Last year, the completely redesigned Ford Escape arrived to do battle in the hotly contested market for small crossover utility vehicles. The market approved of the changes as there were 35,000 more sales of the new Escape in 2013 than of the previous version in 2012.
As a result, Ford hasn’t changed much in the 2014 Escape. A rearview camera and voice-activated Sync interface are now standard on all models. The mid-level SEL trim has been eliminated while the top-of-the-line Titanium no longer features the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine as standard equipment. This has allowed Ford to lower the price, partially filling the price gap created by the elimination of the SEL.
The base S model features a 168-horsepower 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. This is the only available drivetrain with the base version. SE and Titanium models come standard with a 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. These models also have a six-speed automatic transmission, but buyers can upgrade to a 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder motor. SE and Titanium buyers may also select all-wheel drive in lieu of front-wheel drive.
My wife Paula and I had an Escape Titanium that was equipped with the 2.0-liter engine and all-wheel drive. Added to these options were the Titanium Technology Package with blind spot alert, active park assist (fear of parallel parking can be banished forever) and xenon headlamps. A navigation system and a 19-inch wheel upgrade brought the list price to $36,065. The base S, which includes all the expected power assists, air conditioning and rearview camera starts at $22,160.
The optional 2.0-liter engine turns in a spirited and effortless performance. Sixty miles per hour arrives in 7.1 seconds when the driver floors the accelerator pedal from a stop. Aside from the $1,195 premium that Ford charges for the 2.0-liter engine over the 1.6-liter motor, and the minimal difference in overall EPA fuel economy ratings, there’s a good argument to be made for selecting the larger engine for its impressive power and quieter operation.
Ford based the Escape on the Focus, which is a nimble and composed compact sedan. The Escape shares these traits. While the seating is higher, the Escape still handles very nicely. Lean in brisk turns is noticeable but not unsettling. The Escape displays good grip and balance in turns. The steering responses are sharp, though the feel is slightly muffled. Nonetheless, the Escape gets top grades for handling. The ride is well controlled yet absorbent when facing big bumps.
The interior is nicely assembled using quality materials in the top-of-the-line Titanium. There is plenty of room for adults. Taller occupants in the front seats might like slightly longer bottom cushions. The only downside is that the foot wells up front are narrow.
Cargo room is rated at 34.3 cubic feet with the split and folding rear seats raised. This grows to 68.1 cubic feet with the seats folded.
Our review Escape featured the My Ford Touch infotainment control system, which has become the touch-screen interface auto reviewers love to hate. Despite recent updates, it remains distracting and it can be sluggish to respond at times.
Driving the new Escape is good fun. It’s responsive and eager enough to allow you to forget you are driving a utility vehicle and not a sporty sedan. Yet, it also delivers the cargo capacity and 3,500-pound tow ratings when properly equipped that make utility vehicles appealing. The Escape is a top choice for buyers who don’t need the biggest or most powerful crossover.
It didn’t take long for me to be captivated by the 2014 Ford Escape. As I approached the vehicle with the key in my pocket and hands full, I waved my foot under the rear bumper and the tailgate opened. When I waved my foot again, it closed.
This is the utility vehicle I’d want when I’m holding packages or grocery bags that make fumbling with a key or tailgate latch difficult.
The interior is generally comfortable, although the black leather upholstery doesn’t mix well with shorts after the car has been parked in the sun awhile. The gauges feature spiffy blue accents and are easy to read. The My Ford Touch virtual buttons on the touchscreen can be hard to locate while driving and the heater and air conditioning controls are lower on the center part of the instrument panel than I would like.
Parents should embrace the MyKey feature, which allows them to limit the vehicle’s top speed to 65, 70, 75 or 80 miles per hour. It will sound a warning when the driver gets within five miles per hour of the set limit. It also limits radio volume when loaning the car to a younger driver and it prevents disabling some safety systems. Finally, it gives 75 miles of “low fuel” warning and insists on fastened front seatbelts before allowing the radio to work. That said, the speedometer is deeply shrouded, making it difficult for a parent riding in the passenger’s seat to monitor a teen driver’s speed once the car exceeds 30 miles per hour.
I had several other complaints as well. The blind spot information system uses a too small warning light in the outside mirror. Still, at least the Escape has the system. In addition, the locking lever for the tilt and telescoping steering wheel takes a surprising amount of strength to operate.
Visibility ahead is good. The backup camera is now standard, which is also good. Without, the view to the rear while backing is limited.
The Escape is a very nice car to drive. It is also reasonably economical. My husband Jim and I managed to go 27 miles per gallon in a week of mixed use. Even better, all of the engines available in the Escape use regular gasoline.
Engines: 2.5 1.6 2.0
HP: 168 178 240
Torque: 170 184 270
EPA FWD: 22/31 23/33 22/30
EPA AWD: N/A 22/30 21/28
Starts at: $22,160
Next week: Scion tC
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 or email email@example.com. For more automotive news, check out the Cars.com On The Road section each Wednesday in The Courant.