Check out the all-new 2013 Ford Escape!
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Last year, the Ford Escape outsold the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. In its final full year of production, Ford sold more than 250,000 examples of its small crossover, a feat made all the more remarkable - fleet sales and incentives notwithstanding - by the fact that all those Escapes were essentially the same vehicle that Ford introduced for 2001.
There were some cosmetic and mechanical updates along the way, but the Escape was getting old. Still, with such strong sales, Ford didn't particularly need to completely remake the Escape. But it did just that. The 2013 Escape marks a complete departure from the crossover SUV it replaces. It was spawned from the company's One Ford initiative that aims to offer the same or similar vehicles globally. This '13 Escape, for example, will be sold as the Kuga in Europe.
Sporty and Creased Replaces Anodyne and Blocky
Upright, tall, and designed to imply truckishness, the previous Escape didn't have a single aggressive, sporty line on its body. That is certainly not the case with the new model. It has sporty creases pressed into its sheetmetal, the windshield is splayed back, the roof is lower, and the front fascia looks vaguely threatening. It's the same story inside. Simple, square, and upright have been replaced by complicated, multifaceted, and enveloping. Cabin materials now look and feel expensive, although we did notice that a few fits were askew in one of the early-build examples we drove.
The newness continues under the skin. The previous Escape's Mazda-based platform is gone, replaced by a beefed-up version of Ford's Focus architecture. Three four-cylinder engines are available, and each comes connected to a conventional six-speed automatic. There is no longer a manual offered, nor is there a hybrid version. (Ford has opted to hybridize its U.S.-market C-Max instead.)
At the bottom rung of the powertrain ladder is a revised 2.5-liter four with 168 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. This base engine is available only with front-wheel drive and is expected to account for 10 percent of sales. An optional 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four with 178 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque is the next step up. Coupled with self-closing grille shutters (they open for breathing at low speeds and close to reduce drag at higher speeds), the 1.6-liter engine is estimated by Ford to return 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway on regular fuel. The most powerful choice is a 2.0-liter turbo four with 240 horses and 270 lb-ft of torque, the same power and 37 more lb-ft than offered by last year's 3.0-liter V-6. (The 2.0-liter can also be found under the hoods of the Explorer, Edge, and upcoming 2013 Fusion and 2013 Focus ST.) The EPA rates the front-drive 2.5 at 22/31 mpg and the 2.0-liter EcoBoost at 22/30 with front-wheel drive and 21/28 with AWD. Past experience with EcoBoost models tells us that it might be hard to achieve the reported numbers in the turbo Escapes, however.
My, What a Big Focus You Are
Ford didn't bring the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter to the Escape's launch program, but we did have a chance to sample both turbocharged models. The 2.0-liter offers effortless acceleration in the Escape, even with the optional all-wheel-drive system. There is no turbo noise, nor is there any obvious turbo lag. Torque arrives early and the engine revs without drama. The turbo 1.6-liter doesn't feel nearly as quick overall as the 2.0-liter, but its 184 lb-ft move the Escape off the line briskly. Most customers will be happy with the low-end shove of the 1.6-liter and won't find the 240-horse engine necessary. We, however, are not most customers. Although the smaller engine doesn't have any lag, it runs out of nerve once the tach needle sweeps past 4500 rpm or so.
No matter which engine is installed, the Escape's chassis is sportier than those of its Japanese and domestic competition. As you might expect, the Escape drives like a giant Focus with a higher center of gravity. It's planted, feels secure, and is even a little fun. The electrically assisted power steering, as in the Focus, is accurate and has some semblance of feel. It's no Lotus Evora, of course, but neither is anything else in the Escape's segment. Also like the Focus, the Escape has struts up front and a multilink rear suspension. The chassis tuning doesn't differ much from the European-market Kuga's. Stability control is standard, as is Ford's Curve Control; the latter uses the rear brakes to help steer the Escape through corners. Models riding on 19-inch wheels exhibit some impact harshness; we'd recommend the 17-inchers for those desiring a slightly more comfortable ride. No matter the wheel-and-tire package, though, there is excessive road noise on coarse road surfaces.
The new Escape might not be as upright and boxy as before, but a longer wheelbase keeps interior volume on par with that of the outgoing model. The rear seat is comfortable and has an additional 1.2 inches of legroom, but it still can't match the space of the roomy current-gen Toyota RAV4. Cargo area is up slightly to 34.3 cubic feet behind the second row and 68.1 with the seats folded.
Ford has created a more sophisticated and refined Escape, but the company is also going to be charging more to get into one. Stickers start at $23,295 for the base S trim, about $1000 pricier than last year's base model with a manual transmission. (The S is $200 cheaper when comparing automatic-transmission models.) The SE starts at $25,895 and the SEL at $28,695. At the top end, a Titanium with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost commands $31,195. The new Escape is a big change - and vastly improved - versus the old one, but it's so radically different that we wonder if it will be able to maintain the impressive sales pace of its predecessor. To be sure, with an all-new CR-V already here and a redesigned RAV4 on the way, the battle for the top spot on the crossover chart will be fierce.
140 ARGYLE ST SCALEDONIA, ON N3W 1E5