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Car reviews - Ford - Escape - 5-dr wagon range

Launch Story

Ford logo9 Jun 2006

By MARTON PETTENDY

FORD has injected a little bit of Territory into its compact SUV as part of a belated midlife makeover for Escape, which now comprises just four automatic model variants and a sharp new $29,990 starting price.

Now known as the ZC, the Blue Oval's smallest off-roader brandishes slicker new exterior styling that borrows from Ford's top-selling Territory medium SUV, an all-new interior, upgraded engines and extra safety and convenience features.

As part of the first major model change to the five-year-old model (launched here in February 2001) since the addition of the four-cylinder variant in January 2004, Escape is available for the first time with a ($2000 lower) sub-$30,000 pricetag – for the 2.3-litre four-cylinder XLS auto.

Similarly, the XLT 2.3 is priced at a more attractive $33,490, while the new XLT Sport V6, which replaces both the ZB Escape XLS V6 and XLT V6, opens the V6 batting at $37,190. The flagship Limited V6 tops the price range at a slightly higher $41,990.

The ZC’s biggest drawcard is its thoroughly modernized interior, which was previewed by the facelifted Tribute (Escape’s mechanical twin from Ford-controlled Mazda) at the Melbourne motor show in February, when the revised Escape also made its public debut, albeit with blacked-out windows.

The revised Ford beats its Mazda sister model to market by three weeks and is also claimed to benefit from significant Australian input, not just because its new exterior was styled by former Ford Oz designer Paul Gibson who, as Ford Asia Pacific and Africa chief designer, was responsible for its new, mini-Territory look.

While interior and exterior design was managed from Australia, where extensive development testing also took place, the body, engine and chassis engineering was carried out in Taiwan and Japan.

Ford says the revised Escape’s new audio system was developed specifically for Australia’s weak-signal radio waves and that its automatic transmissions were calibrated to suit our unique high-speed towing demands. Thailand, New Zealand and Japan will also benefit from the Australian-developed changes.

Escape’s more aggressive appearance comes courtesy of an edgier new bonnet and front quarter sheetmetal, plus a larger grille that emphasizes the “Ford SUV DNA” and links Escape more closely to Territory via a three horizontal bars and a more prominent Blue Oval badge.

New headlights feature black bezelling, four chrome-ringed chambers and jewel-like reflector beams, while V6 models get an all-new front bumper with revised skid plate and, for XLT and Limited models, integrated fog lights.

Escape’s tail-lights are now housed within smoked honeycomb lenses and employ LED brake lights, while the revised rear-end also includes a revised bumper with integral skid plate and low-mounted reverse lights. Escape’s tailgate gets a chrome garnish and retains its separate flip-up glass function.

Body-coloured door handles, more aerodynamic wing mirrors (with integrated LED turn signals on the Limited range-topper, which also gets a chromed front quarter badge), new alloy wheel designs for all but the base XLS 2.3 (16-inch three-spoke for XLT 2.3 and Limited 16-inch seven-spoke for XLT Sport) and new paint colours complete the exterior changes.

Interior changes are even more extensive, led by elimination of Escape’s column-mounted gear shifter and pull-out handbrake. They’re replaced by a conventional handbrake and floor-shifter between the centre console and the redesigned dashboard’s classy new centre stack, the latter operating the same four-speed automatic transmission on all variants.

Ford says no five-speed auto was available for Escape, and nor does the floor-shifter with overdrive button feature a manual-shift function.

All variants bar the entry XLS 2.3 now feature climate-control air-conditioning, though all versions benefit from a larger-capacity air-con system that’s said to provide faster cool-down via relocated and more efficient air-vents.

The new-look centre stack features large rotary dials for the audio and climate systems, while a new instrument cluster, features metallic-rimmed circular dials with a black backgrounds, blue backlighting and an electronic odometer – but no trip computer. The steering wheel features audio controls but remains adjustable for height only.

Storage is improved by a lockable glovebox and a two-tiered armrest compartment within the new centre console, which also features a covered compartment and covered twin-cupholders. Redesigned door bins now accommodate street directories, all but the XLS 2.3 get an overhead sunglasses holder, and the cargo area features twin storage bins and a 12-volt power outlet.

New seat trims (leather on Limited) cover more generously padded front bucket seats and the rear bench, which can now be reclined or folded flat, while new door trims offer a soft-feel armrest, new window switches and larger, chrome-ringed speakers. Sun visors now feature illuminated vanity mirrors and the Limited offers a sunroof as standard.

Extra sound-deadening mats under the bonnet and carpet and on the bulkhead, together with improved door sealing and a laminated instrument panel are claimed reduce vibration and interior noise at highway speeds by up to four decibels.

Safety improvements include the fitment of front seatbelt pretensioners and the addition of a three-point seatbelt and adjustable head restraint for the centre rear occupant. Equally significant is the move from drum brakes to 302mm discs at rear, while 303mm discs replace 278mm items at the front.

Electronic brake assist is now also standard on V6 variants, in addition to ABS and electronic brake-force distribution, while Limited variants continue to offers seat-mounted side airbags. There is no side curtain airbag or stability control option.

Escape’s engineroom has also come in for change, mainly to meet this year’s tighter Euro III-based emissions laws. Biggest change is for the long-stroke 2.261-litre 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder, which now features variable intake valve timing, a close-coupled exhaust catalyst, a quieter and more efficient alternator and an electronic throttle.

The result is 109kW of peak power at 6000rpm (up 1kW) and 199Nm of torque at 4000rpm (down 2Nm and 500rpm), the extra flexibility claimed to reduce 20 to 40km/h acceleration by 1.4 seconds and 50 to 70km/h acceleration by 0.8 seconds. Noise and smoothness improvements are also claimed.

Escape’s 2.967-litre V6 is also cleaner and more flexible, thanks largely to a similarly recalibrated four-speed auto with a new torque converter that’s claimed to be six per cent more efficient. A relocated water pump, one-piece (not two-piece) radiator fan and an aluminium head cover (was plastic) are also said to make it quieter and smoother.

Peak output figures remain unchanged since the ZB of January 2004 (152kW at 6000rpm and 276Nm at 4750rpm), but Ford says the oversquare 60-degree V6 is 10 per cent more economical, with the official combined figure dropping from 12.2 to 10.9L/100km. Towing capacity is unchanged at 1600kg (four-cylinder: 1000kg).

Escape’s on-demand all-wheel drive system is also unchanged, and continues to direct 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheels automatically when required via an electronic centre coupling, or via a push-button "4x4 Lock" function that can be operated on the fly.

Minimum ground clearance also continues to range between 205mm and 215mm, depending on the variant and tyre sizes.

Ford hopes to sell between 300 and 350 Escapes per month (with V6s expected to comprise 40 per cent) in Australia’s overcrowded compact SUV segment that includes 17 different models and attracted about 76,000 sales last year, representing eight per cent of the total market or about the same as the medium SUV segment.

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