RICHMOND, CA – Despite the fact 2011 was a record-setting year for the Escape, Ford has radically redesigned North America’s favorite compact CUV/SUV for the 2013 model year. All that remains of the hugely-popular current vehicle is the name, base engine and a few miscellaneous bits and pieces.
Ford hopes the new Escape will play a major sales role going forward. The mid-size car and compact SUV segments are expected to be two key growth areas in the coming years. Ford has a new Fusion coming later this year and the Escape arrives in Ford stores this spring.
Describing the new Escape as 21st century SUV, Frank Davis, executive director North American engineering for Ford said here, “This is a big deal for us.” As it should be.
Ford has sold more than two million Escapes over the years and expects the new version to help it maintain the momentum enjoyed last year. It is looking to a combination of looks, fuel efficiency, class-leading quietness and a raft of segment exclusive features to help it maintain that pace.
The 2013 Escape is the 10th vehicle based on Ford’s “Global C” platform, developed in Ford’s Cologne, Germany centre. The body and interior were designed in America. It will be produced and sold in Europe and China as the Kuga. The 2013 Escape is 87-mm longer, 33-mm wider and 40-mm lower and its wheelbase is 71-mm longer.
Slick new shape
The new design is a startling departure from the current model and much more in tune with the times. The new front-end look and trapezoidal grill are somewhat similar to the L-Finesse design language being introduced by Lexus. Both head and tail lights have lots of “bling” and the sloping roofline, rising beltline and muscular wheel arches result in an overall impression of a more car-like vehicle than the outgoing model which was launched more than a decade ago.
The slick new shape alone plays a major role in a 12% improvement in fuel economy
The interior is a similar change-up. The highly stylized instrument panel may be considered overwrought by some but should be familiar to Darth Vader fans. The tops of the instrument and door panels have a soft touch finish and exceptionally close fit tolerances are evident throughout. The feel of the various control knobs and switches lends a further impression of quality.
Wide front bucket seats are a new design and despite being 1.4-kg lighter, offer improved support and long-session comfort. The front seat head restraints offer four-way adjustablility.
The second row offers ample head and legroom for adults and the seats fold flat at the touch of a button. A two-position cargo floor allows you to chose between maximum cargo space or a flat floor. The lift-over is lower than the outgoing model and cargo capacity is greater.
Four trim levels
The 2013 Escape will come in S, SE, SEL and Titanium trim levels. Starting at $21,499, the SE will have the 171-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine carried over from the current Escape paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive.
The SE will be available with one of two new turbocharged four-cylinder engines and in front- ($26,899) or all-wheel-drive ($29,099).
The SEL will have the larger of the two Ecoboost engines, also available in front-wheel-drive ($31,599) or AWD ($33,799) form.
The range-topping Titanium model will also have the 2.0-litre EcoBoost four and will come only with AWD, starting at $37,499.
In addition to the new looks, the other major change for 2013 is a newfound ability to go further on a given amount of fuel.
The 1.6-litre Ecoboost four is new to North America. With turbocharging and direct-injection, it produces 178-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque while the 2.0-litre version, used in the Edge and Flex, replaces the 3.0-litre V-6 used in the outgoing Escape.
It produces 240-horsepower and 279 lb-ft of torque. That matches the power of the V-6 but tops it by a significant 25% more torque. It also boasts fuel economy ratings of 9.8 litres/100 in the city and 6.9 on the highway – compared to 11.5 and 8.7 for the six.
Those who like to tow their toys will be happy to learn the new 2.0-litre Escape retains the 3500-lb towing capacity of the old V-6.
Ford says 90% of its product line will have Ecoboost engines by 2013.
The 2.0-four is silky smooth quiet and has a progressive power delivery. It is nicely mated to the six-speed automatic and both up and downshifts occur seamlessly.
Whether towing or not, the new Escape benefits from a number of driving enhancement features like Curve Control that slows the vehicle when you have entered a corner too quickly and Torque Vectoring Control that helps you accelerate through a turn.
A new ”Intelligent Torque on Demand” AWD system is a big leap forward on both dry and slippery surfaces, able to send up to 100% of power to either front or rear wheels with input from 25 external signals reporting on everything from wheel speed to steering wheel angle and input.
On a variety of twisty canyon roads north of here, the Escape impressed for its driving dynamics. The relatively tall vehicle leaned very little when pressed in the turns and the steering provided excellent feedback. Whatever the surface, this is one supremely quiet and composed vehicle!
Innovation and class-exclusive features await those considering the new Escape. One of the most readily appreciated is the hands-free power liftgate. Walk up to the Escape with your hands full and the key fob in your pocket or purse and all you have to do is move your foot under the rear bumper. Motion sensors detect the motion and open the liftgate. The same process closes it. Ford swears it has done enough testing to know it will continue to work even after time in the muck, slush and ice of Canadian winters.
Active Park Assist allows you to parallel park without touching the steering wheel, a forward sensing system warns when you are getting close to a curb or other obstacle while a Blind Spot Information System will advise of adjacent vehicles and also aid when backing out of a parking spot in a crowded parking lot by warning of vehicles coming from the side.
The 2013 Escape has some big shoes to fill, amidst a growing number of capable competitors. It appears to have the goods to do so.