It may be the maker’s smallest SUV, but it’s also the biggest seller, so Ford has a lot riding on the updated 2016 Escape it is launching at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show.
The mid-cycle “refresh” brings with it some modest visual updates but some major improvements in the compact crossover’s bag of digital tricks, with an assortment of new connectivity and safety features that include the latest version of Ford Sync, as well as forward collision warning and lane-keep assist.
“Stuffing in a lot of technology the customer doesn’t want isn’t the answer,” said Chris Mazur, the Escape’s global program manager. The challenge, he adds, was to “deploy the technology that has the most resonance with our customers.
The Escape has been a powerhouse in the fast-growing compact utility-vehicle segment, lagging behind only the Honda CR-V in terms of U.S. demand. Last year, Ford sold a record 306,202, and it expects to set a new record by the time the books are closed on 2015. The maker is, in fact, completely dedicating its Louisville, Kentucky plant to producing the ute, the more up-market Lincoln MKC heading off to another assembly line.
(Ford testing self-driving prototype at new Mcity autonomous proving grounds. Click Here for the story.)
Utility vehicles, in general, are seeing explosive growth, accounting for about a third of the U.S. market, with Ford forecasting that will reach 40% by 2020. So, there’s good reason it wants to keep Escape’s momentum building.
Visually, the Ford Escape went through the most significant change since its original launch 15 years ago when the outgoing model was introduced. That saw a switch from a classic, truck-like design to the current, more crossover style.
Design changes for the 2016 Ford Escape are modest, with minor touches such as the grille, which now picks up on the trapezoid shape first seen on the Ford Fusion. There are now active grille shutters, among various aerodynamic updates. Subtle tweaks to the rear are designed to give the SUV the appearance of a wider stance.
The revised liftgate retains its hands-free operation, requiring just the wiggle of a foot below the bumper for it to automatically open.
Inside, there’s a new steering wheel, an undated center console, revised vents, a relocated shifter knob and more storage nooks. An electric parking brake frees up more space on the center console, and there are USB plugs capable of faster charging.
Some of the things you won’t see – but will nonetheless notice include button insulation around the pillars and underbody and new side acoustic glass.
The new Escape also gets back tuning buttons and an actual volume control knob. The latter changes are part of the update to the Sync 3 system. Ford was one of the first to adopt a modern infotainment system, but while the original version of Sync drew in tech-savvy buyers it also led to a lot of complaints about the system’s slow operation and often confusing hierarchy of commands. The new Sync 3 system is both quicker and simpler to use, among other things, taking far fewer steps to do such things as pairing a smartphone.
The update introduces a new, remote vehicle diagnostics system and Ford now can remotely update Sync 3, much like a smartphone. The new Sync Connect service, meanwhile, allows remote door operation, vehicle location and remote start.
The 2017 Ford Escape adds a number of new safety systems, including Active Cruise Control with Collision Warning – though it does not include the auto-braking technology offered by some competitors. There’s Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning and an enhanced version of its auto-parking system.
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The 2017 Escape carries over the old 2.5-liter inline-four, though only the base S trim. But buyers now get the option of two different EcoBoost engines: the 1.5-liter and the 2.0-liter. Both of those turbocharged packages – which are expected to make up 90% of Escape sales – will come with fuel-saving Stop-Start as a standard feature. Towing capacity with the 2.0-liter is now 3,500 pounds.
Ford is betting big on the 2017 Escape, but it has reason to expect the new update to do well in the market. If it lives up to expectations it will keep delivering more sales records in the coming years.
(US car market set to end 2015 with an all-time record. Click Here for the latest.)