The Ford Escape is no frumpy crossover. It’s more like a tall wagon than an SUV, with rakish styling and sporty handling. Competitors include the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5, but the Escape offers the most responsive steering, crispest handling, and best body control (the CX-5 is a close second, along with the Subaru Forester). The Escape has the firmest ride, a consequence of the sporty handling.
The styling was freshened for 2017, to give it more of the Ford family look, and two new efficient four-cylinder engines were introduced, a 1.5-liter making 179 horsepower, and 2.0 liter making 245 horsepower. There’s also a 2.5-liter making 168 horsepower, which only comes with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available with the 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter engines.
Escape is essentially unchanged for 2018.
The Escape earns but four stars in crash testing by the federal NHTSA. The 1.5-liter engine gets an EPA-rated 26 Combined miles per gallon, the powerful 2.0 liter rates 25 mpg, and the 2.4 liter rates 24 mpg.
Safety features include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning with braking, lane keeping, and active park assist that can steer the car into a parking space. A warning on the dash goes off if the car senses the driver is tired.
2018 Ford Escape S ($23,850), SE ($25,605), SEL ($28,005), and Titanium ($32,045) come standard with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available for all but the S model ($1350).
Available features include Sync 3 infotainment, navigation, HD and satellite radio, Bluetooth with audio streaming, push-button start, tow package, panoramic sunroof.
The design and styling of the Escape is very tidy. Compared to the Honda CR-V, it’s a few inches shorter with a wheelbase that’s nearly three inches longer. Less overhang past the front and rear axles, and a more solid planting on the highway.
The sheetmetal is clean, crisp, pert, stylish, direct and modern. Think outdoorsy millennial.
The cabin is heavily styled with bold contours, swoopy and finely detailed. It makes other compact crossovers boring. But it’s also plasticky.
The swoopy dash wraps around so much that it takes some knee and legroom away from the front passenger, but that’s still nearly two inches more than the Honda CR-V. Thick A-pillars steal some forward visibility.
The front seats are slim and firm. The electronic parking brake, small as a button, frees up center console space. There’s a horizontal vent under the LCD screen that does a good job of heating and cooling the climate controls and kneecaps. There’s a CD player on the center stack.
The rakish profile steals some airiness out of the cabin, but there’s still enough left. There’s plenty of headroom in the rear, at least without the panoramic sunroof that would make it more airy. The Escape is considered a five-seater but there’s only room for two adults, with one inch less rear legroom than the CR-V.
The rear seatbacks and headrests flip down easily, creating 68 cubic feet of cargo space. There’s an optional two-position load floor, flat or max storage, with an enclosed big square cargo bin that holds 34 cubic feet. The rear hatch can be opened by swinging a foot under the bumper, with the fob in your pocket or purse.
Ford’s Sync Connect enables remote access to the car’s functions via smartphone.
The standard Escape engine is the 2.5-liter making 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. It’s neither modern nor exciting, but still smooth and competent. It’s not quick but it has adequate acceleration. It has a bit less horsepower and torque than the new 1.5-liter, and gets two less mpg.
The new 1.5-liter engine makes 179 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The transmission kicks down as much as with the 2.5 liter. For a little engine it makes booming sounds when you floor it, although its bark is bigger than its bite because it’s not exactly a rocket. But as 1.5-liter engines go, it’s good.
The only engine choice, in our minds, is the EcoBoost 2.0-liter turbo, making 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet or torque, and zooming to sixty miles per hour in less than seven seconds. It’s a big bargain at an option price of about $1500 more. It separates the Escape from almost every other crossover in its class.
The six-speed automatic is a good match for the EcoBoost engines, with programmed shift points that balance fuel mileage (some transmissions are programmed for fuel mileage, which can make them shift at unnatural times). The 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter get paddle shifters, while the 2.5 has a lame sport mode with a switch on the lever to change gears.
All-wheel drive moves power from the front to rear wheels, up to 100 percent in either direction, where ever the traction is needed.
The Escape’s handling is sharp and engaging, responsive with great body control, much better than your average crossover. The steering is crisp, weighty and fast. What makes it so good might be the electronic torque vectoring, which dabs the inside front brake in a corner to help the car turn. That’s why it’s so sharp.
The ride is tightly damped, and sometimes can feel too firm; and with the 19-inch wheels as on the Titanium, it can feel harsh. The smaller wheels bring a smoother ride.
The Ford Escape is stylish and capable. We prefer the 2.0-liter engine. No flaws in the drivetrain, great handling, but don’t expect a soft ride. Can’t fit five adults, but can fit a lot of cargo with seats that easily drop.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.