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LA show: Ford reveals production Escape

Sharp and out of Focus: The new Escape is based on the same platform that spawned Ford’s latest Focus small car.

All-new Escape compact SUV appears in production guise, but Ford delays Oz launch

Ford logo16 Nov 2011

FORD today took the wraps off its long-awaited new-generation Escape compact SUV, but the Australian launch appears to have been slightly delayed and will now appear in local showrooms very early in 2013.

The new Focus-based Escape – which will be known as the Kuga in many global markets, including Europe and China – had been expected to make its Australian debut late next year.

Its unveiling in full production trim at the Los Angeles auto show today came well ahead of sales commencing in the US in the first half of 2012, and the European public debut at the Geneva motor show in March before replacing the current Kuga there around the third quarter.

Ford Australia brand communications manager Neil McDonald said the company is still assessing the various engines available globally.

We expect the Thai-built model for Australia will feature the turbocharged 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection that will feature in the Falcon from early next year.

The local arm of the Blue Oval is also yet to decide whether to stick with the decade-old Escape name or adopt the Kuga moniker in this country.

27 center imageLeft: Ford Escape (third from bottom is the hands-free power tailgate).

Escape has been a consistent but low-volume performer for Ford Australia. In a market segment that has grown considerably in the 10 years Escape has been sold here, the Mazda-sourced compact SUV has never grabbed more than five per cent of the segment.

Ford Australia may be tempted to relaunch the vehicle with a bright new name to go with the all-new modern look that was crafted in the company’s European design studios (with the help of Australian designer Dennis Sartorello).

While Escape is already the top-selling compact SUV in the US, ahead of the Honda CR-V, Ford global product development group vice-president Derrick Kuzak said the new model would “raise the bar even higher” with segment-leading features and economy.

“We call our all-new Ford Escape the ‘Smarter Utility Vehicle’ because it offers the strengths that customers today really value – fuel economy, versatility and new technology that makes driving and living with the vehicle easier and more fun – all wrapped in a sleek, more modern design,” he said.

“Ford understands that more people every year are looking at vehicles like Escape, and we want to give them even more reasons to buy.

“Escape is America’s best-selling utility vehicle, and the Ford team has worked hard to make sure we deliver even more of what small SUV owners really want.

“This all-new Ford model opens a new chapter in the world of SUVs. By being smarter, this utility vehicle will help customers around the globe find better, easier ways to connect with technology, maximise fuel efficiency and find the versatility and capability they need and want.” Mr Kuzak said 60 per cent of Americans shopping for a vehicle next year will look at either a mid-size car or small SUV.

Among the new features claimed to be new to the segment is a hands-free power tailgate that employs motion technology used in today’s video game systems.

If you have the key on you, a gentle kicking motion under the centre of the rear bumper activates, unlocks and raises the tailgate, allowing quick and easy access to the cargo area without needing to set down packages or dig out keys.

The new Escape will also be available with an active park assist function, which automatically steers the car into a parallel parking space, requiring the drive to operate only the pedals.

It also gains former partner company Volvo’s BLIS sensor-based blind-spot alert system and also a range of dynamic drive systems such as Curve Control, Torque Vectoring Control and a new Intelligent 4WD System that analyses data from 25 external signals, including wheel speed, accelerator pedal position and steering wheel angle to select the optimum drive setting.

Phone, satellite-navigation, entertainment and climate controls are said to be more easily managed either by voice commands or menus accessed through controls on the steering wheel, touch-screens, buttons or knobs.

As well as the 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine, the US market Escape will get a new 1.6-litre version that is also under consideration for Australia, but the mainstream engine for Americans is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder.

All will be mated to a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.

Improved aerodynamics – with drag cut by up to 10 per cent – aids the new Escape’s lower fuel consumption, though Ford did not reveal economy figures.

An interesting aero development is the introduction on 1.6 and 2.5-engined models of an active grille shutter system, which keeps the grille slats open when extra engine cooling air is required, such as low-speed driving, but automatically close when cruising on the highway to reduce wind drag.

Ford claims improved stowing with greater cargo capacity and more convenient access due to a lower floor than the outgoing model as well as one-touch fold-flat seats.

Escape was launched in Australia in 2001, when it sold 2842 units, and set a high of 3606 sales in its second year on sale.

Sales declined to a low of 1039 in 2009 before rebounding to 3034 units last year. Sales this year are down 14.4 per cent so it should finish the year at around the 2500 mark.

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