Ford takes the Escape from hardy four-wheeler to a softened crossover and broadens the vehicle’s market appeal. Though I am more prone to drive a rugged 4X4 vehicle I see that the huge change in the new Escape makes sense. More and more buyers are looking for fuel economy along with capability in their vehicles. While they still want the capabilities offered by a four-wheel drive layout, they do not want the rough ride associated with most SUVs. Take the popularity of the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V for example.
Ford looked long and hard at redesigning the Escape since it was moderately popular and had quite a large following. But that just wasn’t enough. They needed a stronger showing in the category, which brings us to the new 2013 Escape.
Casting off the old platform for one that shares components with Ford’s compact passenger cars, the new Escape now has better road-going manners and a more comfortable ride. With the new platform also comes less-capable off-road manners, but as drivers scoff at those desires our vehicles are changing.
The base Escape comes in front-wheel drive layout as standard with the all-wheel drive layout offered as an option. The AWD system is an automatic version integrated into the stability control system. It is transparent to the driver and passengers as it switches from front-wheel drive to AWD as the system senses the need. According to Ford, the system can automatically transfer up to 100 percent of power to the rear tires if the front wheels lose all traction. As you might expect, there is no low-range mode as this AWD system is designed more for use during inclement weather on the road rather than off-roading.
This, the third generation, Escape is offered with the choice of three engines. The base engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder rated at 168-horsepower. Ford believes the more popular engine will be the EcoBoost 1.6-liter 178 horsepower engine. The top engine is a 2.0-liter Eco-Boost that delivers a robust 240 horsepower. “EcoBoost” is Ford’s way of labeling their combination of variable-cam timing, direct fuel injection and turbocharging, a technology combination that delivers power, responsiveness and fuel economy.
My test vehicle was an Escape SE equipped with the 1.6-liter engine, and while I was a bit underwhelmed by the absolute responsiveness (this isn’t a Shelby Mustang) the vehicle responded quite well and did not leave me feeling venerable in times of need. This Escape merged into freeway traffic well and sprinted up Mendocino’s Ridgewood Grade with no complaints, as I headed toward the famous race horse, Seabiscuit’s ranch.
The new Escape is equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission that also has Ford’s Selectshift manual mode. There is no paddle-shifter for manual shifting. That is carried out via a rocker-switch on the shifter and while it works well, it is a bit cumbersome. It requires more effort than paddle-shifting, and the driver must take a hand off the steering wheel. It takes little cost to supply paddle-shifters and would be a good move for the next refresh of the Escape. I feel steering-wheel mounted manual shifting is a must for downhill speed control, and relives excessive shifting when driving along twisting country roads.
Ford continues advancing with their drive to supply premium interiors while holding the price in control. My Escape SE seats were upholstered in an attractive cloth that seemed as though it would stand up to an active family’s exploits, warding off dirt and spills.
My large frame (6’2”) was comfortable in the driver’s seat, and while these front buckets are not overly supportive for hard driving, they were comfortable and held me solidly during a few more spirited drives to the Mendocino coast.
As is typical with modern-day family orientated vehicles there are plenty of cup holders and cubbyholes to give adults and children places to keep drinks and treasures secure. I, being the road warrior I am, would like to have more power outlets located close to driver and front passenger. It seems we are all carrying around far too many electronic devices these days.
If I were in the market for a compact CUV were ground clearance and more rugged off-road capabilities were not a factor the new Escape would certainly be on the list of considerations. With the attractive design, good fuel economy and comfortable interior the Escape is close to the top of the list.