Thumbs Up: A quantum leap forward from the old Ford Escape.
Thumbs Down: The sticker climbs quickly as you pile on the options.
Buy This Car If: You’re shopping for a compact crossover with a strong blend of style and content.
When the question of “what compact SUV / crossover should I buy” used to rear its ugly head, one answer that never popped into our minds was the Ford Escape or its fraternal twin, the Mazda Tribute. It wasn’t that either was a bad vehicle (although Ford’s build quality used to be hit or miss), it’s just that both were frozen in time, saddled with a bland box-on-box design and an uninspired interior that screamed “rental car.”
Enter the 2013 Ford Escape, a new-from-the-ground-up compact crossover that effectively erases all the bad memories of the previous generation. It’s amazingly stylish, both inside and out, more comfortable to drive and quite a bit more nimble than the model it replaces. Yes, the engine choices have been downsized (a turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder replaces the outgoing V-6 atop the range) and the Escape gains a few pounds, but you’d likely be unable to tell as long as you were comparing similar models.
Outside, the new Escape shares the styling of the Ford Kuga, a European model launched in 2008. This ties in to Ford’s “world car” strategy, which seeks to sell common (or at least readily identifiable) models on a global basis. In the case of the Escape, a bit of European styling really helps to set the Escape apart from the rest of the compact crossover herd.
From the front, the Escape’s strongest styling element may be the twin ridges that start at the lower fascia and flow upwards, over the hood. While the actual grille is reduced to a narrow slit, the lower fascia has a blacked-out area that resembles an enormous intake, as if the Escape were jet-powered. Twin ridges also flow back to the windshield from the center of the hood, echoing the most noticeable design element.
In profile, it’s impossible to miss the Escape’s steeply-raked windshield or its relatively narrow daylight opening. Both A and C-pillars are reduced in size, giving the Escape excellent outward visibility and something of an edgy look. We like it’s subtle use of chrome, too, which adorns only the front fender vent and the lower window trim.
From the rear, the Escape offers up a substantial rear window, narrow taillights (to match the equally narrow headlights) and a lower fascia trimmed in black and silver plastic. There’s a splash of chrome above the license plate, too, but it works well enough to break up an expanse of painted metal, especially on darker-colored models.
Inside, that same sense of style carries forward. While the dash shape will be vaguely familiar to anyone who’s driven a new Ford Fiesta or Focus lately, the execution is much nicer in the Escape. There’s less hard plastic, more contrasting color and a large infotainment display on cars equipped with MyFord Touch. Given the variable driver information display that comes with the system, the entire dash and instrument cluster gives the Escape’s interior a very cockpit-like feel.
On vehicles equipped with MyFord Touch, the instrument cluster includes a large tachometer and speedometer, with a small fuel gauge and coolant temperature gauge below the driver’s data display. We liked the turn-by-turn directions posted there, as it allowed easy navigation without having to glance at the infotainment display.
Front seats were comfortable enough, but we found them to be a bit too soft for our own tastes. Rear and back cushions are oddly flat, too, although our SEL-trim model did include an inflatable lumbar cushion for the driver. The trim level includes heated seats with leather seating surfaces, too.
Rear seats suffer the same soft-and-flat issue as the front. They’re comfortable enough for day trips, but we wouldn’t want to sit back there on a cross-country excursion. On the plus side, there’s enough head and leg room to keep rear-seat passengers of all shapes and sizes happy.
We didn’t measure the cargo area, but it’s on par with others in the segment, with the rear seat up or down. As you’d expect, rear seats fold in a 60/40 split to accommodate various combinations of cargo and passengers, and an optional retractable cargo cover (plus tinted windows) helps keep valuables out of sight.
While Ford offers three four-cylinder engine choices for the 2013 Escape (as well as FWD or AWD), our FWD model came with the range-topping 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, rated at 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. That’s good enough to get the compact crossover from 0-60 mph in under eight seconds, and Ford says it can be equipped to tow up to 3,500 pounds. The EPA says you can expect to see 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, and our own numbers back that up. We got 23.5 mpg around town and as much as 30.7 mpg on lower-speed highways. Hit the interstate and travel much above 70 mph, and mid-twenties are what you can expect to see.
From a standing start, there’s noticeable wheelspin in front-drive models if you get on the gas with too much effort. While the Escape has no sporting intentions, it does accelerate with authority and stop with reasonable urgency. Despite its relatively high ride height, the Escape never wallowed in corners, yet it managed to deliver a comfortable ride even over broken pavement or railroad tracks. Its ride wasn’t quite as quiet or refined as the new Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, but we’d give the edge in handling to the Escape.
We think the EcoBoost four-cylinder goes a long way towards improving the Escape’s balance. While the previous Escape V-6 felt sluggish and nose-heavy, the new Escape feels remarkably light on its feet for a crossover vehicle. If the previous model was best at serving up affordable, go-almost anywhere transportation, the new model continues that legacy with a much better looking exterior, a vastly improved interior, and fuel economy numbers that no longer leave buyers wondering if they can afford to drive a crossover, even after buying one.
Ford supplied the 2013 Escape SEL in front-wheel-drive form for the purpose of our evaluation. The base price was $28,695, including a destination charge of $825, and options included the $2,360 Equipment Group 302A (SEL Cargo Management Package, tonneau cover, black roof rails, horizontal cross bars, power liftgate, SEL Technology Package, rear parking aid sensors), the $1,095 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, the $1,395 power panorama roof, the $795 MyFord Touch navigation package and the $995 Parking Technology Package (blind spot detection, active park assist, rearview camera system) for a total sticker price of $34,870.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped Hyundai Santa Fe Sport would sticker at $34,375, while a Volkswagen Tiguan SEL would list for $35,690.