Ford's trucklet grows up, becomes a classy crossover.
January 2, 2013
By: Nick Saporito
This year the compact SUV segment has seen sales increase nearly 16-percent, making it one of the biggest gainers in the era of rebounding auto sales. Ford is hoping to capitalize off of the increasing importance of this segment with a radically changed Escape. Historically a little trucklet that was a bit rough around the edges, this new Escape shares virtually nothing but a name with it’s predecessor—and that’s a good thing.
The Escape has always been a well-liked vehicle. Consistently one of Ford’s best sellers in North America, and overall a vehicle that seemed to always hit a sweet spot in terms of size and price. Plus, it has always had a bit of charm with its mini-truck look and simple option sheet. With the new Escape, however, the fundamental formula is being changed. The Escape has grown up both in terms of design and features. The days of the simple Escape are long gone, because this new one has modernized the nameplate entirely.
For 2013 the Escape has moved over to the same platform as the Focus. There are several reasons for this, but the main one being that the new Escape is a global vehicle and Ford is gaining economies of scale out of using the same chassis twice. Dimensionally the Escape is roughly the same size it has always been, however.
The similar footprint is somewhat deceiving, though, because from some angles the new Escape looks smaller than its predecessor, and from others, it looks larger. Much of the visual teasing has to do with the Escapes new look.
The old Escape was a handsome lad, though if it were a model it would have been wearing mainstream blue jeans and a t-shirt. Using the same analogy, the new Escape is wearing a nice new suit. The front clip looks like one would envision the SUV version of the Focus to look like, with a very large lower air dam and small slot where a traditional grille would typically be found.
Throughout the side panels the Escape has dropped its hard edges for more sculpted sheet metal, giving it more of a proper crossover look. The exterior look is polished off with an unusual rear design; one that is a nice blend of Ford’s design theme and proportions borrowed from the Explorer. The rear window line is high, with the lift gate having a very dimensional look surrounding tail lamps that ended up foreshadowing those on the 2013 Fusion.
Ford’s new family look carries through to the inside of the new Escape as well. As one may expect, the Escape interior borrows many, many cues from the latest Focus interior. Both interiors could best be summed up with one word: technical.
The interior design theme is one with many angles and cut lines, paired with oddly shaped HVAC vents, accented with aluminum look and piano black finishes. The technical look is sort of artificial in the sense that it looks conceptual and futuristic, but that is likely on purpose as Ford aspires to capture a young audience for both Escape and Focus.
Despite the technical look, the interior design works well with the Escape, though there are some ergonomic setbacks worth noting.
When the gear selector is in park, the shift knob blocks off the HVAC controls, making is near impossible to adjust air controls. Typically the trade off of having a gear selector mounted closer to the center stack is the benefit of vast storage space between the front bucket seats, say, for a bag. In the case of the Escape Ford has opted to have an oversized parking brake mounted in the center console, which looks great, but is a waste of space.
Its also worth noting that the Escape front passenger compartment feels more cramped than the Honda CR-V or Chevrolet Equinox, mostly because of the interior design. The windshield rake is low, and the driver-centric design does end up giving the interior space the perception that it is smaller than it really is.
Like most new Ford interiors, material quality within the Escape cabin is excellent. All Escape trim levels come with cloth seats standards, except for the top tier Titanium trim, which has a jersey-like fabric combined with faux leather. At first we were on the fence about this fabric choice, but over the course of our time with Escape we came to like it.
The only area of questionable interior quality is actually the rear bench seat. Both the seat and back cushions are very flat and lack contour of any kind, which makes them uncomfortable for some passengers. Even to look at, they look insignificant. Insignificant or not, the back seats fold flat for a decent amount of cargo space.
Anything but insignificant is the fact that the new Escape is equipped with Ford’s infamous MyFord Touch infotainment system. Our Titanium tester had the gadgetry as standard fare, and like nearly every Ford tester we’ve had; when it works it is great. The problem with MyFord continues to be software bugs that have not been worked out. One thing the Escape has going for it is that it uses physical buttons to control nearly all functions, including the sound quality of it’s excellent 10-speaker Sony surround system.
Driving the new Escape is quite a departure from the old version. Ford’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder with 240 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque powered our Titanium tester. The 2.0-liter proved to be an excellent match with the Escape, providing ample power under all conditions. Like most Ford EcoBoost engines, the 2.0-liter rarely feels like a turbocharged mill, exhibiting little in the way of turbo lag. Only every once in awhile will passengers hear a hint of turbo whine as the turbocharger spools up under hard acceleration.
Combined with a six-speed automatic the powertrain is excellent for the Escape and should please a very wide range of buyers. During our week stint with it we averaged 19 miles per-gallon, but we also had a lot of idle time and harder driving than most buyers are going to exhibit.
The 2.0-liter goes a long way at making the Escape enjoyable to drive, but the chassis takes it a step further. For being a crossover, the new Escape is a great handler with a poised chassis that exhibits very little sway and consistently feels like the center of gravity is lower than physics would allow on a vehicle this size.
While the Escape is a great handling crossover, it’s ride quality is questionable. Titanium models wear large 19-inch wheels, which makes for a surprisingly harsh ride quality. Nearly every bump and rough spot translates into vibrations throughout the chassis. While this athletic trait is welcomed on certain types of vehicles, the Escape isn’t one of them.
Opting for smaller wheels will ease the harshness a bit, though even with smaller shoes the Escape’s ride is still harsher than most of the competition.
Overall the new Escape is likely to take on new life as a formidable competitor to many mainstays in the compact crossover segment. Escape has always been a segment favorite, but now it has grown up to a new pinnacle in it’s life with a new look, techy interior, tons of gadgets and an athletic drive.
Click here for more 2013 Escape photos