Ford was one of the first manufacturers to capitalize on the rise of the truck-based sport-utility vehicle. For the better part of two decades, from 1990 until deep into the new century, its Explorer battled Jeep’s Grand Cherokee’s in a bid to be America’s favorite SUV.
But then car-based crossovers happened and Ford’s compact Escape crossover overtook the aging Explorer. It debuted in 200 and soon established itself as the company’s best-selling vehicle that’s not a pickup — the Ford F-150 continues to lead all vehicles in U.S. sales — and one of the country’s top-selling cars.
The reasons for Escape’s success are numerous. It’s good looking, comfortable and economical. It sports the latest tech wizardry and has the power to surprise; its available hands-free liftgate is one of the segments most thoughtful — and unexpected — innovations.
The Escape also offers one of the segment’s best ride-and-handling packages. It shares its sturdy athleticism with the Focus, whose platform it shares and, despite its higher center of gravity, handles corners with little body lean. Steering is accurate and properly weighted (neither too light nor too heavy) and has good on-center feel. The ride is firm and accommodating; rather than erasing every bump, it dampens them into irrelevance.
Curve Control technology slows the Escape if it’s cornering too fast; Torque Vectoring Control brakes the inside front wheel while supplying additional torque to the outside wheel for improved handling and traction.
But perhaps the Escape’s most dramatic differentiator is what Ford calls the power of choice; in a segment where builders commonly offer only a single engine choice, Ford offers three, a normally aspirated four and a pair of turbocharged fours. Each has its own strengths, with efficiency as the common denominator.
Following a 2013 makeover, little changes for the Escape. It’s available in front- and all-wheel-drive and in three trims; the base, FWD-only S ($23,505, including destination), SE ($25,955) and Titanium ($29,915).
A properly equipped Escape can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Though some small crossovers offer roomier cabins, four adults ride comfortably in the Escape. The reclining rear seatback folds easily to create a flat load floor. To achieve a flat floor, Ford reduced seat-cushion thickness, which may compromise comfort on long trips.
Up front, I enjoyed comfortable seats but wanted more incidental storage space. I still find the MyFord Touch infotainment system too complicated, but owners who use it daily say it has become more transparent.
Thick A- and D-pillars, the windshield’s heavily curved bottom corners and a narrow liftgate window conspire to limit outward visibility.
The Escape’s base engine makes 168 horsepower and earns efficiency ratings of 25 mpg combined (22 city/31 highway). A 178-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four, standard on SE and Titanium trims, earns 29/23/32. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 240 hp, earning fuel economy ratings of 25/22/30 highway).
My AWD Titanium tester was rated at 24/21/28; impressive considering that it runs the 0-60 sprint in a reasonably quick 7 seconds, against the 1.6’s 9.6-seconds.
It’s the age of the crossover and, at Ford, the Escape has matters well in hand. Its multiple engine offerings; high levels of equipment, both standard and optional; and agreeable personality seem to promise a long and durable run.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 Ford Escape Titanium AWD
Vehicle base price: $23,100
Trim level base price: $30,850
As tested: $35,470
Optional equipment 2.0-liter Ecoboost engine; navigation; automated high-intensity-discharge headlights; blind spot detection; active park assist.
Tow capacity: 3,500 lbs
EPA ratings: 24 combined/21 city/28 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified