Ford has been strangely quiet about its newest SUV, the Escape - although ‘new’ might be overstating things a little. The 2017 Ford Escape is really an updated version of the previous Kuga, but it’s an important model for the brand and one that deserves a bigger push to help get the word out.
The Escape can be identified by new, more chunky front and rear styling making it look more like an SUV and less like a tall hatchback, something that will no doubt help it grab attention in a crowded medium SUV marketplace.
The Escape also comes with a range of turbocharged engines, giving it an edge over some of the underwhelming powertrains in competitor products, plus Ford’s Sync infotainment system for up-to-the-minute connectivity is another big plus for modern active families.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $32,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 134kW/240Nn 1.5-litre turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.2 l/100km | Tested: 9.8 l/100km
The mid-grade Escape Trend is bookended by the base model Ambiente and top-spec Titanium and as a reflection of the SUV segment’s growing diversity Ford offers the Trend with front wheel drive for the first time, which is the variant tested here.
The two-wheel drive version runs a 134kW 1.5 litre turbo engine, but if you decide all-wheel drive is for you there’s a choice of either the 178kW 2.0-litre turbo petrol or 138kW 2.0-litre turbo diesel.
Pricing for the 1.5-litre Trend is a palatable $32,990 plus on road costs, and for that you get plenty of kit including an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
That’s a decent stack of kit for the money, and while the base model Escape Ambiente automatic is priced from $29,990 as a showroom lure, the real value is in the Trend for just $3000 more.
- Standard Equipment: Fabric seat trim, leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, multi-function trip computer with full-colour 4.2-inch instrument panel display, rear privacy glass and laminated front windows, automatic lights and wipers, heated exterior mirrors, self-dimming interior mirror, roof rails, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, 2x USB ports, Six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 406 litres to rear seats 1603 maximum
Little has changed inside the Escape compared to the Kuga, but the design still looks contemporary enough, so not much needed to be done.
From a practicality point of view there’s a few shortcomings, the dash itself intrudes into the cabin quite a way, restricting front passenger knee space and worse still, the long dash and raked windscreen puts drivers a long way back with even short drivers set behind the B-pillar, limiting peripheral vision.
The bulbous shape of the A-pillar trims also eats into forward visibility, blocking pedestrians and other vehicles, making navigating intersections difficult.
To its credit Ford has at least tried to keep the cabin feeling spacious through the use of pale grey seat fabrics, but the grey-on-grey dash and doors offer little respite from the otherwise dour interior.
Rear seat passengers get the best deal, with more headroom than they could ever need, enough legroom to keep even the tallest teenagers happy, and a rake adjustable backrest that can be tilted back and forth for either more comfort, or more cargo space.
Equipment levels are generous, with dual-zone climate control, a comprehensive trip computer with colour display and Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system which now includes a new user interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, plus satellite navigation, digital radio, and a bright 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s easy to use on the go thanks to the upper finger grip and lower palm rest resulting from the deeply shrouded design.
Boot space is slightly below the class average, outclassed by the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4, but in-cabin storage is versatile with lidded cupholders, and deep door bins, although there seems to be a lot of wasted space under the high-set gear shifter that surely could have been put to better use.
Despite the inherent design flaws, Ford’s execution appears well assembled with no loose or flimsy pieces, and a nice robust feel to door pulls, switch areas, and high-traffic surfaces.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.5-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo petrol, 134kW @6000rpm, 240Nm @1600-5000rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs
- Steering: electric power steering, 11.2m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
With 134kW of power and 240Nm of torque, the Escape’s entry-level engine reads more like a competitor to the upsized engine options from its Japanese rivals, though at 1.5 litres is much smaller, aided by a turbocharger.
That same engine can be paired with a manual or automatic transmission in the price-leading Escape Ambiente, but in the mid-level Trend it’s auto-only.
While the engine sounds robust on paper, it’s the way it works with the transmission that lets the Escape down. Where the same engine and transmission combo in the Focus range drives beautifully, the Escape’s automatic seems hesitant to let the engine run freely.
The result is standing acceleration that can feel bogged down at light-to-mid throttle encouraging a more aggressive driving style to try and coax a better outcome from the transmission.
If it weren’t for that, the Escape would be a delight to drive. Once rolling, the automatic changes gears smoothly and precisely, and engine noise intrusion is low while the Escape effectively keeps tyre and wind noise at bay.
From behind the wheel the Escape feels like quite a big car, and the way it drives is secure, and its calm on-road manners trick the driver into thinking they’re behind the wheel of something bigger. It’s not until the city closes in around the Escape, and it manages to duck in and out of flowing traffic that you’re reminded how compact the exterior really is.
Fuel saving smarts by way of an engine-stop system that shuts the engine off at traffic lights work quite well, as there’s no harshness from the system and it simply springs back into life quickly and quietly when required.
Even with the system, recorded fuel consumption didn’t match Ford’s 7.2 l/100km claim, and over an even split of city and highway driving the Escape returned 9.8 l/100km, a symptom of having to squeeze the throttle harder to get the transmission to stop dithering and get the car rolling.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Ford Escape scored 36.33 out of 37 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2012 (as the Kuga) with adjustment made to suit the 2017 ANCAP assessment criteria.
Safety Features: Seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee), electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with emergency brake assist, rollover mitigation, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters, Emergency Assistance (calls 000 via Bluetooth in the case of an accident).
An optional Technology Pack adds tyre pressure monitoring, rear corss traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking (called Active City Stop), blind spot monitoring, lane keeping aid with lane departure warning, auto high beam, adaptive cruise control and tyre pressure monitoring.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Ford offers lifetime capped price servicing for the Escape at 12 month/15,000km intervals (whichever occurs first) priced from $325 for the first three services, with every fourth service priced at $585. Brake fluid, coolant, and belts are replaced at separate intervals with additional pricing for those items, your Ford dealer can explain full terms, conditions, and exclusions in more detail.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Hyundai Tucson is smartly styled, and well equipped. At the Escape Trend’s price point a Tucson Active X gets leather trim and 18-inch wheels, but does without climate control or a speed limiter though CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are part of the deal. Drives well, but the non-turbo engine can lack punch at times.
Not the newest kid on the block, but with standard all-wheel drive, and an available diesel engine for a similar price as the Escape trend, a Subaru Forester might be just the thing for rural buyers. Subaru also holds a reputation for long-term reliability, as well as being handy off-road.
Fresh-faced, with greatly improved refinement, the Mazda CX-5 is a firm favourite with Australian buyers and with a classy interior, easy to use infotainment, and a near-premium ambience it’s not hard to see why.
If seven seats are a must, then the Nissan X-trail might be for you. Those that don't need seating for seven can opt for a five-seater and get extra luggage space instead or all-wheel drive for a similar price, but not both together. Recently updated with a fresh face and autonomous emergency braking, but the X-Trail ST comes up short for equipment next to the Escape Trend, while the mid-spec ST-L tips beyond $35k.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Ford has a good car on its hands with the Escape, but perhaps not a great one. In the case of the two-wheel drive Trend the value is outstanding, adding all wheel drive or a diesel engine erodes that somewhat.
This is the right car for modern families, though the compact boot might rule it out for some. The biggest letdown might be the way it drives, particularly with its recalcitrant responsiveness around town, where the Escape should feel right at home.
If longer distance travel without the need for go off-road sounds more like how you’d use the Escape, then high levels of comfort and refinement, and excellent infotainment make it easier to recommend. Don’t make it the first car on your shopping list, but don’t leave it off entirely.
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