– Great fuel economy
– Cabin space and features
– Ride and handling
– Could be quicker
– Fiddly multimedia system
– No all-wheel-drive option
The Ford Escape was always the odd one out in its previous life. Boxy, powerful and cheap, it had created a niche for itself in the crowded compact crossover segment. But to take on the big boys from Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, it was time for it to evolve. And evolve it did, for the 2013 model-year.
The Escape is now a clear rival for the usual stalwarts, since it’s switched out its truckish shape for a sleeker contemporary one. It’s a good-looking crossover, though not a whole lot different from any other in its class.
The fresh cabin design is equally modern, if a bit cluttered at first glance. The trim materials used are among the best in this segment, with a partial soft-touch dash and upper front-door sills, as well as some upholstery-matching padded door inserts and armrests. The rear door-sills are hard plastic, as is everything else below the waist.
Seating space is great, both front and back, with American-sized seats and a sizeable boot. The optionally-leather seats are comfortable. The rear bench can lean back or split-fold forward, there’s enough cubbies as well as moulded-in cupholders, and the optional power tailgate can be opened or close by waving your foot below the rear bumper if your hands are full of groceries.
The Escape can be had with all of Ford’s latest gadgetry, including the SYNC multimedia touchscreen, with voice control and redundant buttons for the decent CD/MP3 stereo as well as the average auto a/c with rear vents. The touchscreen isn’t the quickest in the business and the fonts are still small, but it’s a better system than Ford’s earlier efforts. Other tech includes LCD screens within the gauges, controlled by a myriad of buttons on the steering wheel, as well as Bluetooth, USB port, panoramic glass roof, cruise control, smart keyless entry and start, stability control, cross-traffic alert, front and side airbags, power driver’s seat and a rear camera with parking sensors. Oddly enough, the touchscreen doesn’t include navigation, and there’s no HIDs either.
The GCC-spec Escape is powered by a carryover 2.5-litre 4-cylinder, mated to a 6-speed automatic with thumb-operated manual feature on the shift-knob, and a front-wheel-drive platform, with no all-wheel-drive option available. The motor makes 168 hp at 6000 rpm and 230 Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. Hauling less than 1500 kilos in curb weight, it’s still not quick by any means. We timed it at 11.8 seconds in the 0-100 kph run during our July test, making it the slowest among its similar-engined peers. Fuel economy is very good at 9.9 litres/100 km, as per the trip computer.
Just like the Focus it is based on, the Escape is among the best when it comes to handling. Body roll is limited, understeer is kept in check, and grip is good from the 235/50 tyres on those 18-inch alloys. However, it’s still not the most sporting of crossovers. The seating position is awkward for average-sized folks as it seems to be designed for tall drivers, while the surprisingly-sharp steering offers little in terms of feedback and weight. The ABS-assisted brakes offer good pedal feel, but stopping power is average at best.
The suspension tuning continues to impress in terms of highway comfort. The ride is decently smooth, with a hint of firmness. It’s also pretty silent below 100 kph, but beyond that, the road and wind noise increases exponentially, making for a somewhat noisy drive at 130 kph.
Yet, the new Ford Escape does enough things well to make it a proper contender. The requisite space, ride quality and fuel economy are all there. There’s even the added benefit of tight handling, better-than-most cabin materials and infotainment overkill. We lament the lack of true beach-crawling capability and proper propulsion, while the price gets a bit high as the options list swells, but if you don’t care for the former, and keep a tight leash on the latter, the Escape makes a worthy addition to your shopping list as a practical family wagon.
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