2013 Ford Escape Review:
Ford has always had a knack for doing trucks. Even some of its cars looked like trucks.
The prime example was the Ford Escape. It looked like a truck-based sport utility vehicle, not unlike its bigger sibling, the Ford Explorer, though it really was a high-rider wagon, what the industry now calls a crossover.
For many years, the Explorer was the best-selling mid-size SUV. Built like a truck, it had body-on-frame construction and a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
In contrast, the Escape was a crossover, with unit-body construction and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It also has been a perennial top gun, to the point of ousting the Honda CR-V as the 2011 sales leader in the compact crossover segment.
Of course, some of that had to do with limited availability of the Honda because of the tsunami in Japan and parts shortages elsewhere. Nevertheless, the Escape found favor with buyers despite its mundane, truck-like styling.
For 2013, the pendulum has swung mightily. The new Explorer was re-designed as a classy crossover instead of a truck, and the all-new Escape arrives with dazzling new styling, substituting a sensuous beauty for a mundane beast. It bears so little resemblance to its predecessor that it could be a different vehicle entirely.
Ford calls it “forward kinetic design,” which means that it is intended to look as if it’s moving even when standing still, though that’s a debatable proposition. The sheet-metal lines curve and flow, in contrast to the old Escape’s boxy appearance. Nearly identical to its European twin, it’s part of Ford’s global strategy and will be sold in other markets as the Ford Kuga.
With that and other new weapons in its arsenal, the Escape is poised to possibly continue its dominance of the compact crossover cohort, despite the emergence of a new Honda CR-V and all-new Mazda CX-5, along with stalwarts like the Toyota RAV4 and Chevrolet Equinox.
In keeping with the galloping trend toward fuel economy in everything from kiddie cars to chauffeur-driven leviathans, the Escape comes with bragging rights. Ford dropped the former Escape’s V6 engine and boasted that all three four-cylinder engine/transmission combinations in the new vehicle deliver 30 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s highway fuel economy cycle. However, Ford dropped the former Escape’s hybrid model.
The 2013 base engine is a conventional 168-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder. It earned a city/highway rating of 22/31. The next step up is a turbocharged, 178-horsepower, 1.4-liter four rated at 23/33. At the top of the line is the tested 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four with a rating of 22/30.
Some of this may be perplexing to prospective customers who learn that the biggest engine has the least power. The answer is that the 2.5-liter is an older design, while the 1.6 and 2.0 use Ford’s EcoBoost technology, which incorporates a turbocharger to enhance fuel economy as well as ratchet up power and torque, or twisting force. Torque is what gives a vehicle strong acceleration off the line and in passing.
For example, the 2.0 turbo in the tested Escape is rated at 270 pounds-feet of torque, compared to just 170 for the base 2.5-liter engine.
Like other compact crossovers, the new Escape is available with standard front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All models get the power to the wheels with six-speed automatic transmissions. There are four trim levels: S, SE, SEL and Titanium, each with a different level of equipment.
Not relying on styling alone, the new Escape has some attention-grabbing enhancements. Notable is what might be called its kick-start power tailgate—a feature it shares with the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550, a two-seat sports car with a sticker price of more than $100,000.
Walk up to the Escape with an armload of packages and the remote key in your pocket. Do an imitation of an elderly Radio City Music Hall Rockette and kick your foot up under the rear bumper. Magically, the tailgate silently rises. Another tentative kick and the tailgate closes. It amounts to little more than a proximity sensor that triggers the electric motor, but it’s one of those intriguing things that works well and should attract buyers.
The Escape also can be equipped with blind-spot warning for drivers who don’t adjust their outside mirrors properly; a rear-view camera, cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a host of other features that are part of Ford’s My Touch and Sync communications and connectivity systems.
On the road, the Escape exhibits competent road manners. The suspension system is relatively stiff in the European tradition, resulting in a borderline harsh ride, but it pays off in improved handling. Also available are computerized torque vectoring and curve control, which helps the Escape to track cleanly around corners. Straight-line motoring is firm and stable.
The main disconcerting note on the tested 2.0 was a jerky, on-off feeling as the transmission shifted up and down while the turbocharger cycled on and off. It manifested itself mostly in hilly, curving terrain.
Another downside is that these machines are getting awfully pricey for their target young family customers. The tester had a sticker of $35,230.
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Model: 2013 Ford Escape 2.0 Titanium AWD four-door crossover utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 240 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/34 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,732 pounds.
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 22/30 miles to the gallon.
Base price, including destination charge: $24,120.
Price as tested: $35,230.