Ford's Escape sports a nice new suit of clothes for 2020
By Jim Bray
The new, mostly carless era at Ford is beginning and one of the newest salvos in the company's battle for market success is personified by the latest version of its popular SUV, the Escape.
And it's a pretty nice item for the most part. I like its looks compared to the also-handsome outgoing model, and I was even happy with the performance obtained by Ford Canada's sample SEL trim level's 1.5 litre turbo three. Sure, it doesn't offer a huge amount of horsepower or torque, but in my week driving it in various winter road conditions – from bare and dry to awful – it performed just fine.
Well, there were a couple of electrical gremlins, which in my experience isn't unusual in Ford products, but they were pretty minor and would hopefully be taken care of under warranty.
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As mentioned, Ford's sample wore the SEL trim, and it starts at $35,049 Canadian, according to the sample's sticker. That trim level could have come with the optional two litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine rather the 1.5 litre EcoBoost three banger, and I probably would have enjoyed that even more. Yet this "little engine that could" three banger really, well, did – and I had no trouble keeping up with traffic either on city streets or on the highways around here.
Sure, it didn't leap ahead like a Mustang when I stepped on the gas, but it oozed forward well and I never felt it to be the gutless piece of engine technology that I had feared.
Ford rates the engine at 181 horses @ 6,000 rpm and 190 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3,000 rpm (with regular fuel), and that puts it right in the ballpark when you compare it to competitors such as Mazda's terrific CX-5 (187 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 186 @ lb.-ft. 4,000 rpm with the 2.5 litre non-turbo engine), though the ugly new Toyota RAV4 offers more (203 hp @ 6,600 rpm ).
That said, get a load of the Escape's two litre twin turbo EcoBoost's output: 250 horses @ 5,500 rpm 280 ft.-lb. of torque @ 3,000 (with premium fuel). I'd much rather burn regular fuel, which would reduce that figure, but I imagine the EcoBoost would be a lot more fun anyway.
If you're more eco-minded than me, Ford also makes available a 2.5 litre "hybrided" four-cylinder engine rated at 200 horses @ 6,250 rpm (but only 155 torquey thingies @ 4,500 rpm ).
While the three-cylinder engine does, indeed, perform well, I did give it the nickname "Ruth" because it tended to be a tad "buzzi" when cold or when pressed. It wasn't a huge deal, though.
All of the engines get their power to the wheels (either the fronts or all of them) via an eight-speed automatic transmission that works well. Thankfully, Ford decided not to saddle the new Escape with one of those 10 speed trannies available elsewhere, transmissions that always seem to be trying to save gas at the expense of responsiveness to inputs from the driver's right foot. This eight-speed shifts as it should.
I wish it had paddles, though. In fact, Ford's sample really had no manual mode at all, other than a "L" mode you can access via a button on the centre of the rotary shifter knob they've mounted on the centre console where the old shift lever used to be. Changing the shifter like they did doesn't really save any space on the console, but it works fine. I prefer how Ford's Lincoln arm does it on the new Corsair and Aviator (subjects of upcoming reviews) by mounting a series of buttons just below the LCD screen on the centre stack, but what can you do?
Escapes get five drive modes (Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Snow/Sand) and I was pleased with both the Sport, Slippery and Snow/Sand modes. Even Normal is okay because the Escape's independent suspension is tuned nicely for those who like things a tad more interesting, but Sport was definitely my setting of choice when the roads were good.
I wish the vehicle would remember which mode was used last, though, so you don't have to keep selecting it each time you get in and fire it up. This is a common thing, however, and by no means limited to Ford products.
Snow mode is very good; Ford really has a handle on winter, er, handling, and this new Escape felt safe and serene when the snow fell.
In all, the driving experience is quite satisfying. I don't think it's as compelling as Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" (in the CX-5), but it's probably the closest of the models in this niche that I've driven (well, check out the new Corsair in my upcoming review).
The interior is comfortable and laid out well. Everything other than the shift lever is where it should be, the greenhouse is very generous, the seats are comfortable, and Ford's Sync interface is still one of the best I've used – though it's a tad show to respond.
Ford's sample also came with some options, including a lovely panoramic sunroof ($1,750), and the "Ford 360 co-pilot" suite ($850) with its voice-activation, navigation and adaptive cruise control. It also had upgraded floor liners and a cargo mat that added another $300 to the total.
The electrical issues I mentioned earlier included one instance of the car freaking out by flashing a warning on the instrument panel, thinking that I was about to rear end the vehicle ahead of me. The problem was that there was nothing ahead, at all! It was quite disconcerting.
Ditto the blind spot monitor, which would warn me of something beside the vehicle even when there wasn't (this happened a couple of times) and the "door ajar" light on the dashboard coming on and then going off a few times for no apparent reason.
Those were pretty minor issues in the grand scheme of things, but I'd be remiss not to mention them.
In all, the new Ford Escape is a nice step up from the already-nice previous version. From its "Fusion-like" happy smiling grille to its new bum – and the fresh interior that goes with it – it's a very nice vehicle to drive and will probably be a nice vehicle to live with.
As it should be, of course.
Copyright 2020 Jim Bray