Car reviews - Ford - Escape
Engine and performance, fuel economy, ride, sliding second row, cabin layout, space, styling, standard equipment
Room for improvement
Possibly too much power, jerky transmission, torque steer, questionable heat tolerance of electronics, twitchy steering
The last Ford Escape failed to fire on local sales charts, can the new one improve?
21 Jan 2021
IT WOULD be fair to say the previous generation Escape didn’t live up to Ford’s sales hopes in the all-important mid-sized SUV segment, being outsold more than nine times over by the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 in 2019.
Now however with the arrival of the latest version, the local arm of the Blue Oval is hoping steal itself a bigger slice of Australia’s most popular segment and be among the thick of the action.
Sporting a more modern look, completely new interior and riding on an all-new platform, the new Escape is offered Down Under across three trim levels and with the option of either front- or all-wheel drive.
To see if the new model could hope to hold its own against the established class favourites, we spent some time in the base ‘Escape’ variant which retails from $35,990 plus on-road costs.
Compared to its rather blocky predecessor, the new Escape adopts an overall more elegant design and could almost be likened to an oversized Focus – especially the ST-Line.
In contrast to the commanding styling of the CX-5 or the aggressive look of a RAV4, the Escape’s elegance is understated and subtle with very few harsh contour lines or contrasting trim pieces.
Adding to this underlying sophistication is a set of 18-inch alloy wheels and the chrome slatted grille.
It’s a similar story inside the cabin with the dash being laid out in a simple form meets function kind of way, and is a vast improvement over the old model’s bulbous, cluttered mess.
Again taking inspiration from the Focus, everything is laid out pretty well where you would expect it to be with an 8.0-inch full-colour infotainment touchscreen adorning the top of the dash, underlined neatly by a set of audio control buttons, below which are the centre air vents.
Mounted low down on the centre fascia are the air-conditioning controls with the buttons and dials all being logically laid out and not hard to see or reach.
The analogue instrument cluster meanwhile is simple, if verging on a little boring but it gets the job done, as does the 4.2-inch digital driver’s display.
As for the rest of the cabin, the driving position is quite high even with the seat set in its lowest position while head, shoulder and legroom are all decent both in the front and in the second row.
All of the materials and switchgear have a quality feel to them and we welcome the standard inclusion of a leather steering wheel and paddle shifters.
Another touch we particularly like is the sliding second row which adds an extra 114 litres to the 412L boot when slid all the way forward (526L in total).
That figure expands further to a cavernous 1478L when the 60:40 split-folding second row is stowed.
Under the bonnet of all new Escapes resides an updated version of the previous model’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine developing a meaty 1843W/387Nm, which in the base model is channelled exclusively to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission – all-wheel-drive is available on the ST-Line and Vignale.
Those outputs jettison the Escape both up the road and to the top of the mid-sized SUV power tables with the engine itself being a smooth and quiet operator, especially on the open road.
With so much grunt on tap, the Escape makes light work of overtaking manoeuvres and hills, however being front-wheel drive it can also end up spinning its inside wheel if you take off with a bit of gusto like when trying to exploit a gap in traffic, even in the dry.
Part of the issue here is the transmission which while calm, smooth and intuitive on the open road, proves jerky around town and doesn’t always seem to want to let the engine utilise the wealth of torque on hand, opting instead to let it rev out into the mid-range.
For reference, we actually went back to Ford to double-check it was a torque converter rather than a dual-clutch unit, such was its jerkiness.
Torque steer can also be a factor under harder acceleration, especially on roads with changing cambers or an irregular surface.
The solution to all of this is to dial up Eco mode which calms everything down and even smooths out the gearshifts for the most part around town which is where the majority of Escapes are likely to spend their lives.
Despite its meaty power figures, we actually managed to beat Ford’s claimed 8.6L/100km combined fuel figure by some margin during testing, averaging a lean 6.8L/100km over a 60:40 mix of highway and suburban driving with a brief foray on dirt through the Boranup Forest – however it is worth noting the engine drinks minimum 95 RON premium unleaded.
Just like the powertrain, the steering walks a desperately fine line between hyperactive and acceptable, having one of, if not the fastest rack of all the current mid-sized SUVs.
This actually proves quite useful around town with a delightfully little amount of arm work required to negotiate suburban driving and all of the manoeuvres/challenges associated with it.
The flipside is that it feels a bit too direct out on the open road and the lack of any meaningful weight or feel doesn’t do much for its cause, nor does the relatively soft ride which does a fantastic job of soaking up both big and small bumps in any environment.
Given its lack of all-wheel drive, the base Escape won’t take you as far as off the beaten track as some other SUVs but there is more than enough ground clearance (191mm) on hand to ensure you don’t get stuck in the first pot hole while the supple suspension does a great job of keeping things composed over even the most severe corrugations.
All Escapes come as standard with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, evasive steering assist, forward collision warning, dynamic brake support, traffic sign recognition, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, driver impairment monitor, tyre pressure monitoring and emergency assistance which is all good stuff, but on one particularly hot day during testing, the autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning systems packed up completely which raises a few red flags in regards to both quality and indeed safety given how hot our summers can get.
Once the temperature dipped back below 38 degrees the systems returned again however the blind spot monitoring then started detecting vehicles going in the opposite direction and continued to do so into the evening.
Whether or not these gremlins were an isolated incident on our particular test car or if they’re more widespread remains to be seen, however we haven’t heard of any other instances.
All in all, the new Escape is a bit of a mixed bag – the styling and the cabin are a huge step up over the old model, the ride comfort is just about bang on, it’s practical and decent value but the jerky transmission disrupts the sense of polish and the front-wheel-drive layout struggles to cope with the engine’s power.
In an ideal world we’d love to see an all-wheel-drive version of the base Escape and for the front-wheel-drives to be dialled back a little in terms of power and torque.
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