The Ford Escape has been an enormous success, with hundreds of thousands sold each year, for a few good reasons. Chief among them might be its styling. Ford builds many truck-like utility vehicles (soon there will be two more, with the coming return of the Bronco), but the Escape slips into that fleet discreetly disguised as a big hatchback, at least from behind the wheel. A responsive turbo engine complements the snappy handling.
This is the seventh year of this generation, and it will be the last, with a redesign scheduled for 2020. For 2019, Ford makes a big touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility standard, on all but the base Escape.
The base engine is a 2.5-liter inline-4 making 168 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. It’s smooth enough, and it’s nearly as fast as the turbo on the freeway, but it’s not as quick. It has a 6-speed automatic transmission that works well, but also works hard with the available power.
The upgrade that most buyers choose is the 1.5-liter turbo-4. It makes 179 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, and while that isn’t much more than the base engine, the turbo makes Escape-ing much more fun and adventuresome. It uses the same 6-speed automatic, with welcome paddle shifters. The transmission is able to be more relaxed with this stronger engine.
Our own choice, of course, is the hottest engine. That’s a 2.0-liter turbo-4 making 245 horsepower, with available all-wheel drive. From the model’s firm ride to its sharp steering, it creams the competition.
The not-SUV styling works on the outside. Inside, the heavily styled dash cuts into some passenger room, and the seats are pretty firm.
The Escape is on the small side to start with, having a wheelbase of 106 inches and overall length of 178 inches. It’s not as space-efficient as a Honda CR-V, which has a shorter wheelbase by 3 inches but 1 inch more rear legroom.
But the Escape is a good bit bigger than the next smallest Ford crossover, the EcoSport, with a 99-inch wheelbase and length of 161 inches.
With the standard 2.5-liter engine and front-wheel drive, the EPA rates the Escape at 21 mpg city, 29 highway, 24 combined.
With the 1.5-liter turbo and front-wheel drive, it’s rated at 23/30/26 mpg, or with all-wheel drive, at 22/28/24 mpg.
The 2.0-liter turbo-4 gets 20/27/23 mpg with all-wheel drive and 21/28/24 mpg with front-wheel drive.
Both turbocharged engines have stop/start technology and direct injection that boost fuel mileage, and all Escapes get active grille shutters that help smooth airflow.
The NHTSA gives the Escape five stars overall for crash protection, while the IIHS only gives it four. It does well in their front- and side-impact tests, but gets a “Poor” rating in its small-overlap frontal crash test. Many cars get less than the top “Good” score, but it’s three notches down to “Poor.”
Ford doesn’t make forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking easy; it’s not available at all on the S model, and is a $1,295 option on the other models, even the top Titanium.
Other available safety features include adaptive cruise control, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, and parking sensors.
The Escape comes in S, SE, SEL, and Titanium models.
At $24,105, the Escape S comes with the base engine, cloth seats, power features, air conditioning, 17-inch wheels, cruise control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, and Sync infotainment with a tiny 4.2-inch center screen that isn’t a touchscreen. All-wheel drive isn’t available on the S.
The SE at $26,500 is the best value and best seller, despite the fact that the 1.5-liter turbo-4 engine raises the price. For that $2,400 difference you also get a power driver seat, satellite radio, keypad entry, keyless ignition, Sync 3 infotainment with an 8.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, dual-zone automatic climate control, and heated front seats. All-wheel drive is available for another $1,500, same as the next two models.
The SEL at $28,445 gets a power tailgate that raises with a swish of your foot, leather seats, and rear parking sensors. Forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking are a $1,295 option on these and on the Titanium trim level; some rivals offer this safety tech standard.
Titanium at $32,620 adds a 12-speaker 390-watt Sony audio system, navigation, power passenger seat, HD radio, blind-spot monitors, ambient lighting, and 18-inch wheels. Options include all-wheel drive, automatic emergency braking, panoramic roof, a tow package, and even automatic park assist. A fully-loaded Titanium hits $40,000.
The pert shape of the Escape has endured over seven years (a couple years ago it got a new front end), but it can’t be said any more that it doesn’t look like a crossover. It remains taut and somewhat sleek, with a fast roofline and low ride height. It rides down the middle of the road between a darty liftback and rugged SUV.
The dashboard has an undulating and rakish shape that cuts somewhat into passenger space. With the optional panoramic sunroof, the cockpit feels snug for taller drivers.
The front seats are slim but supportive and firm. We like that support on long drives, but not everyone will like the stiff cushions.
The rear seats fold to expand the Escape’s cargo space from 34 to 68 cubic feet, although not as easily as a Honda crossover with its trick one-flip lever. However the Escape has an adjustable two-position cargo floor and a hands-free tailgate that opens with a swipe of a free foot.
Even if cost is a deciding factor, the S model should be skipped because of its engine. We’re not saying it’s bad, this 2.5-liter inline-4 making 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, in fact it’s quite smooth; it’s just slower than the turbo, gets 2 miles per gallon less, and isn’t that much cheaper.
The 1.5-liter turbo-4 offered in the other Escape models is more responsive. With 179 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, it pulls more strongly at low revs. It uses the same 6-speed automatic as the base engine, but it has paddle shifters, and the transmission doesn’t have to shift so much to stay in the powerband. It’s a bit louder, but that adds to the spirit and character.
The most powerful engine is a 2.0-liter turbo-4. With 245 horsepower and great low-end thrust, it can accelerate from zero to sixty in 7.1 seconds. Beyond 60 mph, there’s a lot of power to pass. It too has paddle shifters with its 6-speed automatic.
The available all-wheel drive is a simple system that shifts power from front to back, but not side to side.
A tow package adds trailer-sway control, which uses the stability control to compensate for the rocking motion induced by a trailer, and better headlights.
The ride is good, as firm as a sports sedan, although the Escape can feel jittery on bumpy roads, especially with the Titanium’s 19-inch wheels and tires that crash over speed bumps and potholes.
But it’s the handling that is notable. It corners better than any crossover at that price can be expected to–in fact, others feel sluggish compared to the Escape. The Escape feels secure, and even tossable. It responds quickly to the solid steering, while the stability control system applies the brakes to the inside front wheel in tight corners, to simulate torque-vectoring. That’s where the security comes from.
Even as the last Ford Escape of this generation, after seven years, this crossover offers good value. It handles like a sporty hatchback, while proving more cargo space and ground clearance. Go for that SE model, with the turbo-4 engine, paddle shifters for the 6-speed automatic, and a good package of necessary features.