First Drive: Ford Escape

By Barbara Schaffer

Richmond, Calif. ? Typically a year or two after a new vehicle is introduced, the sales peak and then decline until the next new model is introduced four to six years later.? Evidently the Ford Escape didn?t get the message.

When Escape debuted in 2000 as a 2001 model sales were good and reached more than 164,000 during the first full year of production and then went on to average more than 185,000 units annually through 2010.? During that time there was a minor freshening in 2007.? Then in 2011, the year before the debut of an all-new model, Escape sold a record 254,293 to become the best-selling SUV in America.? They definitely didn?t get the message.?

It appears that compact SUV sales are back and stronger than ever.? According to James Farley, Ford Group Vice President, Global Marketing, Sales and Service, 60 percent of American shoppers will be looking for either a midsize sedan or small crossover this year and that Ford expects the sales of the two categories to total more than four million vehicles this year. ?Ford plans to be a big part of that market with the all-new Escape SUV and Fusion mid-size sedan.

No longer a boxy looking wagon, the Escape designers have created sleek lines more like those of its larger siblings, the Edge and Explorer, but with a front end similar to the popular Ford Focus.? The result is a dramatic new look that changes the whole complexion of Escape.

Describing the Escape, Chief engineer, Erik Loeffler, said, ?The new Escape is a great leap forward and delivers what customers around the world seek in a compact sport utility vehicle ? eye-catching design, an engaging driving experience, outstanding fuel economy and the capability to take you on any adventure you have in mind.?

My driving partner and I chose a Ginger Ale Metallic Escape with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine for our drive from Richmond through the coastal mountain range to Bodega Bay. ?The black leather seats were comfortable, but the dash area seemed a little busy to me with several layers, shapes, and visors protruding over some of the instruments.? It might have looked busy, but the controls were nicely organized and have a positive quality feel.

With the front seats all the way back, the rear seat legroom is tight, but headroom is very good, as is the cargo space.? The Escape is designed for five passengers, but the rear seat is too crowded with three adults.? The 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space is will easily haul a week?s luggage for five or a lot of sports equipment.? The space grows to 68.1 cubic feet when the rear seatback is folded, and it looks like there?s enough room for two or three bicycles.? Escape also has a 3,500-pound towing capacity when equipped with the optional towing package.

One of the fun new features in the Escape is the power liftgate.? Walk up the rear cargo door with the key fob in a pocket or purse, make a simple kicking gesture toward the bottom center of the bumper, and the liftgate unlocks and raises automatically to a predetermined height.? Make the kicking motion again and the door closes.? The door can be programmed for a predetermined opening height, too for owners that might have a low garage door or other obstacles.

The Escape drives more like a small sport sedan than a bulky SUV.? It stays flat on the corners and has a precise steering feel.? The 2.0 EcoBoost engine produces quick acceleration and I could feel virtually no turbo lag.? The Escape feels agile, precise and even has a reasonably tight, for a four-wheel drive, 39.5-foot turning radius in a quick U-turn.? But what most impressed me was how quiet the Escape is.

Escape comes in four models, S, SE, SEL and Titanium.? The S is only available in front-wheel drive and the 168-hp 2.5-liter Duratec? four-cylinder engine. The SE and SEL models have a standard 178-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and available four-wheel drive.? The standard engine in the Titanium, and optional in the SE and SEL, is the 240-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost.? All Escapes have a six-speed automatic transmission.

All three engines get significant increases in fuel economy.? The 2.5-liter gets an EPA rating of 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway compared to 20/27 mpg for the previous generation.? The new 1.6-liter EcoBoost is rated at 24/33mpg and the 2.0-liter EcoBoost gets EPA estimates of 21/28 mpg compared the previous V-6, which was rated at 18/23 mpg.? All the new Escapes have a much lower coefficient of drag than the previous generation and they have self-closing grille shutters to reduce drag at higher speeds.

Pricing starts at $23,295, including the destination charge, for the front-wheel drive S and goes as high as $31,195 for the top level Titanium four-wheel drive.? Standard equipment on Titanium includes features like HD Radio?, remote start, heated leather seating (front), HID headlights, power liftgate and reverse sensing system. ?Loaded, with all the optional features, the price can top $37,000.

Escape has available some of Ford?s cool new technologies, ?like the active park assist that steers the vehicle for you when parallel parking and the MyKey?, which allows the owner to control how the vehicle is driven by other drivers.

I keep trying to learn how to use the SYNC? and MyFordTouch? infotainment systems, but I still get confused and frustrated.? I realize I only get a few hours practice each time I drive a Ford, but it still seems more complicated than it should be.

The new Ford Escape it impressive for its looks, performance, fuel economy and technology, and is a ?must drive? for anyone looking for a compact SUV or crossover.