NAME dropping isn’t usually appreciated in this country. In the case of Ford’s ousting the Kuga badge in favour of the Escape, most Australians won’t care less.
Ford has adopted the global name for its compact SUV, which is in showrooms with a starting price $760 lower than that of the outgoing model.
The manual model now starts at $28,490 and the auto at $29,900, just undercutting the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander rivals. The prices aren’t as sharp as the Honda CR-V ($27,490) or the base Mazda CX-5, the Maxx ($27,890).
The Escape arrives with extra tech and slick gadgets to appeal to buyers seeking family friendliness and smartphone connectivity.
Available as a $1300 option pack, even on the rangetopping variant, its safety suite incorporates autonomous emergency braking to help avoid accidents, radar cruise control, lane departure warning and drowsy driver alert.
The Escape maintains Kuga’s five-star ANCAP safety rating even without that tech as standard.
The expanded line-up brings price decreases, front-wheel drive versions, improved spec and upgraded interiors.
Ford is keen to push its “sporty” credentials, although the Escape does not differ remarkably from the Kuga.
It accords with Ford’s global grille design so it’s a familiar face, with a large upper trapezoidal two-bar grille and a smaller lower grille.
The wider bonnet has a central dome, the tail-lights have been reshaped and there are eight colour options — premium paint adds $450.
Safety kit includes dynamic stability control, rollover mitigation, reverse camera and rear sensors across the range.
Standard gear includes an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. There are six-speaker audio, digital radio, satnav, dual-zone aircon, cruise control, push-button start and rear aircon vents.
In Trend spec, there are 18-inch alloys, automatic wipers and headlights and leatherwrapped gear lever.
Top-shelf Titaniums have 19-inchers, smart keyless entry, power folding side mirrors, leather trim, cornering headlights, panoramic glass roof, nine-speaker audio, power tailgate, electric adjustable driver seat, front parking sensors, automated parking and airline-style seat back trays.
In the cabin, there is reasonable space for a young family. Adults in the second row will have enough space if those in the front don’t shift too far rearward.
The front passenger has an airy outlook through an expansive windscreen and over a low dash. The instruments, however, make things busier for the driver and the centrally located CD looks like an afterthought.
Amended button design and the upgraded SYNC set-up make operations straightforward.
There are dual cupholders front and back, as well as useful slots in the console for phones and other gear.
In the load area, the Escape could do with levers to drop the rear seat-backs. The Ambiente and Trend specs need a flat loading area, too. ON THE ROAD Even in base 1.5-litre form, the Escape is a sprightly performer with accurate steering bolstering driver confidence.
Automatics will account for most sales and these come with steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters, though the intuitive and smooth transmission means you rarely need to take manual-style control. The auto won’t hold the ratios through to redline but in sport mode the revs push into the upper echelons.
Built in Spain, our Escape takes the European suspension set-up and it is quite nimble over bitumen and gravel. Feeling planted and flat in the bends, it can handle some speed when the going gets twisty.
When it comes to off-road antics, however, dirt tracks and compacted sand would be the safe limit.
Family buyers will appreciate the feeling of accessible power when taking off, a willingness that abides as the revs rise.
The thrifty diesel’s hefty 400Nm would make easy work of a box trailer. The petrol engines, though thirstier, are no slouches. VERDICT It’s a new name and perhaps a fresh start for what has been an under-rated SUV. The Escape is a rewarding drive with any of the engines. For those who won’t go off the bitumen the best value is in the front-drive Trend with the 1.5-litre engine.
Top-notch safety equipment should at least be standard on the Titanium. Grant Edwards