Ford's compact crossover, the Escape, is all-new for 2020. Riding a new platform that is slightly larger and 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, Escape also sees the return of a hybrid powertrain. Escape remains a 5-passenger, 4-door wagon that's offered with front- or all-wheel drive. Competitors include the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
Five models are offered: 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 181 horsepower mates to an 8-speed automatic transmission. SE Sport and Titanium come standard with the hybrid powertrain consisting of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with two electric motors that have a combined output of 198 horsepower. Optional on the SEL and Titanium is a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that makes 250 horsepower and also mates to an 8-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are offered in all trim levels. Also offered is a plug-in hybrid version with an enlarged 14.4 kWh battery, which Ford expects to provide an electric range of at least 30 miles.
New for 2020, are sliding second-row seats in non-hybrid models. Every Escape comes standard with Ford Co-Pilot360, which includes a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist and forward collision warning and braking. Also available are adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane centering and FordPass Connect, which provides 4G LTE Wi-Fi for up to 10 mobile devices with compatible wireless subscription service. Prices start at $24,855 and climb to more than $33,550.
Don't be put off by the base 3-cylinder engine. It provides decent pep and returns solid fuel economy. Most peg the 0 to 60 MPH time in the mid eights, which is respectable in the class for a base engine. In addition to start/stop, it can also deactivate one cylinder when power demand is lower to improve fuel economy. Stepping up the powertrain ladder is the impressive 2.0-liter turbo. It's noticeably more powerful in all driving situations and is probably a better choice if you tend to carry around a full load of passengers. Both engines mate well to the automatic transmission, but the base engine is constantly hunting for the right gear to balance economy and power while the 2.0-liter makes enough torque to mitigate that effect. Still, both engines suffer from a slow-acting stop/start system and can bog off the line a bit.
The hybrid model stands to become more popular as it's available in both the affordable SE Sport and nicely equipped Titanium. It provides decent acceleration and acceptable passing punch. Anyone familiar with contemporary hybrids will note that power delivery, while modest at first, is very linear as the engine and electric motors work through a continuously variable transmission to deliver power to the wheels.
EPA estimates for the front-drive 3-cylinder are 27 MPG city and 33 MPG highway. AWD models with the 4-cylinder net 23/31 MPG ratings. The hybrid numbers are 43 MPG city and 37 MPG highway. In all cases those numbers are very impressive when compared to other vehicles in the class -- Ford has clearly done its homework in the efficiency department. In routine suburban driving, expect to average about 35 MPG with the hybrid model. Interestingly enough, it's much more efficient around town, where the system can recapture energy during braking.
Escape's all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. The added security of all-wheel drive does come with a price and economy penalty. For most people, front-drive with a good set of all-season tires will provide plenty of traction.
Dynamically, the new Escape draws a lot from the outgoing model and that's a good thing because Escape has always been pleasant to drive. The ride/handling balance definitely leans toward comfort, but the compact size and tidy wheelbase make it easy to drive around town and the absorbent suspension does an excellent job of taking the edge off when the pavement gets rough. Stepping up in trim brings slightly larger wheels and tires and that gives a slight edge in the handling department with little penalty in ride quality.
Unfortunately, the steering and brakes are somewhat of a letdown. While, the steering is quick enough, it has no heft and little road feel. The brake pedal has no feel as well and, while it is easy to come to a smooth stop, the brakes seemed prone to early lockup in hard stops. All told, when speeds pick up there's a bit of a video-game effect, meaning the Escape does exactly what you want, but you have no feel for how it is getting done.
Wind and road noise are nicely quelled with overall interior noise levels are appropriate for the class. The 3-cylinder engine can certainly get thrashy at higher RPMs but it cruises quietly around town. Hybrid models drone in hard acceleration, which can be off-putting to some.
Escape's new styling carries over inside as the 2020 model has an all-new interior as well. Where some complained that the outgoing model was a bit too stylized and favored form over function, the new interior is a model in simplicity and puts the focus back on reducing driver distraction and providing maximum connectivity. Materials are somewhat of a letdown, but stepping up in trim brings some additional brightwork and soft-touch surfaces.
Driver's face a large digital display that apes the look of a traditional analog setup. It's very readable day or night and customizable based on driver preference. The center stack boasts a large touch screen display for the infotainment system (a much-improved version of Sync) and traditional buttons and dials for the audio and climate controls. Other controls fall close at hand and are well marked and nicely illuminated at night. The only faux pas is an awkwardly placed engine start button that not only hard to reach but hard to see from the driver seat.
Kudos to Ford for providing a large and simple touch screen across the board. Additionally, the new Escape supports both Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Sans phone integration, the system is easy to use at speed and doesn't get in the way of the driving experience.
Though serviceable, the front seats are on the small side and don't offer much in the way of support or padding. At least head and leg room are good and there's good visibility in all directions. The second-row seats are adult friendly and offer the versatility of fore/aft adjustment on non-hybrid models. Entry and exit are great with large door openings and a modest step in -- this really is a great empty-nest vehicle.
Rear seats up, cargo capacity is either 33.5 or 37.5 cubic feet. That's great for the class. However, overall capacity of 65.4 cubic feet (60.8 on hybrid models) trails segment leaders like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Interior storage is just adequate with a couple of bins in the center console and smallish map pockets. Other's in the class definitely have more useful interior storage.
Bottom Line -- Ford's Escape is perennially one of the best-selling compact crossovers, and, with near perfect dimensions, a driver-friendly demeanor and reasonable pricing, for good reason. The new Escape adds a much-needed dash of panache and a healthy upgrade in the utility department. The return of the hybrid model will delight many, but it's the surprising performance of the 2.0-liter turbo that will hook buyers.