The Ford Escape has been around for 20 years after first arriving in the segment in 2000 following the success of models such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V which came to market in the 90s. The Escape is Ford's 5-passenger compact crossover and has been completely re-done for the 2020 model year. The new style has a smoother design that looks more like an evolution of the Ford Focus rather than the previous generation Escape. The entirely new platform is slightly larger, yet 200 pounds lighter than the previous model. Optically, the new design looks lower and more car like despite being a bit bigger overall. The new model is only .2 inches shorter in height and .4 inches lower in overall ground clearance. The Escape sits between the smaller EcoSport and the larger Edge in Ford's lineup. It's a much better-looking vehicle in person than pictures give it credit and after spending time behind the wheel it's clear that the overall quality has been stepped up a notch as well.
The exterior style of the new Escape has a more car-like look versus the rugged off-road look that its Toyota competitor has opted for. While driving the Escape, I even had a couple neighbors ask if it was a new Ford Focus. The soft edges and curved profile are non-offensive in design and offer good visibility to the driver. It's a big change from previous generation Escapes which tended to have a more upright/utility look. It's a friendly looking crossover compared to some of the competition which have become more aggressive with their design and sculpted panels. The Escape boasts a wider stance, large round front grille, and a longer wheelbase that leaves little overhang at both the front and rear of the vehicle. Around back the power tailgate opens wide with a relatively low load in. The bumper is made of a hard plastic with a silver colored lower fascia. This type of set-up minimizes scratched and paint damages when loading in the rear hatch or hanging out in back for a socially distant tailgate get-together.
The Escape is offered in 5 trim levels known as the S, SE, SE Sport, SEL and Titanium. Standard on the S, SE, and SEL is a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine that makes 180 horsepower and is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The SE Sport and Titanium models come standard with a hybrid powertrain consisting of a 2.5-liter 4 cylinder paired with two electric motors that have a combined output of 198 horsepower. Optional on the SE Sport and Titanium is a turbocharged 2-liter engine that makes 250 horsepower and also mates to the 8-speed automatic. To further diversify this lineup, all Escape trim levels are offered in either front or all-wheel drive. Ford was the first manufacturer to offer a hybrid SUV when it launched the Escape Hybrid in 2005 and now for 2020 offers two including a full hybrid and a plug-in variant. The plug-in hybrid version has an enlarged 14.4 kilowatt battery which Ford expects to provide an electric range of at least 30 miles.
The test vehicle was an Escape SE Sport AWD equipped with the 2.5-liter i-VCT Atkinson I-4 Hybrid engine. It arrived with a full 14.2 gallon tank and a range of 568 miles which is enough to drive from Chicago to Detroit and back without filling up (in perfect weather conditions). The Escape Hybrid AWD has an EPA-estimated 43 MPG city, 37 MPG highway, and 40 MPG combined. After a week of average suburban driving, I averaged 38 MPG. Many factors came into play such as several short trips and inclement weather for the majority of the week. With low gas prices and it's use of regular grade fuel, the Escape hybrid will certainly save some dollars in your wallet.
While it may not look like the most thrilling crossover to drive, the Escape Hybrid was quite fun to drive. The hybrid engine did not hesitate off the line and packed a respectable punch (at least in feeling). The numbers aren't overly impressive on paper with an 8.7 second time which is slower than the competition. Despite these numbers, the Escape Hybrid feels good behind the wheel, especially when cruising at highway speeds. Power is directed through an electronic CVT which gives it plenty of passing oomph. The Escape seamlessly switches from Gas to Electric modes as you drive. The custom digital cluster will even show you when the powertrain is switching power. A digital EV coach setting within the cluster will help drivers maximize their electric range and efficient driving.
Ford offers various drive modes including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Deep Snow/Sand to accommodate varying driving conditions. Each mode will modify the electronic stability control system and traction at the touch of a button. Toggling through the various modes will also change the digital background to further remind the driver which mode you're in. For a livelier highway drive, Sport mode will increase throttle response and provide more precise steering along with a stiffer suspension that really amplifies the driving experience in a good way. As we switch seasons in Chicago, both the Slippery and Deep Sand/Snow modes will be quite valuable as they adjust power to increase traction on less than ideal road surfaces. In all modes, the overall ride is comfortable and the Escape handles well. The test model included the optional 19" wheels wrapped in 225/55 Bridgestone tires which not only look good but aided in the handling.
Inside the Escape has been completely overhauled as well, but the results are somewhat disappointing. Ford offers all the tech that buyers will want including the SYNC 3 infotainment system that integrates with both Apple Car Play, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa. The SYNC 3 system is very easy to navigate, even for the technology challenged drivers. The 8" touchscreen is one that sits atop the dash above air vents. Below the screen are actual knobs for volume and tuning and further below are knobs and buttons to control climate. The layout focusses more on function over style which differs from some of the Escape's competition. If simplicity is what you're looking for, then the Escape's interior delivers just that. Ford utilizes a dial for selecting gears over a traditional shift lever or even push buttons. Overall, the materials are more basic with harder plastics found in many rental car fleets. Step up in trim levels to get softer touches and some added flare.
The seats were basic and offer minimum support needed. With kids sitting behind me, I could feel every kick and bump in the back of the seat. The cabin has a spacious feel to it and door openings were large enough for adults to climb in the back to strap in a toddler in their car seat. Both head and legroom were sufficient for the average adult. New for 2020, the second-row seats slide forward and back allowing for additional rear passenger leg room. With the second-row seats in the full forward position, the rear cargo area extends roughly six inches. Cargo capacity behind the second row is 30.7 or 34.4 with the seat up and 60.8 cu. ft. with the second row folded down on the Hybrid model (cargo capacity varies on standard Escapes). The hybrid's battery is located under the rear floor so there is no additional hidden storage.
Finally, the Escape comes with Ford Co-Pilot360 standard. Ford Co-Pilot 360 is an advanced suite of standard driver-assist technologies that includes BLIS with cross-traffic alert, pre-collision assist with emergency braking, auto high-beam headlights, lane-keep assist, and rear-view camera. Additional technologies are also available as options such as adaptive cruise control with stop and go technology. One of these features that I found particularly nice was the driver assist function in the digital cluster that warned of your distance behind the vehicle in front of you. As you pulled up behind another vehicle, either an image of a Mustang or a Ford Fusion popped up with colored indicator bars below it shows if you were a safe distance behind the car (green), approaching the car too closely (yellow) or in danger of a collision (red). These checks served as a great reminder as to what an appropriate following distance should be.
The 2020 Ford Escape is a huge improvement over past generations. While Ford has taken a different approach with it, I believe it serves a great purpose in Ford's lineup. Pricing for the Escape starts at $24,885 for a base front-wheel drive S model and can climb up to a starting price of $36,435 for an AWD Titanium. Hybrid models start at $28,265 for the SE Sport or $33,550 for the Titanium Hybrid. There are optional packages that will drive those prices up, my test SE Sport AWD Hybrid came in at $34,245 with the optional Premium Package that added 19" wheels, panoramic rood, remote start, power liftgate, adaptive cruise control and more.
Competition for the Escape is fierce as this is probably the hottest automotive segment right now. Competition includes the Chevy Equinox, Honda CRV, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Kia Seltos, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Tiguan. Currently, the only other ones to offer hybrid variants are the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V while both the Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Rogue are expected to introduce hybrids as well. If you're in the market for a vehicle in this segment, test drive a few as there are plenty out there that all have a different flavor. The Ford Escape is a viable contender, especially in looking at the overall value in the hybrid model.