2009 Ford Escape Review

2009 Ford Escape - Updated Escape works.


The Ford Escape long was the top-selling small SUV in America after its 2001 debut and remains among top-sellers in its class. Many of these SUVs increasingly are being referred to as "crossovers" because of their handy size and carlike nature.

The 2009 Escape has the same basic design as the Mercury Mariner and Japanese Mazda Tribute. It continues with an older but updated and proven design. The 2008 version got bolder styling, better steering and increased noise insulation. It also got a more comfortable, functional interior, which still looks rather plain.

The new Escape has more punch. The standard 2.3-liter four-cylinder has been enlarged to 2.5 liters and generates 171 horsepower, or an increase of 18 ponies. And the 3-liter V-6's horsepower is up from 200 to 240.

A new six-speed automatic transmission is a big improvement over last year's ancient four-speed automatic.

The Hybrid has a spunky 153-horsepower gas/electric powertrain that has its own version of the new 2.5-liter "four" and needs no plug-in charging. It allows the Escape to deliver generally lively performance partly because its electric motor gives it especially good torque.

The Hybrid provides an impressive 34 in the city and 31 on highways with front-wheel drive or 29 and 27 with all-wheel drive (AWD) and comes only with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission -- not to be confused with the new six-speed automatic.

However, the Hybrid is the costliest Escape, with list prices of $30,635 with front-drive and $32,385 with AWD. While no slug on highways, it's best suited to city driving, where it can run on 100 percent electric power up to a higher speed this year -- a claimed 40 mph, maximizing city fuel economy. The transition between gas and electric operation is pretty smooth.

Escape list prices are all over the place, depending on the engine, transmission, trim level (entry XLS, mid-range XLT and top-line Limited) and if the Escape has front- or the costlier AWD setup. They range from $19,715 for the base front-drive XLS with a four-cylinder/five-speed manual transmission combo to $32,385 for the AWD Limited Hybrid.

Even the base XLS four-cylinder is fairly well-equipped with items including air conditioning, tilt wheel, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, split folding rear seat, rear wiper/washer and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry.

Higher-line versions naturally have more features. For instance, the XLT adds a power driver seat and the Limited features items including leather upholstery. The top-line Hybrid Limited adds a handy rear-obstacle detection system, heated front seats and a power sunroof, although you can get those features as options on lower-cost regular models.

All Escapes have plenty of safety features, including traction control, front-side and curtain air bags with rollover deployment, anti-lock brakes and an anti-skid system.

The regular 2.5-liter four-cylinder works with a five-speed manual or the responsive new six-speed automatic, while the V-6 is hooked only to the six-speed automatic -- as is the XLS four-cylinder AWD model.

Remember $4-plus gasoline prices? Well, no Escape is a gas hog, although fuel economy figures for the four-cylinder and V-6 versions also are all over the place, depending on their transmission and if they have front- or all-wheel drive.

Excluding the Hybrid, estimated fuel economy ranges from 22 in the city to 28 on highways for the four-cylinder and manual to 17 and 24 for the V-6 with the automatic and AWD (or 18 and 26 with front-drive).

My test Escape had the four-cylinder, automatic transmission and rear-drive. Its economy is a respectable 20 city, 28 highway -- figures that dip to 19 and 25 with AWD. It had far stronger highway performance than last year's four-cylinder, which didn't have much punch above 60 mph. However, the new four isn't as smooth or quiet as the more-potent V-6.

All engines require only regular-grade fuel.

The carlike Escape is enjoyable to drive and has a handy size that helps allow it to be called a crossover vehicle. Its speed-sensitive electric power steering, which improves fuel economy, provides good control, and a small turning radius helps low-speed maneuvering in tight spots. The ride is firm but supple, and handling is sharp. Progressive brake action enables smooth stops.

Large outside door handles are easily grasped. So are smaller inside ones, although they look like they're made from rather cheap plastic. Sliding in and out calls for a little extra effort, but narrow rear door openings hamper entry and exit a little. The front bucket seats provide especially good support, and the Escape comfortably seats five tall adults.

Main gauges can be easily read, but the fuel and coolant temperature gauges are too small. Power window controls on the driver's door are nicely placed to help accidentally prevent opening a rear window instead of a front one.

Front/rear cupholders are easily reached. But while climate controls are large, radio controls are small -- although they can be used fairly easily after you become accustomed to them.

The front console storage bin is deep, but the glove compartment doesn't hold much besides the owner's manual. Front doors have decent-sized storage pockets, but rear door pockets are practically useless.

The large cargo area has a moderately high opening. Its tailgate has an opening top glass section to allow quick loading of small objects. Rear seatbacks can be flipped forward easily to increase the cargo area, but don't sit flat.

The Escape lacks the personality and refinement of some rivals, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, but gets high marks for overall competence.

Jedlicka's Take: 2009 Ford Escape

Price: $19,715-$32,385

Likes: Carlike, roomy. More power. Lively acceleration. Nicely sized. Better automatic transmission. Snappier Hybrid model.

Older design. Some tiny gauges. Rear seatbacks don't fold flat. Rather plain interior. Narrow rear door openings.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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