As one of the best-selling vehicles in the expanding small crossover segment, the new Escape is a model Ford knew it absolutely had to get right. After a great deal of time, money and input from engineering teams across the globe, Ford has changed nearly every aspect of the Escape for the latest generation, resulting in a more capable and stylish vehicle with a host of technology, safety and efficiency upgrades.
The exterior of the new Escape stays faithful to Vertrek concept, with only relatively minor details such the headlights, wheels and doorhandles overhauled for production. Distinguishing features of the new crossover include a relatively steeply raked windshield, a character line running across each flank (terminating in a somewhat cliche side-vent) and detailing on the hood that highlights the blue-oval badge in the grille. The overall look is a crisp and modern interpretation of Ford's Kinetic design language, though some consumers who purchased the outgoing Escape for its more traditional, boxy look could be put off.
Dimensionally, the new Escape is slightly larger than its predecessor in all directions. The wheelbase extends 2.8 inches longer to 105.9 inches, overall length is 178.1 inches (up by 3.4 inches) and width also expands by about half an inch (including mirrors). The changes translate to 0.9 and 2.9 extra cubic feet of cargo space behind the 1st and 2nd row seats, respectively, the latter of which now folds flat into the floor. Legroom is a wash, with front passengers losing about an inch of space that the rear occupants pick up in turn.
Three four-cylinder options, two with EcoBoost, no V6
As reported previously on these pages, Ford is continuing its engine downsizing strategy by deep-sixing the Escape's V6 option and relying on a powertrain lineup consisting exclusively of four-cylinder motors.
The biggest news is a pair of EcoBoost offerings that include a top-end 2.0-liter variant and an efficiency-leading 1.6-liter. With an estimated 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, the 2.0-liter offers virtually the same horsepower count as the V6 but produces a useful 37 lb-ft of extra twist while also promising improved mileage. The 1.6-liter is expected to serve up 177 horsepower and 184 lb-ft.
Both mills include turbocharging and direct fuel-injection technologies while also adding twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) to the range of EcoBoost features. Exclusive to the Ecoboost motors is an active grille shutter system that opens grille slats when extra cooling air is needed, such as stop and go driving situations, while at highway speeds the slats automatically close to improve aerodynamics and eke out extra mileage.
Base-model Escapes will utilize an updated version of the old model's 2.5-liter four that makes 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Sharing a host of components with the 2.0-liter Ecoboost, the mill is expected to offer better low-end torque than before.
Partnering with each of the Escape's engines will be an efficient six-speed "SelectShift" automatic transmission that allows manual gear changes via a switch on the left side of the gear selector.
Fuel economy is rated at 22/31 mpg, 24/33 mpg and 22/30 with 2.5-, 1.6- and 2.0-liter models in front wheel drive form. The AWD 2.0-liter model returns 21/28 mpg.
Power to the pavement
Standard Escapes send power to ground through the front wheels, while an "Intelligent" four-wheel-drive system is as option to boost all-weather capability. Ford claims that the system utilizes advanced software and sensors to monitor wheel speed, accelerator pedal position and steering wheel angle and respond to road conditions and driver input 20 times per second.
While touching on capability, it should also be mentioned that the Escape can tow up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped, while a trailer-sway control system detects trailer sway and automatically reduces engine speed while also applying asymmetrical braking to help counter it.
Upgraded cabin feels familiar
At first glance, the Escape's interior looks to be lifted wholesale from the recently redesigned Focus. Indeed, it is quite similar to the cabin of the Focus and other vehicles designed under the automaker's global "One Ford" program (hardly a bad thing), but a closer look reveals a slightly different center stack setup with marginally more vertically-positioned audio controls, unique side vents and different passenger-side dashboard detailing. The steering wheel and instrument panel are shared with the Focus, however.
Parts sharing aside, the cabin enjoys soft-touch materials on most main surfaces, while a raft of NVH measures including sound deadening interior panels, enhanced window seals and foam baffles in the window pillars help to cut down on intrusive road noise.
New tech makes life easier
Ford is especially proud of the Escape's class-exclusive hands-free power liftgate, which is activated by a gentle kicking motion under the rear bumper. Enabled by motion sensing technology used in current video game systems (no joke), the system unlocks and opens the liftgate and thus eliminates the need to put down items or fiddle with keys when loading cargo. The Escape's key fob must be in the close vicinity for the system to function.
Ford's latest SYNC and MyFord Touch systems will be on offer, and the automaker's nifty self-parking technology and Blind Sport Information System (BLIS) will also make their way to the Escape as optional features.
Other key technologies include Curve Control, which automatically slows the vehicle when it's cornering too fast, as well as Torque Vectoring Control (available on 4WD models), which should provide more balanced handling when the road gets twisty.
On the safety front, the Escape boasts a new side airbag system with adaptive venting technology that automatically deflates to better protect smaller passengers.
The Escape can be cross-shopped against the aging but popular Toyota RAV4 and the all-around competent Honda CR-V. Those seeking a more unique vehicle should take a look at the quirky Suzuki Grand Vitara.