Es­cape strat­egy

The Courier-Mail - Cars Guide - - Bush & Beach -

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

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