape can live up to or improve on one of the most useful vehicles of its size ever made.
Let’s take a look.
In a word no, it can’t. Despite receiving critical acclaim from many journalists, it won’t here.
Here’s the bottom line: This new Escape feels cramped, the transmission’s tuning is abrupt and while the styling is an obvious step ahead of the old, it’s derivative and looks like a lot of other cute utes on the market, particularly the Hyundai Tucson. On top of that, the fuel mileage isn’t all that great in real-world driving.
OK, let’s start with the good. The Escape is offered with three engines – all four-cylinders – a normally aspirated 2.5-liter and turbocharged 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter EcoBoosts.
The test vehicle had the new 1.6, the Escape’s fuel economy leader. With 178 horsepower, this willing little engine made surprisingly quick work of passing situations on two-lane roads, eagerly revving past its 5,700-rpm power peak. And it’s a smooth little mill. The front-wheel drive test vehicle was rated at 26 city and 33 highway.
The base engine remains the 2.5, but now it makes 168 horses. It’s rated at 22/31. The 2.5 is available only with front-wheel drive.
The top engine is the turbocharged 2.0-liter, which is meant to replace the old V-6. With 240 horses, the 2.0 maintains the same 3,500-pound tow rating as the old V-6. My how times have changed. A FWD 2.0 is rated at 22/30. The 2.5 is rated to tow 1,500 pounds and the 1.6 can tow 2,000 pounds.
But we averaged just over 23 overall in a mix of rural two lanes and freeways. On a long-distance cruise consisting of about two-thirds freeway, we managed close to 26, although, admittedly, were driving in excess of the speed limit.
The major criticism is the interior. Ford brags that the Escape has more cargo space than the outgoing model. That has a lot to do with the overall proportions. The interior feels tight.
The new version is more than an inch wider, nearly four inches longer and rides on a wheelbase that is nearly three inches longer. Its height is also 1.6 inches lower.
Here’s a big surprise. In a day when many automakers are squeezing weight out of their new vehicles, the Escape actually adds 206 pounds, comparing this 1.6 to last year’s base four-cylinder with an automatic transmission (last year’s model offered a manual transmission with the base four cylinder, but the one doesn’t offer a manual). So the Escape went from a lightweight to a porker. Someone should be reprimanded over that fact. There’s just no excuse for a similar-sized vehicle with a smaller engine putting on so much weight.
Where the old Escape had an expansive center console where there were places to stash stuff, the new one’s center console is intrusive. If you want to stash your cellphone, your choices are a cupholder or maybe wedged next to the parking brake lever. The cloth front seats aren’t even comfortable, especially compared to the wide, comfy chairs in the old one.
Cargo space is up nearly five cubic feet and it’s more useful. The original’s 29.4 cubic feet behind the second row was a rather vertical space, but the new one’s extra length means the space is more horizontal and thus more useful.
At least the ’13 Escape is a joy to drive. The ride is smooth and it attacks corners with a willingness that feels car-ish, not crossover-ish.
What isn’t a joy is the transmission tuning, which is lumpy. The transmission has a sport shift mode, but it doesn’t seem to change the character of transmission very much. It also has manual buttons on the shift lever.
The test vehicle, an SE, had a package including MyFordTouch with navigation and dual-zone climate control.
Unfortunately, it would seem that the only way to sync the temperature controls after adjusting the passenger side is to turn the system off and back on.
While rear-seat passengers don’t have much room, the seats are at least comfortable. And they flip down easily after pressing buttons to lower the headrests and another leaver to fold the 60/40 split seats.
Escape pricing starts $23,295. This SE opens at $25,895 (including destination). With the $1,570 MyFordTouch navigation and dual climate control and an equipment management system ($440) that includes roof rails with cross bars, tonneau cover and perimeter alarm, bringing the as-tested price to $27,860.
The bottom line is the Escape drives well and has better cargo space than its predecessor. But it’s passenger space – both for front- and back-seat passengers, is not as good, it’s transmission needs to be remapped and it needs to go on an immediate emergency diet.
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