Newest Escape offers improved ride, crisper – almost sporty – handling

Posted Friday, Jun. 13, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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2014 Ford Escape

The package: Compact, front- or all-wheel-drive, five-door, five-passenger, four-cylinder gasoline powered, unibody crossover utility vehicle.

Highlights: Redesigned for 2013, the Escape moves into its third generation with a new body that’s much more sporty looking and sleeker than its predecessor. It comes with a choice of three four-cylinder engines, including two EcoBoost turbos, and is roomy and comfortable inside.

Negatives: The hybrid has been discontinued; no manual transmission offered for improved performance and fuel economy.

Overall length: 178.1 inches.

Curb weight range: 3,502-3,782 pounds.

Engine: 2.5-liter normally aspirated inline four-cylinder (S model); 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost inline four-cylinder (SE, SEL); 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost inline four-cylinder (Titanium).

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 168 HP./170 foot-pounds (2.5); 178 HP./184 foot-pounds (1.6 turbo); 240 HP./270 foot-pounds (2.0 turbo).

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Cargo volume: 34.3 cubic feet (behind rear seat); 68.1 cubic feet (rear seatback folded).

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain (both rows).

EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/31 highway (2.5); 23/32 (1.6, front drive), 22/30 (1.6, all-wheel drive); 22/30 (2.0, front drive), 21/28 (2.0, all-wheel drive).

Fuel capacity/type: 15.1 gallons/unleaded regular.

Main competitors: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Jeep Patriot, Jeep Cherokee, Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Kia Sorento, Mitsubishi Outlander, Buick Encore, Dodge Journey.

Base price range: $22,700-$30,850, plus $895 freight.

Price as tested: $29,075, including freight and options (SE, front-wheel drive).

On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.

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Ford completely redesigned its Escape compact crossover just last year, taking the popular utility vehicle into its next generation with a compelling new exterior look and a much-more-refined interior.

Gone is the boxy shape of its predecessor – the new Escape is lower, sleeker and much sportier, with a shape that’s definitely more carlike. It looks a bit like some of its key competitors, such as the newest versions of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but also bears some resemblance to Ford’s midsize Edge crossover.

For 2014, the Escape is offered in three trim levels – S, SE and Titanium. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available in the SE and Titanium versions.

Prices range from $22,700 (plus $895 freight) for the base S model, and range as high as $30,850 for the Titanium with all-wheel drive.

In between are the SE front drive ($25,550); SE all-wheel drive ($27,300); and the Titanium front-drive ($29,100).

Our tester for this report was the SE front-drive version, which came with $2,630 in options – minus a $145 discount – for a total sticker price of $29,075, including freight.

Three different engines are available: 178-horsepower, 1.6-liter and a 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinders; and a normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 168 horsepower.

The 1.6-liter is standard in the SE models, while the S model comes with the 2.5-liter, and the Titanium gets the 2.0-liter.

Six-speed automatic transmissions are standard across the line. The two EcoBoost engines are connected to a specially calibrated SelectShift automatic, which has a manual-shift feature.

As in the past, the new Escape has room for up to five people, and there is ample leg and knee room even in the back seat. Headroom is about the same as before, even though the roof is lower.

Ford rolled out the original Escape for 2001, basing it on the architecture of the Mazda 626 sedan and creating a unibody chassis that combined frame and body in one piece – the formula used by all of today’s crossovers. It was revised, but not totally redesigned, for 2008.

Mazda, which at the time was partly owned and controlled by Ford, had its own version, called the Tribute, and in 2005, a Mercury model, the Mariner, also came to market. The Mariner went away after 2010 when Ford discontinued the Mercury brand, and the Tribute was discontinued after 2011, and has been replaced by an all-new Mazda-designed model called the CX-5.

Gone is the gasoline-electric hybrid version of the Escape, which was offered from 2005-2012. At least for now, Ford has chosen not to offer the hybrid with the new generation, perhaps because the 2013 Escape’s turbocharged EcoBoost engines offer similar highway fuel economy.

Our tester’s 1.6-liter engine has EPA ratings of 23 mpg city/32 highway/26 combined. During our test, we averaged 25.7 mpg with about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving.

I wouldn’t rule out an improved third-generation Escape hybrid sometime in the not-too-distant future, considering that hybrids are still popular and Ford has been adding them to its mix of vehicles.

Having had a previous-generation Escape, I can say that the new model has been significantly improved, with a much softer ride, crisper – almost sporty -- handling, more zip (with the turbo engines), and a quieter cabin.

I’ve tested both the 2.0- and 1.6-liter engines, and was surprised that the SE model with the 1.6-liter was not significantly different in power from its bigger brother. With its relatively light weight, the Escape had plenty of power with this engine. But the SE can be upgraded to the 2.0-liter engine for an additional $1,195.

Road handling was superb. The electric steering was responsive and tight, and the suspension held the car to the road even on some tight turns on twisty country roads that I like to use for vehicle tests.

As with many new cars these days, the Escape comes with automatic engine stop-start technology, which shuts off the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop, say at a traffic signal. It stays off until the brake is released, then instantly restarts. But even with electric steering, my Escape had no power steering when the engine was off, which was a bit annoying – it made the steering wheel very hard to turn.

The new Escape has more cargo space than its predecessor. There is 34.3 cubic feet of cargo area behind the second row (up from 31.4), and that expands to 68.1 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.

Among new Escape features are a variety of hands-free technologies, including an optional power tailgate ($495, included on our tester), which has a motion-sensing feature that Ford says is similar to that of video games. A gentle kicking motion under the middle of the rear bumper activates the tailgate, which lifts straight up for easy loading and unloading of cargo.

An optional self-parking system helps parallel park the Escape at the touch of a button. It does the steering for you; the driver needs only to operate the gas and brake pedals. This feature, not included on my tester, comes as part of the Parking Technology Package ($1,005), which also brings rain-sensing wipers, high-intensity-discharge headlights and blind-spot detection. The self-parking function is actually pretty cool – it even helps you scout out a space that the vehicle can fit into.

An active grille shutter system, included on all models with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, is designed to cut down wind resistance.

When equipped with towing gear, the new Escape continues to be able to tow a trailer weighing up to 3,500 pounds.

Among standard features on our SE model were a rearview camera system, remote keyless entry (no pushbutton start), power outside mirrors with built-in wide-angle views, 10-way power driver’s seat/four-way manual front passenger seat, 17-inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, and a keyless-entry keypad, one of my favorite Ford features.

Our tester came with the SE Convenience Package ($1,340), which added a reverse-sensing system, dual-zone automatic climate control, black roof side rails, and a perimeter alarm.

The only other option was the MyFord Touch navigation/infotainment system ($795), which is just way too complicated to operate while you’re trying to drive the car safely, at least until you can master the voice commands.

Our vehicle had the Sunset Metallic (maroon) exterior and a charcoal black cloth interior.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com.

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