The Ford Escape is sleek and contemporary, rakish, even daring, the old boxy profile left behind when it was redesigned for the 2014 model year. The broadly arched shape of today’s Escape asserts a sporty demeanor.
While seeking to produce a compact crossover SUV that’s exciting to drive, Ford might have cut back a bit on comfort and utility. Even so, you get helpful cargo space and reasonably good passenger room. All-wheel drive is available for wintry conditions; front-wheel drive is standard.
Underway, the Escape provides crisp steering, along with strong and responsive powertrains. Ford’s smallest crossover handles more like a small car than an SUV. Ride quality ranks as firm, but hardly harsh, and the suspension is compliant. Road manners are emphatically sporty, rivaled only by those of the Mazda CX-5. Few others come close to the Escape’s responsive handling and confident body control.
Redesigned for the 2014 model year, the Escape sees little change for 2016, except that SYNC 3 is replacing the MyFord Touch infotainment control, which has drawn considerable criticism. New chrome appearance and leather comfort packages are available for the 2016 Escape SE.
Three powertrain choices are offered. At base S level is a well-proven 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, making 168 horsepower. Though aimed at fleet use, it’s smooth and perfectly suited for suburban duties. The popular choice is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder, rated 178 horsepower. Acceleration is about the same as the 2.5-liter, but the turbo and a more torquey nature combine to make transmission downshifts less frequent.
For more energetic performance, the 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder can hit 60 mph in less than eight seconds. That’s still not quick but plenty sprightly around town. A well-behaved 6-speed automatic is the sole transmission.
An optional active park assist system can evaluate parallel-parking spots and steer the Escape into one.
Not everything is perfect, of course. The Escape doesn’t feel as roomy as the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 do. Its dashboard cuts into knee space, and the seats feel a bit too firm. In real-world driving, gas mileage has fallen below EPA estimates.
Crash-testing hasn’t been trouble-free, either. While the Escape earned mostly fine scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it was rated Poor in the small-overlap frontal test. Federal testing by NHTSA brought only a four-star overall rating (five stars for side impact).
The 2016 Ford Escape S ($23,590) comes with front-wheel drive and the 168-hp 2.5-liter engine, air conditioning; six-speaker audio, CD player; power windows, rearview camera, SYNC, cloth seats. Standard safety equipment includes six airbags and a rearview camera.
Escape SE ($25,790) has the 178-hp 1.6-liter turbo and adds satellite radio, power driver’s seat, keypad entry, foglamps, and 17-inch wheels. SE AWD ($27,540) adds all-wheel drive.
Escape Titanium ($29,995) gets leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, SYNC 3 infotainment, dual-zone climate control, Sony 10-speaker audio, 18-inch wheels, pushbutton start, rear parking sensors, and a hands-free tailgate. Titanium AWD ($31,745) adds all-wheel drive. HID headlights, blind-spot monitoring, and active parking assist are grouped into a Technology Package.
The 240-hp 2.0-liter engine is an option ($1,195) for SE and Titanium.
Compared to rivals, the Escape occupies a small footprint. Several inches shorter than a Honda CR-V, its wheelbase is nearly three inches longer.
Essentially based on the Ford Focus, the Escape shows certain influences from that model, notably in hatchback form. More than most compact crossovers, the swoopy Escape maintains a determined, almost aggressive, stance. A quick look immediately suggests its nimble handling talents.
Up front, the small slot-like grille looks to be an odd-on, more than an integral design element. The top Titanium model gets a little more visual distinction with silver roof rails, radiator shutters, and 18-inch machined aluminum wheels.
Inside, an Escape feels about the same size as a Mazda CX-5 or Hyundai Tucson, but smaller than Toyota’s RAV4. Exterior sportiness carries over to the nearly cockpit-like interior. The instrument panel holds a relatively complicated group of controls.
Interior appointments rank among the best in class. Passenger space is generous, but the wraparound dashboard style cuts into knee and leg room. The open feel that marked early Escapes is gone. Thick roof pillars affect visibility, too.
Front seats are slim and somewhat firm. Because of limited width, there’s just enough space for two adults in the rear seat. Cargo space is plentiful, due to the flat cargo floor.
Folding the rear seatback is a simple, single-motion process, causing the headrests to flip down as well. A clever power option opens the back hatch by simply swinging your foot under the rear bumper.
Handling agility is the main attraction of the Ford Escape. It handles like a driver-engaging hatchback that’s a bit taller than usual. Order it with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, and it accelerates like one. Among the compact crossover-SUV group, the Escape stands alongside Mazda’s CX-5 in providing an exhilarating driving experience, even with the base engine.
Smoothly competent, if somewhat tame, the base 2.5-liter engine delivers enough energy to satisfy most owners. Although the midrange 1.6-liter turbo has been the popular favorite, we like the responsiveness of the 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo. Ford’s 6-speed automatic functions well with either turbocharged engine. Instead of paddle shifters, you get a rocker switch on the gearshift lever.
Unless you’re in the Snow Belt, all-wheel drive may not be necessary; but it can help maintain traction on non-wintry slick pavements. AWD models are heavier, thus consuming more fuel, as well as more costly. When the snow flies, however, an all-wheel-drive Escape fitted with snow tires would be a mighty vehicle.
The Escape benefits from what’s called Torque Vectoring, which helps the car run through corners with greater finesse. The system uses antilock braking to restrain an inside front wheel, when slippage is detected. Even without that assistance, the Escape’s refined road manners shine brightly.
Crisp, weighty steering and superior body control make the Escape’s hatchback profile seem appropriate. Feedback from the road could be better, though that’s common in this class.
EPA ratings have the Escape 2.5-liter with front-drive at 22/31 mpg City/Highway. The Escape with the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is rated 23/32 mpg, versus 22/30 mpg for the 240-horsepower 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo. In comparison, a base Honda CR-V is EPA-rated at 23/33 mpg.
Ford Escape has features most want in a compact crossover SUV, along with sporty behavior and appearance. A loaded Titanium model can approach the $40,000 mark, at which point we’d consider a Lincoln MKC. The 2017 Escape will have revised styling and two new turbocharged engines.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.