The Escape is a cash calf for Ford as its biggest seller next to the F-Series pickup trucks, its cash cow.
So it’s no wonder why Ford keeps its compact-class Escape updated and with access to a range of advanced safety and driver-aid technologies. It brought out a freshened 2017 Escape with some customer-derived tweaks and improvements and another layer of technologies.
The redesigned hood and raised grille set a wider stance and were intended to give a more confident and rugged stance. Inside, the gear shifter was moved rearward for an easier reach to climate-control buttons. And a charging bin was added in front of the shifter, with a USB port and 12-volt plug. The cup holders were repositioned, and there is a longer driver’s armrest, along with a push-button parking brake.
“Virtually every surface a customer will touch is new, in design or material,” said Chris Mazur, Escape program manager. “In some cases, it’s the minor changes that have the greatest impact on driver or passenger comfort.”
The Escape is sold in four trim levels. It comes with front- or four-wheel drive, a choice of three four-cylinder engines and a six-speed automatic transmission. Starting prices range from $24,495 to $29,995 for the top-line Titanium 4WD; pricing includes the freight charge from Louisville, Kentucky. There’s also a $1,750 customer incentive for some models if bought before Jan. 3.
Today’s tester is a midrange front-wheel-drive SE Sport. The Sport package ($1,295) adds black painted wheels, black exterior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and leather and fabric seat upholstery. The tech package ($1,395) adds blind-spot detection, a reverse sensing system, Sync 3 connect and black roof rails. With the power liftgate ($495), panoramic vista roof ($1,495) and voice-activated navigation touch screen, the sticker is $31,470 (not including the incentive).
The base engine is a 165-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with fuel economy ratings of 21 mpg city, 29 highway and 24 mpg combined. The step-up engine is a turbocharged and direct-injection 179-horsepower 1.5-liter that gets 23/30/26 mpg on 87 octane. To stretch fuel economy, this engine integrates active grille shutters (to maximize aerodynamics) and automatic stop-start during idling. I was averaging just 23.5 mpg over more than 200 miles.
The power is adequate and focused on fuel efficiency, but I switched frequently to “sport” mode to sharpen acceleration and help hold my line in the commute. For my driving style, I’d most likely prefer the 245-horsepower twin-scroll turbocharged and direct-injected 2-liter. Its mileage ratings drop 1 mpg from the 1.5, but the engine might not work so hard to get the mass moving, even if it does require premium fuel.
The six-speed is a good match for the power and gives steady performance with the turbocharged engine. (It’s a much more responsive powertrain than the turbocharged 1.6-liter and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic in the Hyundai Tucson, a direct competitor.)
The ride quality can be trucky (stiff), with wobbly head-toss when turning into angled driveways. There is some tire noise at highway speeds, as well as road harshness transmitted through the floor. All models have four-wheel disc brakes, but the 2-liter and 1.5-liter all-wheel-drive models get the larger 12.6-inch vented front discs, compared with 11.8 inches for front-wheel-drive models. Rear discs are 12.4 inches. The tester’s braking seemed adequate and not over-engineered.
The Escape interior is roomy, with tall headroom of almost 40 inches without the vista roof and long legroom at 43.1 inches.
Sightlines over the hood feel somewhat cloistered by a large upper dashboard and windshield pillars that arc inward at the base. And the rising exterior beltline constricts over-the-shoulder views. But the large rearview camera mitigates backing issues, and correct placement of side and rearview mirrors solves lane-change concerns. The turning circle of 38.8 feet is on the wide side.
The driver’s area is smartly organized and ergonomic to help keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Seat support is quite good, with side bolsters that actually enhance comfort but do not interfere with entry or exit. The SE has a 10-way power driver’s seat, but the front passenger gets no height adjustment.
Connectivity is quick and painless with Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, which is now integrated with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Four large front vents (air conditioning/heat) have triple flow adjusters and broad coverage that manages to avoid freezing the fingers on the steering wheel. Broad sliding visors have good coverage, with lighted and covered mirrors.
There are plenty of useful storage areas and a couple of clever features. The glove compartment door, for one, is angled to allow an easy reach for the driver — and the space is large. And something I’ve not seen before is a side pocket on the upper left side of the front passenger seat. It is innovative — but I’m not sure how I’d use it.
Back seat space is more compact than in the front. The seat bottoms are short, and the seatbacks are fairly erect without recline. The floor is flat with a very low center exhaust-transmission hump, which boosts center footroom. Back seat extras include a fold-down armrest, seatback pockets, reading lights, grab handles and bottle holders in the doors.
The cargo area is wide and square, with a flat floor when the 60/40 seatback is folded and some basement compartments for storage. There is good bike and board room, with 40 inches of width, about 64 inches of length and 31 1/2 inches of height at the opening.
The basic elements of the hardware are well-engineered, but the “software” of plastics and other materials has a budget feel and appearance when compared with some of the competitors. The tester, for example, which had been driven 5,629 miles, had frayed edges at the edge of the headliner where it meets the windshield (but it is the same way in my 2008 Ford Escape). Also, the seat fabric was beginning to rumple, and the single-needle stitching looked vulnerable to wear and tear.
The tester’s options created a well-connected and contemporary car. It’s not always elegant or graceful, but it is always eager to please and is tough as nails.
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage