A trusted name graces familiar panels as Ford ups the value in its medium family carrier
FORD’S Escape mid-size SUV has been a serial underperformer on the sales charts. It deserves a better fate, as does the Focus hatch, a similarly slow seller with which it shares underpinnings.
Until this year, it’s been badged as the Kuga. I’m guessing that, about now, women readers are saying, “What were they thinking? That’s its problem.” Quite a few sales people in Ford dealerships probably would agree.
The resurrection of the Escape moniker, worn by Ford’s mid-size SUVs until 2012, will do its prospects no harm. Neither will a more aggressive price and equipment proposition.
We’re testing a new six-speed automatic/front-wheel drive Trend variant, priced at $32,990. That’s $3000 cheaper than the all-wheel drive Trend.
A product of Ford of Europe’s Kinetic design from the late noughties, Escape’s sheet metal, despite a nip and tuck for 2017, is dating fast.
The dash looked messy back then and hasn’t aged well, either. A trainwreck of geometry, executed in 1001 different textures of grey plastic, its ugliness disguises an improved user-friendly layout, with fewer buttons, informative, clear instruments and Ford’s slick SYNC3 infotainment.
SYNC 3’s voice control is so smart you almost don’t need to use the bright, responsive eightinch touchscreen. Compatible with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, it’s a seamless connect with Bluetooth. Automatic emergency assistance will call via your paired smartphone.
Digital radio, rear camera and navigation are standard.
There was a problem with the navigation in the test car. It showed the route to the entered destination but couldn’t place the car on it, instead sending the car on a series of detours that made no sense at all. I’ve had no problems with SYNC in previous iterations, so maybe this was just a one-off.
The comfortable driver’s seat has a long, supportive cushion and plenty of travel. You sit in a snug, twin cockpit layout, with great forward vision thanks to a deep dash cowl and panoramic windscreen.
Rear seat access is easy and the firm, flat, high bench has an adjustable backrest, so it’s well suited to restraints. Legroom will become tight with tall occupants upfront.
The boot has a low, easy to load floor, stepped in extended configuration. With all seats occupied, its 406L is at the small end of the class and comparable with the Mazda CX-5; extended, you get 1603 litres, more space than most rivals apart from Toyota’s huge RAV4.
The tailgate opens very high, so shorter people might have trouble reaching it and may want to tick the $1200 power tailgate option box.
Another option worth ticking is a comprehensive suite of the latest driver assist safety tech — for $1300 you get automatic emergency braking (from up to 50km/h), radar cruise with forward collision alert and mitigation, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, lane warning and keeping, automatic high-beam and tyre pressure monitor.
No rivals apart from the CX-5 Maxx have this level of safety tech, standard or optional, at such an affordable price. Automatic braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are standard in the Mazda.
The Escape’s 1.5-litre turbo four works a treat in traffic, where it delivers a strong surge of turbo shove from low revs and drives like a bigger engine.
It’s quiet, smooth and a seamless fit with the six-speed automatic, the only complaint being an occasional delay in kickdown. It’s not an issue in Sport mode, and paddle-shifters are also provided.
The Trend used 10-12L/ 100km in town, assisted by unobtrusive stop-start. Premium is recommended.
Electric power steering is a touch heavy at parking speeds and the brake pedal is high. Ride comfort is excellent. Though firm, the suspension delivers outstanding compliance and control, as is usually the case in vehicles engineered by Ford of Europe.
ON THE ROAD
The 1.5 doesn’t quite feel like 134kW worth of power at the top end but with a solid 240Nm available from 1600rpm-5000rpm, it’s rarely necessary to go there. It’s a silent highway cruiser, returning 7-8L/100km.
As in town, the ride is absorbent and the suspension exercises disciplined control over body movement.
That said, the Escape can feel disconcertingly top heavy, like most rivals, in a tight corner, a characteristic exacerbated by pretty sharp steering. It pushes the front tyres hard but they’re wide (235/50-18), good quality Continentals, so they hang on well, especially in the wet.
Torque steer, that tugging sensation at the wheel under acceleration you can get in some front-drivers, is present at times, though not to the extent that it’s a problem.
If you add the $1300 safety option, the Escape Trend is one of the best value buys in this ultra-competitive class and an A-grade kid carrier. Its 1.5-litre turbo is also a stronger, more flexible engine in daily driving than the naturally aspirated fours in most rivals.
And you don’t have to tell anybody you drive a Kuga.