Ford Escape takes turbo into crossover lane

The new Ford Escape delivers nice numbers, with 23/33 mpg city/highway. It’s also a high-performing car that looks good and rides well.
The new Ford Escape delivers nice numbers, with 23/33 mpg city/highway. It’s also a high-performing car that looks good and rides well.
Ford

Ford has released a series of good-looking cars with excellent mileage lately. The redesigned 2013 Escape joins the pack: No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t fi nd anything signifi cantly wrong with it.

A pair of new turbo engines offer better performance than the competition, the interior is roomy and comfortable, high-tech gadgetry works well, and it even looks cool. All of this comes with a premium price in a competitive segment.

If you’re OK with that, the new Ford Escape is ready for you, and you won’t be disappointed. It comes in four trims: base S, SE, SEL, and Titanium.

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At the heart of the Escape’s success are three engine choices, all offering 30 mpg or better on the highway, according to Ford estimates.

The just-right engine choice is the turbocharged 1.6-liter fourcylinder with estimated mileage of 23/33 mpg city/highway. That’s just slightly better than the 23/31 mpg in the Honda CR-V and 22/32 mpg in the Chevy Equinox. Mazda’s new CX-5 bests the class at 26/35 mpg but with signifi cantly less power.

The mileage fi gures will draw people in. Acceleration is smooth as you move through the gears with the six-speed automatic transmission. Passing power isn’t robust despite fi gures of 178 horsepower and 183 lb.-ft. of torque, but there isn’t the same straining that you’d feel in the similarly powered CR-V and Equinox with four-cylinders. They don’t have turbos.

The larger turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is supposed to be the 2012 Escape’s V-6 replacement. I tested it previously in the much larger and heavier Ford Edge SUV and thought it offered a V-6-like smoothness there; it was similar to what the 1.6-liter exhibited in the smaller Escape. Perhaps all the added power—240 hp and 270 lb.-ft. of torque—would mean the Escape would be a hot little performer, similar to Kia’s turbocharged Sportage.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

The 2.0-liter was smooth. No consumer is going to complain about this. It’s what you want when you’re taking a highway on-ramp or passing at speed. If you like to launch from a stoplight or gun the engine for a burst of speed on demand, it doesn’t deliver.

Ford calls all of its turbo engines EcoBoost, a marketing term to be sure. Shoppers should understand that the term doesn’t mean anything more than the model they are looking at features a traditional turbocharged engine—not a hybrid or some other fuel-saving technology. The new car is estimated to get 30 mpg on the highway versus the outgoing engine’s 28 mpg.

While power is usually the fi rst performance factor that shoppers focus on, the Escape excels in the steering and handling department, too. Ford wanted the new crossover to be sporty in nature, and it is. The meaty steering wheel requires a slightly above-average amount of effort to turn, but there’s a nice springiness as it returns to center and, like the engine, every turn felt smooth. There’s that word again.

If the exterior paints the Escape as a sleek, futuristic SUV, the interior conjures images of a sports-car cockpit. Ford has done this before with the Fiesta, Focus, and even the Taurus, but all three sacrifi ce some comfort to deliver that atmosphere. The center console in those cars is so wide that your right knee sits uncomfortably close to it. They just feel cramped.

Not so in the Escape. I adjusted my seat and the standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel quickly and felt comfortable with plenty of headroom, dispelling my fears of claustrophobia. Shoulder room is 56 inches and hip room is 54.8 inches. Both compare favorably to what I fi nd to be spacious: the CR-V’s 58.6 and 54.5 inches, and the Equinox’s 55.8 and 54.6 inches, respectively.

Even better, when I hopped in the backseat directly behind my adjusted driver’s seat position, my knees had inches of space in front of them. At 36.8 inches of legroom, the Escape trails the CR-V’s 38.3, but by referencing photos of both to check my memory, the Escape shows more room for my knees than the Honda. The Equinox has 39.9 inches of rear legroom but that’s due to an adjustable second row that can slide backward and forward. Both the Escape and CR-V have a fi xed second row.

Driver and passengers will fi nd the exceptionally well-fi tted cabin adorned with fewer buttons that are more simply laid out than other recent Fords. Both test vehicles were equipped with MyFord Touch and navigation systems, which add a large eight-inch touchscreen in the center of the dashboard.

We have discussed, seemingly endlessly, some of the fl aws of this system, but perhaps familiarity breeds some sort of satisfaction. During our trip, with the map screen in use most of the time, it proved to be on par with the competition in clarity and speed between screens. I found using the Home button on the steering wheel to be an aggravation saver, bringing up the familiar screen with four quadrants of info in much larger type than in past versions.

A major selling point of any crossover, SUV, wagon, minivan, or other utility vehicle is cargo capacity. In small crossovers, you want a fair amount of space and the secondrow seats to be easy to fold. The Escape delivers on both.

At 34.3 cubic feet with the second row in place and 68.1 cubic feet with the rear seats down, the Escape is again very competitive in the class. The CR-V is rated at 37.2 and 70.9 cubic feet; the Equinox at 31.5 and 63.7; and Mazda’s new CX-5 at 34.1 and 64.8. The surprisingly huge Toyota RAV4 still leads at 36.4 and 73.

No matter the numbers, there should be ample cargo room for shoppers in this class, and the ease of use is a big win.

Ford made cargo access even easier with an optional power liftgate. Not only can the gate open with a key fob button or release of the latch, but also it has a new feature: kick your foot at the air under the rear bumper and the liftgate will open. Supposedly, this is great for people with lots of groceries in their hands who are unable to reach a fob or the latch. My yoga-class-attending wife, who saw the feature on a reality TV show promotion, thought it was the greatest idea she’d seen in some time.

Ford continues its winning ways in the styling department. The attractive package should help bring in both Escape loyalists and folks driving the competition. There isn’t much competition that can top the mileage, pe rformance, comfort, or interior size, either.