PROS Lots of passenger and cargo room, Reasonable prices, Easy to drive and park
CONS Sloppy steering, Too noisy, Bouncy ride
The Ford Escape is one of the most popular compact sport-utility vehicles. It was first introduced in 2001 and slots in third in overall sales behind the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Like most compact SUVs, the Escape is a four-door wagon that seats five on twin front bucket seats and a three-place rear bench seat. It shares engine and chassis with the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute.
Lately, the compact SUV marketplace has come under attack by a flurry of smaller crossover-utility vehicles like the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, and Nissan Rogue. Similar to the compact SUV, these smaller crossovers are more station wagon than they are rugged off roader and that makes them appealing to a wider audience.
To combat this new wave of competition, Ford freshened Escape for 2008 with new exterior and interior styling, additional features, and, most importantly, lower prices. For 2009 Ford gave Escape more powerful engines as the four-cylinder gains 18 horsepower and the V6 has an additional 40 horsepower. Also new for '09 is a six-speed automatic transmission.
XLS, XLT, Limited and Hybrid models are offered in both front and all-wheel drive. XLS models are powered by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 171 horsepower. XLT and Limited models get either the four cylinder or a 3.0-liter V6 that with 240 horsepower. A five-speed manual is standard on front-drive four-cylinders. A six-speed automatic is optional on front-drive four-cylinders and standard on other models.
Escape Hybrid uses a system similar to that found in the Toyota Prius. It features a 153-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, two electric motors, and a continuously variable transmission. Like the Prius, Escape Hybrid can operate in electric only mode at low speeds and does not need to be plugged in.
2008 Ford Escape XLT
Base Price: $22,730
As-Tested Price: $24,115
Built in Kansas City, Missouri.
Engine: DOHC 2.3-liter I4
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive Wheels: front-wheel drive
Escape's all-wheel drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. A towing package is available and it increases maximum capacity to 3500 pounds on V6 models.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, stability system with rollover sensors, tire-pressure monitor, and front, front-side, and curtain-side airbags. A rear-obstacle-detection system is optional.
XLS models come with air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, center console, split-folding rear seat, power mirrors, locks, and windows, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with digital-media player connection, and theft-deterrent system. XLT models add leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, power driver seat, satellite radio, automatic headlights, rear-privacy glass, roof rails, alloy wheels, and fog lights. Limited adds leather upholstery, 6-disc CD changer, iPod adaptor Bluetooth cell-phone link, and bright alloy wheels. Hybrid models add dual-zone automatic climate control and a power-flow display with trip computer.
Key options include power sunroof, navigation system, satellite radio, 110-volt power outlet (hybrid only), and remote engine start.
Escape prices range from $20,100 to $33,385. All Escapes carry a destination charge of $725 and are built in Ford's plant in Kansas City, Missouri.
Get up and Go Despite an increase of 17 horsepower, the four-cylinder engine is still a little overwhelmed by Escape's 3400-pound curb weight. That's not to say Escape is under powered, but the four strains to keep up with traffic and struggles when called upon for additional highway passing power.
Thankfully, Ford replaced its aging four-speed automatic with a more modern six-speed unit. The new transmission is markedly smoother shifting, both up and down, and reacts more quickly to driver input.
Escape uses a full-time AWD system that doesn't have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. However, in the snow it performs like a champ, keeping wheel spin to a minimum and allowing the driver to focus on the road.
The four-cylinder front-drive Escape is EPA rated at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Those numbers compare favorably with other four-cylinder/automatic compact SUVs. In addition, Ford says that the four-cylinder engine will run just fine on regular-grade gasoline. In routine driving expect to average about 21 mpg. Straight highway driving will net you about 27 mpg.
On the Road When it was introduced in 2001, Escape set the standard for small SUV ride comfort. Times have changed, and Escape hasn't. The ride is still tolerable, but large bumps pound through the suspension and the ride is busier than on newer designs like the Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue. It's not terrible, mind you, but Ford needs to put a little more effort into smoothing out the rough edges.
When the roads grow twisty, Escape isn't as nimble as new compact SUVs either. However, it feels more comfortable than midsize SUVs. The biggest hindrance is the sloppy steering. It's slow and doesn't impart a lot of road feel. Also, the tires are tuned for grip in the rain and snow, so they don't have as much dry-road grip as you'd expect. While all of this doesn't make for a sports car, it does make for a SUV that's actually somewhat capable when the roads grow slippery.
Body lean in quick maneuvers and lane changes is modest. Brakes on the gas-only models are strong, aided by an easy-to-modulate pedal. Hybrid models seem short on braking power and have a mushy pedal, which is probably due to the regenerative braking.
On the highway, Escape isn't as quiet as vehicles like the CR-V and Rogue. There's too much wind rush and road rumble. Noise levels aren't overwhelming, but you'll have to turn the radio up a notch or two on the highway.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2009 Ford Escape
|Front Impact, Driver ||5 stars|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||5 stars|
|Side Impact, Driver ||5 stars|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||5 stars|
|Rollover Resistance ||3 stars|
Behind the Wheel Escape's interior was freshened in 2008 and Ford did a good job of upgrading the look and feel. Materials aren't class leading, but they are pleasant enough and assembly quality is good. The design is also pleasant to the eye and functional.
Gauges are large and easy to read. Radio and climate controls are clearly marked and easy to operate. Window, lock and mirror switches are right where you'd expect them. The optional navigation system is easy to program and responds quickly to last-minute course deviations. About the only grips are an emergency-brake release that's too far under the dash and trip-computer buttons that are obscured by the steering wheel.
Front seats are typical small SUV fare, meaning they are upright, firm, and long-haul comfortable. Lateral support is lacking, but it isn't like Escape is a sports car. Head room is great and leg room more than acceptable.
The driving position is higher than most compact SUVs, though step in is not much higher than a traditional wagon. Visibility is good to all directions and the optional rear-park assist works well to warn of objects that might be below the driver's view.
Rear seats offer more head and leg room than most competitors. The seats themselves are somewhat hard and flat. The floor is devoid of a driveline hump and that's a boon for three-across seating.
Escape's cargo area is generous, even by compact SUV standards. Its functionality is enhanced by a large tailgate with separate opening glass and a low load floor. Rear seatbacks fold flat to increase cargo space, but not before first tipping the seat bottoms forward and removing the headrests. Interior storage is adequate and no more.
Bottom Line Despite substantial improvements for 2008 and more power for 2009, Ford's Escape is showing its age when compared to newer competition. Still, that doesn't mean it's not a good vehicle or a good buy. It's got great passenger and cargo space, plenty of maneuverability, and, with three different engines and an extensive options list, a price point for every compact SUV shopper.
Prices have crept up a bit for 2009 and that makes Escape slightly less attractive against newer compact crossovers like the Nissan Rogue and Hyundai Tucson. Still, Escape offers 3500-pound towing capacity, an available V6 and more passenger and cargo room than just about any competitor.