2013 Ford Escape Road Test Review
by Tim Healey
If you're a 31-year-old unmarried female named Carrie who lives in the city and leads an active lifestyle, Ford thinks it has found the perfect vehicle for you -- the 2013 Escape.
OK, fine, we're paraphrasing what a Ford engineer told us about the Escape's American target audience (whereas in Europe, Ford is targeting families, since the higher gas prices on the Continent cause people to ride together more often). But that's the demographic the company had in mind as it redesigned the 2013 Ford Escape, which represents the brand's entry into the small crossover SUV segment.
Carrie isn't the only one who fits Ford's profile of a potential Escape buyer. Young couples and empty nesters fit the bill, although Ford will gladly accept your payments no matter who you are.
And really, the Escape will find a broad appeal, at least based on our first drive impressions, which we formed while attacking the hills north of San Francisco. We'll get to those, but first, some basics.
Features & Prices
There's a technology arms race going on these days, and Ford is doing its best to keep up. That means offering things like a blind-spot alert system, cross-traffic alert, Ford's Sync and MyFordTouch multimedia systems, active park assist, a hands-free liftgate that users can operate by waving their feet, a curve-control system that slows the vehicle when it enters a corner too fast, and a torque-vectoring system that helps the Escape accelerate better through turns.
Other available features include a reverse-sensing system, a forward-sensing system, a rearview camera, a navigation system, leather seats, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
There are three engine choices--a 168-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder that carries over from the previous model, a 178-horsepower 1.6-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder, and a 240-horsepower 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four. All three mate to a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive is available on the 1.6 and 2.0 models.
Trim levels follow the Ford formula of S, SE, SEL, and top-level Titanium. Base pricing starts at $23,295 (including destination), but a mostly fully-loaded Titanium like the one we drove could set you back by quite a bit more. Our tester--which didn't have the available sunroof but had just about every other option--clocked in at $35,630 (again, including destination).
Hitting the Road
We spent most of our day in the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four, but we also took a quick trip through San Fran's famous hills in the 1.6. We found both engines to be lively--the 1.6 was particularly responsive in the city--although the 2.0 occasionally suffered from a slight delay in throttle response when lunging out of a corner. The Escape brings some verve to the segment, leaping from corner to corner surprisingly quickly for a vehicle of its type. Still, that didn't stop us from asking for a hi-po Escape ST.
Ford continues to tweak its electric-assisted power steering for the better, and the Escape is easy to place accurately and smoothly. Feedback is adequate; although our take is that the steering feels sportier in the Focus, which shares parts of its platform with the Escape. Overall, the Escape is--get this--an SUV that's actually fun to drive.
Of course, no car is without its flaws, and the Escape has a few kinks. We found brake-pedal feel to be a little distant, although we never stopped trusting the binders, even on switchbacks surrounded by redwoods. That's good, since mistakes on some of the corners north of San Fran can lead to serious problems.
Other bothers? Wind noise, for one. It was pretty quiet when our drive started, and was easily drowned out with the radio on, but it got more noticeable, especially from the passenger side mirror, as the day wore on. A Ford employee riding with us suggested that our "very early" production unit may have been experiencing a problem, so we'll revisit the issue on our next tester.
We also heard a few minor buzzes and rattles, some of which could be attributed to loose items in the cup holders, and some of which may also be attributed to the early build. The noises were minor, but they didn't go unnoticed.
We also found the seats to be a bit hard after a long day behind the wheel and the driving position to be a bit awkward for taller drivers, but legroom and headroom were generous enough.
Even with the 19-inch wheels on our Titanium tester, ride quality was not sacrificed. The Escape trends toward the sporty side, but there was very little harshness over broken pavement, and the freeway cruise was comfy (admittedly, California freeways aren't nearly as pockmarked as those in other parts of the country).
Striking the right balance between ride and handling, not to mention between performance and fuel economy/utility, is not easy. It's even harder with SUVs, but Ford has done a pretty good job here. As one colleague put it over dinner, "It's like a raised Focus." We're paraphrasing that quote slightly (blame the wine) but it mirrored our own thoughts.
Inside the Cabin
We have mixed feelings about the Escape's cabin. On the one hand, the lines are pleasing to the eye, there's soft-touch material in all the right spaces, and everything is within easy reach and works as advertised. On the other, we still have reservations about the ease of use of both Ford's Sync and MyFordTouch systems (we didn't like the MyFordTouch switchgear in our Titanium test unit), and we're not sure how we felt about some of the plastic trim pieces. The dashboard also takes up a lot of real estate.
Ford does provide some unique storage solutions, such as under-floor storage in the rear and a two-shelf glove box. There's even a handy-dandy umbrella holder next to each of the front seats.
Like with the Focus, we like the overall look of the interior, but we'd also like to see a few more tweaks.
The Escape looks much better in person than in photos, with a sporty playful styling theme that just sort of fits the car's overall mission. It's a bit of a looker, with a style that is leaps and bounds better than the brick-like shape of the current Escape. We think Carrie would approve.
Fuel Economy and Safety
All-wheel-drive Escapes are rated at 22/30 with the 1.6-liter and 21/28 with the 2.0-liter, while front-wheel-drive Escapes are rated at 23/33 with the 1.6, 22/30 with the 2.0, and 22/31 with the 2.5-liter engine. Expect the full complement of airbags and the usual safety features like ABS and traction control in addition to the torque-vectoring and curve-control systems.
Automakers have been pumping life into small cars for a while now, and that same verve is starting to show up in the compact crossover segment. Mazda's CX-5 and Volkswagen's Tiguan are other examples of small utes that look good and promise fun from behind the wheel. This makes sense, since, as Ford claims, many buyers in this segment want sportiness without sacrificing utility. Of course, using passenger-car platforms can't hurt.
Ford promised a fun-to-drive small utility that offers high fuel efficiency. The Escape was a good dance partner on the back roads and a competent urban runabout. We can also say that for the first time in a while, we were enjoying ourselves in a compact crossover.
Carrie, your next car is here.
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