2013 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L EcoBoost 4WD
Focus On Steroids: Euro-born Escape tries to redefine its segment.
BY DON SHERMAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARC URBANO
Ask typical owners why they drive SUVs, and you’ll hear, “I have a dog. Also, I like a high seating position in traffic,” or words to that effect. Now that first-person shooter games are all anyone needs to stroke his or her spirit of adventure, SUVs still thrive because there are dozens to choose from and because they beat every car’s carrying capacity. When you’re hauling Fido to the vet, taking the kids camping, or schlepping fuel for your LeMons racer, an SUV— even a small crossover—makes sense.
Ford figured out the SUV better than most, first with the mid-size Explorer, later with the compact Escape. Since Dearborn’s boxy baby rolled forth in 2000, more than 2 million have been sold, with only modest design and engineering updates. Last year, when the original platform was on its last legs, the Escape was still America’s most popular SUV, with more than a quarter-mil- lion sales. Thanks, incentives.
Through March of this year, Honda’s CR-V is top dog, at least until the 2013 Escape builds momentum. From the plant that builds it to the fresh interior and exterior, everything about Ford’s compact crossover is new. In place of the platform co-developed with Mazda, this Escape shares Focus underpinnings and a basic design sold as the Kuga in china, Europe, and other markets. The manual transmission, V-6 engine, and hybrid powertrain are all purged from the program. (The coming Ford c-Max, a close cousin to the Escape, will be all-hybrid.) Two new EcoBoost inline-fours bolster the Escape’s base carry-over 2.5-liter: the turbocharged 1.6-liter produces 178 horsepower, and the blown 2.0-liter is rated at a strapping 240. A six-speed automatic is now standard with all three engines whether you opt for front- or four-wheel drive.
Inevitably, the new Escape is larger, heavier, and more expensive than the outgoing model. The base price for a front-drive Escape s (the cheapest edition) is $23,295. Lacking full leather, a trailer hitch, and a sunroof, the Escape titanium 4WD tested here lists at $34,735; adding those options would hike the sticker above $37,000. We don’t see Escapes competing with $37,000– $40,000 Audi Q5s, BMW X3s, Cadillac SRXs, and Land Rover LR2s. But Ford has made good use of the extra inches, pounds, and dollars to bless this generation with improved performance, better mileage, and clever features, including a few goodies no Cadillac offers.
The Escape’s new duds are stylish and contemporary. The sweptback windshield blends smartly into the airfoil-shaped roof. A tasteful assortment of ribs and creases adds character to the nose and flanks. Headlamps defining the front corners, blacked- out bumpers, and diagonal spars that start low and run over the hood and up the wind- shield pillars make the best of the Escape’s tall, narrow proportions.
Swing open the Escape’s thick, heavy door, and you can slip into the squishy driver’s seat without climbing up or dropping down. the front buckets—ours were trimmed in a mix of leather and fabric—provide excellent omnidirectional support. Unfortunately, some of the visibility advantage provided by a high seating position is squandered by the thick A- and D-pillars, the huge radii at the bottom corners of the windshield, and the squinty liftgate window.
There’s a touch more elbowroom than before, even with the major structural and energy-absorbing upgrades aimed at improved collision protection. Instead of bolstering the door-panel trim with crushable plastic, Ford uses more eco-friendly kenaf plant fibers. The major space gains are in the back seat: Hip room is up by 3.3 inches, legroom is 1.2 inches greater, and there’s ample clearance beneath the front buckets to plant size-13 wingtips.
The cargo hold—the reason for any SUV’s existence—swallows 68 cubic feet of stuff with the rear seatbacks folded and 34 with them upright. That tops the ’12 Escape by one and three cubic feet, respectively, but falls short of the CR-V in both modes by three cubic feet. One handle releases each rear-seat section, allowing the cushion to swing forward and the backrest to drop in one motion. To achieve a flat load floor, the rear seat’s bottom-cushion thickness has been pared to the bare minimum. Occupants moving from front to back are sure to notice—and gripe about—the loss of comfort.
While dozens of SUVs offer a pleasant interior mood, few excel in driving dynamics. This is where the new Escape scores major points, largely because of the capable chassis components that underpin it. Nudge the steering wheel, and its Focus-like willingness to change direction reads through loud and clear: the front tires bite; the nose rotates into the bend. But the Escape’s center of gravity is 4.5 inches higher than the Focus’s, so steering response suffers from a slight two-step effect: the body bobs a bit before taking a stable set during aggressive turning.
Pressed to its limit on a 300-foot skid-pad, the Escape cornered at 0.81 g with manageable understeer and a reasonable list angle. That performance not only beats the previous Escape’s by a wide margin, it’s better than that of the eight other contenders in our last compact-SUV comparison test [February 2010]. The electrically assisted power rack-and-pinion steering is slack-free on center, and its effort builds nicely during turning. Unfortunately, practically all feed-back from the tires and road is lost en route to the steering wheel.
Back seat is roomy, but thin bottom cushions will prompt whining.
Except for one issue, braking performance is also exemplary. The Escape’s ability to halt from 70 mph in 172 feet with minimal fade places it just three feet farther than the braking champ of the aforementioned comparo, but its brake pedal is calibrated to provide more stopping power with additional travel instead of heavier pressure.
The Escape’s 3804-pound curb weight is at the high end of the compact-crossover league, suggesting that no 2.0-liter four-cylinder could possibly move this vehicle around at a lively pace. But Ford’s turbocharged four surprises. It thrives from a triple whammy of variable valve timing, direct fuel injection, and a healthy dose (17.0psi) of boost. The torque curve rises smartly from idle to do its best work between 2000 and 4000 rpm. When pressed, this engine hustles to its 6500-rpm redline without com- plaint, yielding a 0-to-60 run in seven seconds flat and a 90-mph quarter-mile in 15.3.
While the temptation to dip into the ready reserve of internal-combustion enthusiasm drove our observed mileage to 19 mpg, the Escape’s most potent power-train is a good 20 percent more fuel efficient than the 3.0-liter V-6 it replaces. Though the turbo four burns regular gas and has the same 3500-pound maximum tow rating as before, premium is required to unleash the full 240 horsepower. Those who can do with less towing ability and vitality should opt for the 1.6-liter turbo, which achieved 33 highway mpg (with front drive) in EPA testing
The Escape’s new four-wheel-drive system is smart enough to respond to wide-ranging traction conditions without so much as a mode-control knob to confuse the witless. A bevel gearbox attached to the six-speed automatic transaxle sends torque to a multiplate-clutch unit attached to the rear differential. A control module monitoring 25 or so pieces of powertrain and chassis data decides when and how tightly to engage the clutch. Commands come every 16 milliseconds so the rear axle is cocked and ready even before the powertrain delivers a requested surge of power. A bar-graph display available in the driver’s info menu provides a rough look at how hard the rear wheels are working. Front and rear differentials are simple open designs that rely on momentary single-wheel brake applications commanded by the ABS system to curb wheelspin and provide a token amount of torque vectoring during hard cornering.
A favorite way to cut through the crossover clutter is to flaunt options that competitors lack. The outgoing Escape offered automatic parallel parking for those who barely scraped through driver’s ed., a feature that carries on in the 2013 edition. Touch a button on the dash, and this system steers the Escape into a parking slot like a pro while the driver concentrates on proper operation of the shifter, the throttle, and the brakes. What Ford calls active park assist is part of a $995 technology package that also includes blind-spot warning, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear object sensors, and a panoramic backup camera.
New this year is a power liftgate with four command options. In addition to switches on the dash, the key fob, and the hatch-release handle, there’s a non-contact motion sensor that activates the power-opening feature after detecting a foot swung a few inches beneath the Escape’s rear bumper. When arms are full of babies or grocery bags, or babies in grocery bags, this gadget provides convenient access to the cargo hold without so much as unlocking the vehicle as long as the fob is with the operator.
The Escape’s dash and center stack continue the basic layout introduced for the Focus, with worthwhile improvements to both the eight-inch touch screen and the voice-command system. The shiny and matte gray panels, soft-touch trim, and bright and matte chrome accents are attractively executed. Redundant steering-wheel switches compensate for the long reach to the center stack’s audio controls. That said, we found a few quality and ergonomic issues in our top-of-the-line test car. The round, thin temperature adjusters lack the grip-enhancing band provided on the radio-volume knob. The rocker switch on the side of the shift knob is an awkward means of changing gears in the automatic’s manual mode. We also noticed fit-and-finish issues galore, such as taillamps poorly aligned with the surrounding sheetmetal and a half-inch difference between the left and right dash-to-door gaps.
Hopefully those flaws will be limited to the early production Escapes we drove and tested. This redesign is a huge stride ahead that deserves better. After years of force- feeding crossovers of every size and shape, Ford has finally created one with some sport to go along with the utility.
Text Source: Car & Driver