Fi­nessed for the fam­ily AT A GLANCE

A solid con­tender with a trusted badge takes a fresh tilt at the medium SUV seg­ment

The Advertiser - Motoring - - THE TICK -

IT looks a lot like the old Ford Kuga. It’s the new Ford Es­cape and the maker is putting a huge ef­fort into boost­ing sales of its up­dated medium SUV.

The badges have been switched, the body­work fi­nessed — but the Es­cape is in­stantly fa­mil­iar.

Ford Aus­tralia changed to the blue oval brand’s global name with the prom­ise of “a fresh face, five-star ANCAP safety rating and im­proved fuel ef­fi­ciency, all at a more af­ford­able price” for the Es­cape at the be­gin­ning of the year.

The start­ing price is now $28,490 for a front-wheel drive with 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbo.

The sweeter deal is es­sen­tial in the ri­otously com­pet­i­tive mid-sized SUV bat­tle. The name change will help be­cause Kuga never re­ally fired in Aus­tralia.

It’s up against a Mazda CX-5 (all new this week, see cover story), Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tuc­son, Toy­ota RAV4 and all the rest.

A known and trusted name, the Es­cape has ex­tra stan­dard equip­ment in­clud­ing an es­sen­tial re­vers­ing cam­era, in­fo­tain­ment with Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, dig­i­tal ra­dio — if you have re­cep­tion — and auto wipers and head­lamps.

Ford also touts auto safety brak­ing, lane-keep­ing as­sist and adap­tive cruise con­trol but th­ese are in the $1300 Tech­nol­ogy Pack op­tion, down from $1600.

ANCAP test scores for the Es­cape, Ford says, put it ahead of the Sportage, CX-5 and RAV4. The new CX-5 is still to be tested.

So it’s time to drive the re­freshed, im­proved pack­age.

ON THE ROAD

The Es­cape is bet­ter than I re­mem­ber and, af­ter driv­ing so many mid-sized SUVs in re­cent months, bet­ter than I ex­pect.

It rides and drives like an SUV that’s a cut above the price lead­ers in con­struc­tion, which in­stils a sense of con­fi­dence. It feels sub­stan­tial on the road and it is equipped to work for a fam­ily on all fronts.

To be hon­est, any vis­ual changes are so mi­nor I can’t pick them, badges apart.

The test car ar­rives in Trend level of trim, its 1.5-litre EcoBoost (134kW/240Nm) and front-wheel drive right in the sweet spot for fam­ily mo­tor­ing. The price is $32,990 and that, again, is on the money.

There are bolder and brassier Es­capes, up to the all­wheel drive Ti­ta­nium with turbo diesel — but why would you bother un­less you spent a lot of time on gravel roads or needed the range that comes with its 5.5L/100km econ­omy?

On test we sip only 7.2L and still get along sur­pris­ingly well. It’s an ea­ger lit­tle en­gine that shows the smart­ness of small­ca­pac­ity tur­bos, and the sixspeed auto comes with pad­dleshifters to ex­ploit ex­tra kick for over­tak­ing.

In the cabin, the Es­cape is not up to the stan­dard of some ri­vals. I still find Ford uses far too many baby-sized but­tons even af­ter clean­ing up the con­trols in the likes of the Focus hatch sta­ble­mate. The in­fo­tain­ment dis­play is good and I en­joy the Carplay con­nec­tion. How­ever, some of the plas­tics look and feel cheap and it’s a very busy place, with lots of in­ter­sect­ing lines and in­di­vid­ual pieces in the cabin.

Front seats are fine, there is good room in the back and the boot is roomy.

The tow rating suits the sort of peo­ple who will buy an Es­cape but there is yet an­other space- saver spare — and lots of Cars­guide read­ers are em­phat­i­cally against th­ese.

The Es­cape rides well over all FORD ES­CAPE TREND PRICE $32,990 WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km

CAPPED SER­VIC­ING $1155 for 3 years

SER­VICE IN­TER­VALS 12 months/15,000km SAFETY 5 stars EN­GINE 1.5-litre 4-cyl turbo, 134kW/240Nm

TRANS­MIS­SION 6-speed auto; FWD THIRST 7.2L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS 4524mm (L), 1838mm (W), 1749mm (H), 2690mm (WB) WEIGHT 1607kg SPARE Steel space-saver

TOW­ING 1800kg braked, 750kg un­braked sur­faces, noise is rea­son­ably well sup­pressed but it’s not as quiet as some ri­vals. The han­dling is fine and so is the brak­ing.

I’m driv­ing the Es­cape backto-back with a Honda CR-V and it makes for an in­ter­est­ing con­trast.

The Ford feels chunkier and a bit roomier but the CR-V is more re­fined and the cabin qual­ity is su­pe­rior. The Honda doesn’t have as much shove but still drives well.

THE TICK

The Es­cape keeps its po­si­tion in the mid­dle of the pack but it’s a solid con­tender for SUV sales.

It will def­i­nitely im­prove on the Kuga but the com­pe­ti­tion is get­ting tougher all the time.

It’s a car that I en­joy and is re­fresh­ingly good.

It gets The Tick.

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