The 2013 Ford Escape is a total redesign that moves the top-selling compact SUV into the times, with high-tech small engines, a smooth 6-speed transmission, aerodynamic front styling, and electronic wizardry. Ford claims 11 features exclusive to the Escape in the compact SUV class, everything from a capless fuel nozzle to Torque Vectoring Control, which helps the Escape corner more securely.
Gas prices have fueled the compact SUV market (in Europe it's quadrupled in the last decade), so this is a class that's important to Ford's ongoing rebound, and they've pulled out all the stops to make the Escape good.
Fuel mileage varies from an EPA-estimated 23 City/33 Highway mpg with the 1.6-liter front-wheel drive Escape to 21/28 mpg with the 2.0-liter all-wheel drive. We drove both versions and fell below those marks, however, averaging 22.7 mpg in the 1.6-liter and 19.7 mpg in the 2.0-liter, while driving them spiritedly. That's still better than a comparably equipped Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, and good enough that the Escape Hybrid has been abandoned.
The 2013 Escape lineup features three engines, including the returning tried-and-true 2.5-liter, less powerful and efficient but with a lower MSRP than the new EcoBoost engines. The four-cylinder EcoBoosts make their North American debut in the Escape, although they've been running in Europe for three years. There's a 1.6-liter making 178 horsepower and 2.0-liter making 240 hp, both twin-turbos with direct injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT), although having different designs.
This review is a Tale of Two Escapes, because we found the 1.6-liter FWD to feel completely different from the 2.0-liter AWD. The 1.6 is quick, lively and visceral, a blast to drive. The 2.0-liter AWD feels more grownup, civilized, solid, heavy. If you want a four-cylinder compact SUV that feels like a midsize V6, the Escape is for you.
Creature comfort is impeccable, even with the standard fabric upholstery, rugged and handsome. The chassis is 40 percent stiffer, and the ride is smooth. The interior materials are soft, and the plastic high quality. Rear legroom is decent, at 36.8 inches, and rear climate control is standard in all but the base S model. There's excellent cargo space, 68.1 cubic feet behind the first row and 34.3 cubic feet behind the second row, and the standard 60/40 rear seat folds flat wonderfully fast, with one lever.
The nose of the new 2013 Escape is distinctive, sort of aero stubby, with the blue oval emblem in its wide narrow grille to say it's a Ford. Although the Escape emulates its big brother the Explorer SUV, its new nose more resembles its little brother the Focus hatchback. The hood has nice character lines, and the headlights sweep sharply back and up into muscular wheelwells.
One clever innovation that others are already copying is an available magic release for the liftgate. Kick your foot under the rear bumper, and presto, the liftgate pops open so you can drop your heavy things into the back without having to set them down. It's a feature we like, and would buy, although you can do the same with a remote keyfob that opens the liftgate, that is if you remember to carry it in your hand with your thumb over the button when you leave the grocery store with your arms full.
We'll save the worst for last, in this overview. MyFordTouch has been totally redesigned after its disastrous first generation in 2011, and you can now get the new program downloaded for free in your 2011-12 Ford, so definitely do that. The new version, as they say, is simpler and the screen is cleaner. And to be sure, we have, at times, gotten it to work for us. But it still ain't easy, and you need a real sense of humor to talk to Voice Command. It's kind of like talking to your teenagers, and getting them to do their chores.
Well, there is more in the good news department. Last but not least, the price for the Escape has actually come down. The base S model has dropped by $200, while Ford claims the SE has $1000 more content for only $200 more, and the SEL has $2300 more content for $1500 more.
Ford Escape S ($23.295); Escape SE ($25,895); Escape SEL ($28,695); Escape Titanium (31,195)
There's no mistaking that the 2013 Escape is a new car, and it's got the blue oval in its wide narrow grille to say it's a Ford. Its nose is more like little sister Focus, rather than big brother Explorer. Aero and almost stubby, looking like it's meant for the business of efficient hauling. Character lines on the hood suggesting a cowl. The headlights are sharply angled under sheetmetal speed lines like eyebrows, and sweep back and up into the muscular wheelwells.
The bottom two-thirds of the face is a gaping black mouth in split fascia. It conceals a Ford innovation, sensor-controlled shutters behind the grille that regulate air into the engine for optimum efficiency and maximum fuel mileage.
The rear end doesn't keep up with the new slick front. It looks big and bulky for the size of the car, with lines going in three directions; it's as if the sheetmetal were shaped to match the taillights, including the indent for the license plate, like an upside-down triangle with the point at bottom chopped off. The standard dual exhaust is cool with the pipes back there, but the cladding in gray looks like a big silver lump hanging out the back.
But there's something hiding under that cladding that's great. It's an option that opens or closes the wide liftgate (low liftover height) with a small kick of your foot under the rear bumper, using a seeing-eye like the one that flushes toilets in public rest rooms (Ford press materials call it video-game technology). Hands-free technology where you need it most. With the Escape you'll never have to set down your armsful of groceries to put them in the back. It's a first we like, and would buy.
We also like that overall on the three models, there's lots of black eggcrate and not so much chrome. Don't like so much the gray or black plastic cladding that surrounds every model. The 19-inch alloy wheels try way too hard to look out there, while the steel 17s on the base SE are the least ugly.
The rugged fabric seats are the best! And since the available MyFordTouch remains problematic (we'll get to that), those excellent seats open the door to happy purchase of the S model. If you have good standard seats, you can live without options that just cost money and complicate operation of the car.
The driver's throne is good, with a high seating position, excellent visibility all around with that short hood, big back glass, and no over-the shoulder blind spots. Speaking of blind spots, the small convex mirrors in the upper corners of the sideview mirrors catch everything in the lanes at your rear quarter panels, more accurately than any electronic blind-spot warning system that constantly sends false alarms like they all do. But if your eyes just can't learn to read a convex mirror, the BLIS system is an option on the Escape, too. The best thing about it is that it includes Cross-Traffic Alert, which spots cars passing by your tailgate as you back out of a parking space.
The driver gets a nice dead pedal, comfortable armrests on both sides, and a good grab handle. Gauges are clean and attractive with pretty blue needles. Unlike the expensive Jaguar, Ford's rich former sibling, there are actual fuel and temperature gauges. There's a small rectangular window for information, scrolled through using arrows and a dial on the steering wheel, like all Fords, and like Jaguar, the shared switchgear remains.
The turn signal sound is a classy Jaguar-like dink dink dink. You can hear the soft sound because the Escape is exceptionally quiet. Great job, there.
A small shift lever is dropped down out of the way. There's a SelectShift button on the side of the lever, controlling manual operation of the automatic transmission. We've complained about this same button on the Mustang, only because paddles are needed on the Mustang for fast shifting; but on the Escape this thumb-button is just fine.
It's a good standard steering wheel, often a disappointment in base-level cars but not here. The four-spoke wheel is okay in base vinyl, with places for your whole palms at 2 and 10 o'clock, and the full array of controls. Overall, the interior materials are soft, and the plastic around the centerstack is high quality.
There's more cargo space in the rear, compared to the previous Escape, now totaling 68.1 cubic feet behind the first row and 34.3 cubic feet behind the second row. Legroom has stretched by 1.2 inches to 36.8, not a lot but maybe average for a compact SUV. Rear climate control is standard, except in the S. A center armrest with cupholders is available.
The best thing about the rear seats is how easily they fold flat, with one lever. Oh joy oh joy. There's an available two-position load floor, allowing a flat floor or maximum luggage volume.
It took a great deal of self-discipline to write our critique of MyFordTouch and voice command; we had to transcribe long rants from the tape recorder we use to make notes while we're driving. We'll try to keep the complaints brief.
MyFordTouch gives you 27 touch-screen buttons to choose from, when you're trying to adjust climate control, which is resistant to adjustment. From the subliminal brain's standpoint, that's 27 decisions to make. We COULD NOT get it to maintain a comfortable temperature. Set at auto 71 degrees, it blew cold air with too much fan. We increased the setting to 74, and the temp remained the same, but the fan got stronger. We tried and tried, different ways, but it would not cooperate. All those buttons, each one requiring a decision and translation or interpretation. We gave up not knowing if the problem was with the setting or with the HVAC itself.
Next we wanted to tune the radio. At least there were only 18 touch-screen buttons to choose from. We tried many of them, to no avail, while we continued to be distracted from our driving. We noted with exasperation into the recorder, “All I want to do is get something to appear on this screen that enables me to change the channel.”
OMG, there it was. We pressed an icon that looked like a terrier dog sitting there waiting for a milk bone. We had it. Because we had no idea how we got it, we lost it, and next time we wanted to change radio channels, it took us another 20 miles on the freeway.
Ford says these buttons are easy to press, but they aren't. The radio buttons are small enough that you have to really look, and use eye/hand coordination away from the highway; unlike with an old-school knob, there's no keeping your eyes on the road and grabbing the dial and turning it. With MyFordTouch (and all touch-screen systems like it, notoriously worse being Land Rover and Volvo), you have to look down and carefully aim your finger into a small little rectangle, and if the road is bumpy the car will bounce and your finger will quite possibly miss. Notice you don't see little buttons in race cars.
Of course, there are audio controls on the steering wheel, and we've found them to work better, once you figure them out. But we're talking about MyFordTouch here.
They say the screen is carefully designed. But 40 percent of the screen is taken up by black space, wasted. Two-thirds of the rest is taken up by nothing more than the logo for the radio station, then twice it says the name of the show. And then a word that says ALERT. Set alerts, refresh alerts, edit alerts, enable all alerts, who cares; we'll alert you when we want to be alerted. The back button is a tiny little button on the top of the screen. It should be on every page but it's not, so you can't keep going back and trying again to find something that works. It's a dumb design.
Soon the audio completely stopped working. While the screen indicated we were turned to the NASCAR station, we were getting static from FM-land. We pressed SIRIUS again and got FM again. Maybe it was the Cascade Mountains over our shoulder, who knows. And then the heat seemed to come on by itself.
We messed with it constantly, trying to get what we wanted during a day trip into the city, 50 miles each way. We gave Voice Command a shot.
“Air condition on,” we said, at 65 mph. Apparently it doesn't speak our language, only Ford's, because it replied, “Please say a command.” It immediately referred us to an 800 number and a URL. Like we're supposed to write them down without crashing? But we cooperated, and tried again, saying, “Temperature 69 degrees.” It responded by giving us a bunch of advice, and reminding us we could get the phone to work and other things we didn't write down. “Please say a device,” it said.
We said … “Climate?”
It said, “A list of valid voice commands is now on the screen.” We took our eyes off the road and studied the list.
“Sixty-nine degrees,” we said, so clear and slow you could hear the condescension in our voice.
“Eighty-nine degrees is not a valid command,” it said.
We tried three more times, and got nothing but backtalk from our Ford. We asked in exasperation, “What can we say?” and the screen responded with a list of all the nearby gas stations with their prices for fuel. Cool. Except what we wanted was to listen to the radio station of our choice at the temperature of our choice.
It may be that our description and experience here is all wrong, because we didn't operate it correctly. If so, that's the point. We have compared our experiences with MFT and Voice Command (not just Ford's, but all of 'em) with many others, and we are not alone.
The good news is that if you get the entry-level Escape S model, you won't get MyFordTouch, and you won't ever be verbally abused by Voice Command unless you ask for it. Or you can just avoid using Voice Command.
The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers good power at high revs for those who like to wind it up, and decent torque for acceleration when you need it at any speed. With a balance shaft to offset vibration, it's smooth. It delivers 10 less horsepower than the 1.6-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost, 14 less foot-pounds of torque, and 2 less miles per gallon. The 2.5-liter engine is about keeping the purchase price down.
When we first drove a front-wheel-drive 1.6-liter EcoBoost, we were impressed by its quickness. With 178 horsepower this good, who needs 240? we asked aloud, thinking of the 2.0-liter EcoBoost we would drive next. The word that came to mind to describe the way the 1.6 gets around is scoots, and it scoots all the way up to redline.
The ride in the 1.6-liter front-wheel-drive model was smooth, while at the same time it felt like it wanted to dance. It darts but doesn't jerk, and you get used to it. There was a bouncy motion to the suspension, but it wasn't harsh or disturbing, unlike the back seat of the Explorer we rode in from the airport. It's very nimble, and we love how it handles on two-lanes.
That's probably Torque Vectoring Control at work, an impressive feature for a compact SUV. It uses the stability control module to monitor the dynamics 100 times per second; when the front inside wheel starts to slip in a corner, brake is applied to that wheel, balancing the grip with the left front wheel and reducing understeer.
Torque Vectoring works with standard Curve Control, which is like electronic stability control, only quicker; it senses when a vehicle is entering a curve too fast, and cuts power and/or applies braking to individual wheels to reduce speed by up to 10 mph in one second. Think freeway on-ramps or off-ramps, especially in the wet.
The brakes are quite aggressive, or rather we should say the sensors that control the brakes are aggressive, because the mechanical feel to the pedal is just right, nicely progressive. But as we dabbed the brakes before corners on the twisty road, it felt like they were surging and biting. Once we felt the stability control come on, and it actually made a tire chirp when it braked just one wheel.
In some challenging choppy switchbacks, the suspension did good job of smoothing it all out. We assume that Torque Vectoring Control was at work, but we didn't feel it.
The automatic 6-speed transmission kicks down into 5th on the freeway quite a bit, unnecessarily we think, but they all do that, even way powerful cars; the more gears there are, the more the transmission tries to get out of top gear. We tried to keep it in 6th by shifting to Sport/Manual mode, to no avail. We tested its tolerance by slowing down to 40 mph in 6th gear and flooring it; it downshifted to 4th gear, while indicating in the digital window that it was in 5th.
It makes us realize that Sport/Manual mode is a paradox. In a “sport” mode, a driver would want the transmission to downshift aggressively; in a “manual” mode, he or she would not.
Our run in the 1.6 included a lot of relaxed driving, so for much of the time our throttle foot was light, but we only averaged 22.7 miles per gallon. It's EPA-rated at 23 city/33 highway.
Our Escape 2.0-liter EcoBoost felt like a totally different car: heavier, more solid, less visceral. The handling is slower and suspension steadier than the 1.6, which most buyers will probably be more comfortable with. The 2.0 Escape feels substantial, for a compact SUV. However, we should point out that our 2.0 was all-wheel drive, and the 1.6 was front-wheel drive, and maybe that explains more about the feel of the car than the engine. Tires and wheels are different, also, with 17-inch wheels on the 1.6, 19-inch wheels on the 2.0.
The all-wheel-drive system is new, with sensors that analyze data from 25 signals, 20 times faster than the blink of an eye, and deliver torque to the wheels as needed, through a new torque converter and electromagnetic clutch.
The 2.0-liter is not just a bigger version of the 1.6. Although both are turbocharged, direct-injected, 16-valve, aluminum four-cylinders, they're from different engine families; the 1.6 is the older Sigma design, the 2.0 is Duratec. The 2.0 feels like a V6, compared to the 1.6. Using different turbochargers, the 1.6 has a steeper torque curve, further adding to its quickness and visceral feel. The 1.6 makes 184 pound-feet or torque at 2500 rpm, while the 2.0 makes 270 pound-feet at 3000. We can't say we felt that big difference, but you sure will if you tow anything. Properly equipped, the 2.0 Escape can tow 3500 pounds, which is a lot for a four-cylinder compact SUV.
Even having 62 more horsepower, 240 hp vs. 178 hp, the 2.0-liter Escape doesn't feel much faster in a straight line; and maybe ours wasn't, because of a taller rear axle ratio. The 1.6 FWD comes with a 3.21 final drive, the 2.0 AWD with a long-legged 3.07, which didn't help fuel mileage much; we got 19.7 mpg with the 2.0. It's EPA-rated at 21 City/28 Highway with all-wheel drive.
Transmissions are the same on the 1.6 and 2.0, but programmed differently, the 2.0 sportier. Like the Ford Taurus SHO (but not the Mustang), it has rev-matching downshifting, meaning you'll hear a little blip from the engine as it goes in gear smoothly, when you manually downshift it hard. And like the SHO, sometimes it upshifts curiously. Once, in Sport/Manual mode, with our foot on the floor and racing to redline, it upshifted on its own into 4th gear at about 4200 rpm, immediately after reaching redline no problem in 3rd. The SHO did the exact same thing. These quirky and contradictory transmission habits usually get down to one engineer in the development team, that automotive journalists rarely can reach to ask why.
The all-new Ford Escape offers three four-cylinder engines, most notably the 240-hp EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder twin-turbo EPA-rated at 21/28 mpg with an available sophisticated new AWD system. There's one smooth 6-speed manual automatic transmission for all models. The 1.6-liter EcoBoost is quick, lively and visceral; while the 2.0 feels like a V6. Classy interior, excellent handling, plenty of cargo space with rear seats that fold down with one touch. MyFordTouch and Voice Command remain problematic. An Escape SE model with the 1.6-liter engine is the way we'd go, to get most of the virtues at the lowest price.
Sam Moses filed this report after his test drive of the Ford Escape in the Pacific Northwest.