2014 Ford Escape

As one of the best-selling vehicles in the expanding small crossover segment, the new-generation 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 changed nearly every aspect of the Escape for the previous model year, resulting in a more capable and stylish vehicle with a host of technology, safety and efficiency upgrades.

Distinguishing exterior 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 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
The Escape is a poster child for Ford's engine downsizing strategy - it relies on a powertrain lineup that consists exclusively of four-cylinder motors.

Base-model Escapes are powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 168 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. The mid-grade mill is a 1.6-liter EcoBoost unit that produces 178 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, while a range-topping 2.0-liter EcoBoost pumps out 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque.

Both EcoBoost engines make their power with the help of turbocharging and direct fuel-injection. 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.

Partnering with each of the Escape's engines is 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, 23/32 mpg and 22/30 mpg with 2.5-, 1.6- and 2.0-liter models in front wheel drive form.

Power to the pavement
Standard Escapes send power to ground through the front wheels, while an all-wheel-drive system is available as an option on the two upper-level motors to boost all-weather capability. Ford claims that the setup 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.

Opting for AWD reduces mileage to 22/30 mpg for the 1.6-liter and 21/28 mpg for the 2.0-liter.

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 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.

Technology makes life easier
The Escape offers a class-exclusive hands-free power liftgate that's 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.

All Escape models come standard with SYNC, Ford's Bluetooth-based connectivity system that allows smartphone uses to place calls and stream music by using voice commands or steering wheel-mounted buttons. It can also read incoming texts aloud to help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, and allows the use of Ford-approved apps like The Wall Street Journal news and Pandora radio.

The Escape can be spec'd with MyFord Touch, an infotainment system that builds on SYNC by letting users control everything from navigation to climate control to the sound system with voice commands. MyFord Touch also replaces conventional sound system knobs and buttons with a center-mounted eight-inch touchscreen, dual 4.2-inch displays in the instrument cluster and touch-sensitive controls in the center stack. Many consumers report that the system is a "love it or hate it" item, so those interested in the Escape are advised to try before they buy.

Other key technologies include Curve Control, which automatically slows the vehicle when it's cornering too fast, as well as Torque Vectoring Control, which brakes the inside rear wheel to provide more balanced handling when the road gets twisty.

Trim Level Breakdown
The Escape is offered in S, SE and Titanium trim levels.

The S comes standard with the 2.5-liter motor in addition to A/C, power windows and locks, a rearview camera, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with an AUX input, SYNC-based Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, keyless entry and 17-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.

The SE adds the 1.6-liter engine (with the option to upgrade to the 2.0-liter) as well as a SiriusXM satellite radio, a power-adjustable driver's seat, a compass and outside temperature display, automatic on/off headlights, fog lights, dual chrome exhaust tips, body-color exterior trim, silver front and rear faux skid plates, and 17-inch silver-painted aluminum wheels.

The Titanium brings leather upholstery, heated from seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a premium Sony audio system, MyFord Touch, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient interior lighting, a foot-active power liftgate, fog lights, a proximity key, push-button start, a reverse sensing system and 18-inch silver-painted aluminum wheels.

Highlights from the options list include a panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, 19-inch wheels, a forward sensing system,

Occupant Safety
All Escape models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a driver's knee airbag, traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Notably, the side airbags feature an adaptive venting technology that automatically deflates to better protect smaller passengers.

A Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) is available as an optional extra.

Key Competitors
Not sure that the Escape is the right compact crossover for you? Luckily, there's a wide range of attractive alternatives to cross-shop.

Conservative but highly practical options include the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, while the Mazda CX-5 is the driver's choice.

Also worth a look is the stylish Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, the well-rounded Subaru Forester and the upscale Volkswagen Tiguan.