The NMA Foundation presents Eric Peter’s Car Review, a weekly Saturday feature on the NMA blog.
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Did you know that after the F-150 pick-up, Ford’s best-selling model is . . . the Escape?
This is quite something given that unlike the F-truck, which only has to compete against two major and a small handful of minor rivals, there are at least a dozen compact-sized crossover SUVs in the Escape’s bracket vying for people’s business.
What accounts for the Escape’s status?
Is it the rip tide of Blue Oval loyalty?
Or does the Escape offer things the others don’t?
WHAT IT IS
The Escape is a compact, two-row crossover in the same general class as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, VW Tiguan and Hyundai Sante Fe Sport, among others.
It was one of the first vehicles of its type to commit 100 percent to four cylinder engines only. Even its optional engines are turbo fours rather than a not turbo’d V6 — as used to be common in vehicles of this type.
Everyone has had to climb onto this bandwagon — because it’s the only way to maintain acceptable-to-buyers power/performance while also delivering acceptable-to-the-government fleet average fuel economy numbers.
Even though the gains per car are not much — while the cost to achieve them often is.
Anyhow, Ford got the drop on the others as far as downsizing its engines, but that’s not what makes the Escape popular with buyers. It may have small engines, but it still offers big performance; with its top-of-the-line engine, it’s one of the quickest vehicles in this class.
It also has a smaller price tag than many of its rivals — and some other appealing traits, too.
You can get into a FWD S trim for $23,750; a top-of-the-line Titanium trim with AWD and the high-performance 2.0 liter turbo engine stickers for $32,345.
For your cross-shopping: The just-redesigned Honda CR-V starts at $24,045 and tops out at $33,695. It’s now available with an optional (and also turbocharged) engine. The Toyota RAV4 starts at $24,910 and runs to $36,150 (and still doesn’t offer an optional engine at all).
The Hyundai Sante Fe Sport starts at $25,350 — topping out at $38,250.
A VW Tiguan — which starts at $24,995 and runs to $36,475 — comes standard with a powerful turbo four but has an appetite for gas to match: 20 city, 24 highway — and that’s with FWD. The poor VW used to offer a turbo-diesel engine that performed without sucking . . . but Uncle put the kibosh on that.
No TDIs for you!
The Escape gets a new front clip similar to the one used on its bigger brother, the Edge — and the gear shifter has been moved to a more traditional location on the center console (rather than in the center stack). There are revised cup holders and a new “swing bin” glovebox/storage compartment, too.
Go-wise, there is a new mid-range and top-of-the-line turbo “EcoBoost” engine (1.5 liters and 2.0 liters, respectively). Also new — a suite of technology upgrades, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist and an upgraded version of Ford’s Park Assist system.
Ford’s new Sync3 infotainment interface is also part of the deal. It replaces the not-so-great My FordTouch system, which pretty much no one liked.
The new system features smartphone-style inputs — including finger pinch/swipe — and larger, easier to see at a glance icons for the various functions. You can also use it to start your Escape remotely, check the fuel level and lock the doors.
Three engine choices. Rivals only offer two. Or just one.
Costs less than rivals.
Quick — when ordered with 2.0 turbo four.
Hugely roomy up front.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Lower-cost S trim is FWD only; to get AWD you have to move up trims — and buy more engine.
Back seat is tighter than several rivals.
Annoying auto start-stop system is mandatory with either turbo engine.
UNDER THE HOOD
Escape offers three engine possibilities — all of them fours.
Two of them are turbocharged fours.
The standard engine is a 2.5 liter four, same deal as in the 2016 (and 2015 and 2014 and 2013) Escape. It makes 168 hp and is paired with a six-speed automatic and front-wheel-drive only.
If you want more engine — or AWD — you will have to buy the more expensive SE or Titanium trims.
With the 2.5 liter engine, an Escape needs about 10 seconds to get to 60 — which is on the cusp of slow for a vehicle in this class. Which is probably why Ford doesn’t offer weight-adding AWD with this engine.
So equipped, the Escape would be slow…
Gas mileage with this combo is decent, though: 21 city, 29 highway. This is also in line with the mileage delivered by rivals like the just-updated 2017 CR-V equipped with its base 2.4 liter/184 hp engine (26 city, 32 highway) . . . but the Honda can be ordered with AWD with its standard engine.
Same for the RAV4 — though it offers no optional engine.
Next up is a 1.5 liter turbocharged four that makes slightly more power than last year’s 1.6 liter four — 181 vs. 176.
EPA says 23 city, 30 highway with FWD and 22 city, 28 highway with the optional AWD system.
The 1.5 liter engine’s mileage is no great leap forward vs. the base 2.5 liter engine — which has neither a turbo nor (thankfully) the auto start-stop nonsense.
It’s a 2 MPG difference in city driving and 1 MPG on the highway.
What’s the big whoop?
Well, that 1-3 MPG uptick is a big whoop . . . to Uncle. The ’17 Escape gets closer to the golden 35.5 MPG fleet average fuel efficiency standard that went into effect in 2016. This helps Ford avoid “gas guzzler” fines, which would be passed on to buyers like an option package you didn’t want. But while you may not pay a gas guzzler fine, you will pay for the technology needed to avoid them.
Such as turbos — and auto-stop/start.
But, in its defense, the 1.5-equipped Escape is quicker. Zero to 60 in under eight seconds. It may not save you much on gas, but it does haul ass.
The Escape’s top-of-the-line engine is a 2.0 liter turbo four. It is basically the same engine as used in the mid-sized Ford Edge Sport. It makes 245 hp and 275 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,000 RPM.
Armed with this engine, the Escape really hauls ass: Zero to 60 in just under 7 seconds, a quick time for the class and generally.
Even the more powerful (on paper) Hyundai Sante Fe Sport can’t match the Ford’s acceleration and the Honda CR-V and RAV4 are much slower (solidly in the mid-high eights).
The next closest thing is VW’s Tiguan, which has a standard 200 hp (2.0 liter) turbo four and gets to 60 in about 7.5 seconds. But it’s really thirsty.
Meanwhile, the mileage stats for the Escape with the 2.0 engine are: 22 city, 29 highway with FWD and 20 city, 27 highway with AWD.
Not far off the mileage delivered by the base Escape engine — but three seconds quicker to 60.
The Escape’s max tow rating — with the 2.0 engine — is 3,500 pounds, strong for the class (the new CR-V tops out at 1,500 lbs., which is typical).
ON THE ROAD
The base-engined (2.5 liter) Escape is a good choice for people who don’t need AWD and drive mostly in urban/suburban stop-and-go traffic.
It’s a little on the soggy side, but that’s a lead footed judgment and you may not have a lead foot. If you’re in no hurry, it’s no worry.
It may prove to be the wise choice, too — long term. No turbos to crap out on you, post-warranty. I’m not saying that the optional 1.5 and 2.0 turbo Ecoboost engines are flimsy. They may prove themselves to be very durable. But the fact remains that turbos can fail and when they do, it’s not cheap.
My buddy — a mechanic who owns a repair shop- just had to replace a turbo on a not-too-old Subaru. About $1,700 in parts and labor — and my friend works pretty cheap.
On the other hand, the 1.5 engine that’s standard in the SE gives you mileage and performance (and the option to buy AWD).
And the 2.0 engine (which you can buy without buying AWD) has so much performance you’ll forget all about the mileage.
Remember: It’s the same engine that made its debut in the mid-sized Edge. In the compact-sized (and lighter by several hundred pounds) Escape.
It’ll turn a tire. Literally.
See that part about being able to buy this engine without buying AWD.
If you do so, you’ll be able to do rolling burnouts — my kind of fun and a turbocharged engine’s forte. Walk it out when the light turns green and then mash the gas pedal to the floor. These twin-scroll turbo engines produce Instant-On boost.
The tires will skitter.
Or, not — if you order AWD.
Either way, though, the 2.0-equipped Escape is a speedy ride.
I like that Ford has not gone over to the CVT Dark Side. Which is interesting given how aggressively it has embraced tiny turbo’d engines. Continuously variable transmissions also uptick the MPGs, but their operating characteristics still leave much to be desired. They are getting better but they’re still not as quiet as a conventional automatic, like the Escape’s.
It shifts the way a transmission is supposed to — or at least, the way most of us are used to. You feel the progression, first to second to third and so on all the way to top gear (sixth, in this case). When you give it a little gas, as to pass, the transmission downshifts a gear or two, the revs (and power) go up and the car accelerates. Speed achieved, the transmission upshifts and the revs go back down.
With CVTs, the transmission never shifts because there is just a single continuously variable forward speed. Give it gas and the engine revs — higher and (usually) longer than if the car had a conventional automatic. This makes the engine sound like it is being abused or at least worked really hard — like running a car with a manual transmission to redline in second gear and not shifting up to third.
It’s also a peace-of-minder that the Escape’s automatic isn’t an automated manual as these are wallet killers when they croak. For example, the DSG gearbox used in certain VW models. Per OJ… Look out! These can cost $5,000 to replace.
They make a croaked turbo look cheap. . . .
AT THE CURB
The ’17 Escape is the same under the skin as last year’s but the skin is now more Edge-like, especially when viewed head on.
Overall length and wheelbase (178.1 and 105.9 inches, respectively) remain the same, as do interior dimensions.
One of the Escape’s virtues is that it has an extremely roomy first row: 43.1 inches of legroom (the new CR-V one has 41.3 inches).
The Ford’s second row, however, is tight when compared with the backseat legroom of competitors: Just 34.3 inches vs. 40.4 in the CR-V.
On the other hand, the Escape out-rooms the VW Tiguan — which is a slightly smaller vehicle overall (174.5 inches long; 102.5 inch wheelbase) and has less front seat legroom (40.1 inches), less second row legroom (35.8 inches) and a much smaller cargo area: 23.8 cubic feet behind the second row vs. 34 for the Ford.
The Escape’s total cargo capacity — 68 cubic feet — is also only slightly less than the just-redesigned (and class-leading on this score) Honda CR-V’s 75.8 cubic feet.
With rear seats folded flat, new Ford Escape offers 68 cubic feet of cargo space.
The new center console has a bunch of helpful coin/phone/stuff cubbies and both the USB port and the 12V power point are located where you can see them and reach them, at the forward part of the console, ahead of the shifter. Plus, there are more of each inside the center console storage area.
I dig the keypad entry system — something Ford (Lincoln) pioneered back in the ’80s and which (so far) no one else has been smart enough to emulate. Another likable feature is the Escape’s capless fuel fill system. Just insert the nozzle, top off — and that’s it.
Nothing to twist — or even touch.
The Escape’s available three-stage seat heaters get hot — some others only get warm.
You can order a hands-free rear liftgate opener, which is another very helpful item.
The updated Sync3 infotainment touchscreen is itself a big improvement over the crickety MyFordTouch system it replaces — which had tiny, inscrutable icons and wasn’t easy to use even once you got familiar with it. The Sync3 system is much easier to use, but it’s hard or at least awkward to reach because of the way it is recessed into the dash. This would be ok if there were a secondary input — a mouse or some such on the center console. It is however possible to do things like change radio stations and adjust volume using secondary buttons — but accessing apps and other system features requires touching the touchscreen.
The fallout from the VW Diesel Debacle hasn’t just hurt VW.
Ford sells a diesel engine (see here) in the European version of the Escape (it’s called the Kuga over there) and you can order it with a six speed manual transmission.
The European Kuga’s 2.0 liter Duratorque diesel engine delivers 45-50 MPG — slightly better than the C-Max hybrid (see here) and massively superior to the mileage delivered by the 1.5 liter Ecoboost gas engine we’re stuck with here as the Escape’s “economy” engine.
The Escape is going to be completely overhauled for the 2019 model year — and will probably become even more EcoBoosted. Expect smaller — and higher-strung — turbo’d engines (gas, not diesel) as Ford and everyone else splits hairs trying to wring another couple of MPGs out of the thing, to keep on par with ever-upticking federal fuel efficiency fatwas.
None of this will come cheap much less free.
That’s an irony. All this tub-thumping about making cars more fuel efficient is also making them more expensive, which kind of defeats the purpose, eh?
Unless, of course, the purpose is just to make them more expensive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This Ford offers speed and a not-too-high-price.
No wonder it’s popular.
Imagine how much more popular it would be if you could get it with a 50 MPG diesel…
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos