The outgoing Ford Escape became a best-seller after its introduction in 2001, but the truth is, I never liked it much. It always felt cheap and thrashy to me, especially on the trip I took to the motorcycle show at the Javitz Center in New York City soon after the vehicle launched. So I wasn’t holding by breath for the 2013 Ford Escape, but I’m rescinding my original “who cares?” attitude. At first blush, it has what it takes to be the best small SUV in the market.
Back in ought-one when I drove the original Escape, the big news was the 201hp V-6 it was equipped with, which set it miles ahead of its small SUV competition. For 2013, the six-cylinder engine has vanished completely, replaced by a series of three four-cylinder engines. In the S model you get the 2.5-liter four, which is an unremarkable engine I won’t waste a lot of time talking about. But as you move up the ladder to SE and Titanium trims, you have access to two turbocharged four-cylinder engines that have individual attributes that should excite a lot of car buyers.
The first is the 1.6-liter EcoBoost four, which is standard in the SE trim on both front- and all-wheel drive models. Its strength is fuel economy, allowing a front-wheel drive Escape to deliver an estimated 33 miles per gallon on the highway, significantly higher than any small SUV it competes with.
The second — which I experienced last night in the Titanium trim — is the 2.0-liter EcoBoost. It adds over a grand to the sticker price on the SE, but it brings with it 240 horsepower and a tow rating of 3,500 pounds, which should be quite attractive to anybody who bought the old Escape for towing.
It makes the Escape amazingly quick off the line. I haven’t experienced any four-cylinder small SUV with that kind of acceleration yet.
Around the engine, Ford has delivered a small SUV that offers refinement you’re not going to find elsewhere in the segment. Seating position is great, the seats are comfortable, the design inside is spot-on, and features like a 110-volt outlet, and storage areas for umbrellas next to the front seats are going to make it a favorite among people who spend a lot of time in their cars.
The cargo area is fairly generous, and I like the ease with which the rear seats fold, collapsing into a flat floor. I’m sold on the automatic tailgate opener that operates by passing a foot under the rear bumper. If you’re carrying stuff to the rear hatch on a rainy day, it sure is nice to be able to open the gate without putting it all down in a puddle.
I’m not sold on the gimmick of automatic parallel parking, though. I’d prefer we all just learned to park, especially in a vehicle as nimble as the Escape.
The nice part about the Escape, though, is that you can buy the SE, equipped with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost, without buying all the unnecessary SYNC/MyFordTouch/Parking Aid equipment. The old model of forcing you to buy stuff you don’t want just to get a better engine seems to be happily missing here.
The Escape S starts at $23, 295, which is in striking distance of a similarly equipped CR-V or RAV4. But nobody’s going to want the 2.5-liter with front-wheel drive, except maybe for Hertz. For cheapskate Luddites like me, you can order up an SE with all-wheel drive, the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four, the power liftgate and a trailer tow package for $30,100, including destination charge. It’s possible to load up a Titanium trim with everything you can throw at it, which adds about $7k, putting it in the same class as small SUVs from Lexus and Land Rover.
Complaints? Just two, initially.
- The handling is excellent, but as a trade-off, the ride is super-stiff over uneven pavement. It’s sort of the nature of compact vehicles in this segment, but it’s accentuated by our insistence of putting 19-inch wheels on everything. I’d be interested in driving the SE with the standard 17-inch wheels to see how the ride improves.
- Visibility is compromised with a tiny back window and dual headrests in the rear. It’s not the Normandy Beach pillbox view that the Kia Sportage provides, but it’s easy to lose a car coming up on your left, which necessitates standard wide-angle supplemental mirrors and the optional BLIS blind-spot monitoring system.
I’m reserving final judgement until I get to spend more than 20 minutes in it, but the initial impression is that it’s a vast improvement not only over the vehicle it replaces, but over the entire class of vehicles in which it competes.