Re­turn ticket

A trusted name graces fa­mil­iar pan­els as Ford ups the value in its medium fam­ily car­rier

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

AROUND TOWN

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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