Car reviews - Ford - Escape - range
Superb steering, ride and handling of Trend FWD, 2.0-litre turbo is gutsy, middle-tier model grade an equipment sweet-spot
Room for improvement
Kerb weight forces 1.5-litre turbo to work, ageing cabin design, ride and handling on Titanium’s 19-inch wheels
30 Nov 2016
MEDIUM SUV buyers in Australia tend to hop beyond the entry-level model grades populated largely by underpowered 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines wearing hubcaps or sometimes even less. In the case of the Escape Ambiente – which is now $740 cheaper than before at $28,490 plus on-road costs – that is mostly true, with the exception that it uses a 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder engine.
Buyers also tend to skip past lower specification all-wheel-drive (AWD) model grades, because few families prioritise off-road ability over a high driving position and easy, standing-height access to a rear child seat. Ford Australia still offers an Escape Ambiente AWD from $32,990 as well.
For that same price, however, the second-from-base Escape Trend can be purchased without a rear driveshaft. Instead the front-wheel drive (FWD) provides juicier extras including 18-inch alloy wheels (replacing 17-inch steel wheels), automatic headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror and leather-trimmed gearshifter.
Impressively, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology are already standard.
An automatic hands-free tailgate is bundled with keyless auto-entry with push-button start as a $1200 option.
Active cruise control, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance and the new addition of a rear cross-traffic alert remain part of a Technology Package that now costs $1300 (previously $1600 on Kuga).
Even with such options, the Escape Trend FWD is strong value.
Choosing front-drive saves 61kg compared with an equivalent 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder driving all four wheels, although it still weighs a portly 1607kg. In either case the engine produces 134kW of power at 6000rpm and 240Nm of torque between 1600rpm and 5000rpm.
Even in the Escape Trend FWD we primarily tested, it can be a stressed and noisy performer. Driven sedately, however, the six-speed automatic slurs effortlessly between gears and intelligently picks up lower gears quickly to aid response and driveability. Steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters have been added for manual gear selection as well.
From the driver’s seat the Escape is feeling its age, even with its bounty of equipment.
The basic cloth trim, mismatched dashboard and hard door trims are, however, easier to forgive in the low-$30K price bracket. That is particularly the case considering the rear seat is not only roomy and comfortable but features air vents, while behind it the boot is more usable than its 406-litre capacity would indicate, thanks to a perfectly square aperture.
Turn the leather-clad steering wheel and all continues to be forgiven.
The Escape has the light, direct and fluent steering for which all Ford products – bar the undercooked EcoSport – are renowned. On the Trend’s 18-inch wheels it rides superbly, while the Continental ContiSportContact5 tyres deliver excellent grip to match an eager chassis.
Teamed with the turbo torque when pressed, the Escape Trend FWD gels to become an outstanding drive for its $33K sticker price.
Its positives were only heightened after swapping into the $44,990 2.0-litre turbo Escape Titanium AWD model grade. More does not equal more in this case, with the additions of leather trim, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat and panoramic sunroof merely contradicting the cheap trim around it. This does not feel like a $45K cabin.
With 178kW at 5500rpm and 345Nm from 2000rpm to 4500rpm, the engine is a terrifically gutsy performer despite its now-bulging 1751kg waistline. For another $2500 a diesel of the same capacity is also available with 132kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm between 2000rpm and 2500rpm – but we did not sample this version.
The Titanium AWD’s 19-inch wheels take a surprising toll on ride quality, which turns jiggly and lumpy, while the extra 143kg over the front-drive Trend FWD can be felt during quick changes of direction. This flagship Escape feels faster, but bulkier and less fluent than its cheaper sibling.
With the new-generation Volkswagen Tiguan having just arrived and the Mazda CX-5 set to arrive in the first half of 2017, the Ford Escape in any specification has its work cut out for it in the burgeoning medium SUV segment.
But that Trend FWD really is a great addition to the range that deserves to boost sales volume over the Kuga.
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