On the Road Review: Ford Escape Titanium Edition

When Ford set out to replace its top-selling Escape compact crossover a few years ago, there were product visionaries that could see that the whole crossover class was destined for big things in the future. Ford had already reaped great success with the first-generation Escape, a car-based truck-let then going on an incredible 11-year old production run, plus Ford already had plenty of history with the popular Explorer midsize crossover that had dominated sales for well over a decade.

Going forward, engineers and product planners knew that increasing emissions standards, safety standards and fuel economy standards were going to reshape what buyers would see in a class of vehicles surely destined to expand. This was 2010 and 2011.

Today, the compact crossover class is fast becoming the largest segment in American automotive sales, soon to eclipse midsize sedans. Additional consumer pressure, and sales options, will come as the ‘new’ generation of subcompact crossovers start to go on sale this year as well; products such as the new Chevy Trax, Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V. Clearly, consumers (and product planners) are fixated on five-door car-based wagons.

Ford’s current Escape is the company’s third most popular nameplate, behind only F-series trucks and the Fusion sedan. Only the Honda CR-V outsold the Escape last year on the crossover sales charts — regardless of size. If the top selling vehicles list went to the number 11 spot, the Escape would have been on that list last year. Significant vehicle? Certainly.

Over the past years, several Escapes have visited Downeast Maine. Four-cylinder base wagons, V-6 powered wagons, plus two of the most recent designs have all left favorable impressions. In some ways, I have felt that the Escape was much better, and more practical, than the previous Explorer (not the current, wider-bodied Explorer) while delivering superior driving dynamics and more responsible fuel economy. The caveat: the Escape couldn’t tow what the Explorer could, and the Escape’s part-time AWD setup did not offer the same foul weather/off-roading traction that the Explorer 4WD offered.

That last premise still exists; Ford has consciously traded off-roading and towing ability for metro-user friendliness. The sales indicate that this is the right decision.

Still, if there is one area that would be good to see more ability in the latest Escape, it would be its foul weather service. The AWD system works well, coupled with Ford’s AdvancTrac traction control system. And despite the automakers’ insistence that all-season tires can do the job in deep snow (they might, for a short stint, but they certainly are not the best tires), consumers find themselves relying on electronics to provide traction aids. Yet, a locking button on the console, that keeps AWD or 4WD fully engaged with power to all four wheels, is often very beneficiary when the low-grip surfaces marginalize your forward progress. We have the electronic systems and components to make such an addition to the Escape, and some rivals already offer locking AWD, so this is not a stretch to ask Ford to make the same effort. Remember, Ford used to build Land Rovers, so they know about locking differentials and heavy traction systems.

The rest of the Escape’s chassis performs flawlessly. The ride is composed, even supple, despite a short, small-car wheelbase length of only 106 inches. Steering feel is light — as many drivers prefer — and the responses are nicely muted for urban and back-road driving. Agile comes to mind when thinking about the Escape’s on-road performance. The Ford’s cabin remains quiet too.

When pushed, the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine here, 231 hp, delivers more grunt and smoother acceleration than any previous Escape engine. Ford is betting the bank on these turbocharged engines, using EcoBoost powertrains throughout its lineup now — even in the new Mustang as well as several EcoBoost engines in the latest F-series pickup.

While prodigious in power, and very linear in that power delivery with a smooth six-speed automatic, the promise of greater fuel economy is unrealized. EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2.0-liter Turbo-engine are 21/28/24 mpg. Our realized economy was closer to the city mpg number, but not totally unrealistic given the cold season and elements under which the Escape visited.

Two other engines are available. A 2.5-liter conventional four-cylinder is the standard motor, with 168 hp. Most prevalent throughout the lineup is a 1.6-liter, 173-hp EcoBoost four. With base weights around 3,800 pounds, the power-to-weight ratios of these powerplants is comparable to other rivals in this segment.

Even more notable is the Escape’s interior. Access is very easy as Ford uses a design emphasis seen on other crossovers — the doors wrap down and deeply around the threshold/frame of the unibody so that you can step in closer to the seat. This design also lets you enter without dragging a pant leg over a filthy doorsill when the elements are unfriendly. Seating is comfortable — heated leather here in Titanium — while the whole cabin is roomy and relatively space-efficient. The only perceived shortcoming in space is the second row seat is not as spacious legroom wise as several rivals.

The Escape’s cabin has sharply contrasting contours and several surfaces that interact with competing textures. The console, the steering wheel feel, the general cabin layout — all good. To be kind, the Ford’s dash is an outlier; much different in execution from the class norm with several buttons, dials, touch-screens and actions necessary to execute sometimes simple acts. There is a wealth of information available on both the center-dash info screen as well as via the crisp navigation screen, yet accessing this info and utilizing these components is not as simple as one would like — especially while driving. MyFord Touch has proven to be a distraction for many consumers — very low consumer quality scores for Ford — and changes are imminent. The long, sloping windshield might prove distracting for some drivers too; shorter pilots will not see any part of the hood.

A rear camera is standard. Other sight lines are good too. Given the secure feel and driving confidence evident in the Escape, many owners will adapt to the instrument panel and rely on redundant controls, voice commands (if possible) or repetitive acts.

Other critical components available on Escape include Active Park Assist, whereby the Escape can parallel park all by itself, plus the automated rear liftgate that can power itself open with a wave of your foot under the rear bumper. These features have proven to be very popular.

Our Impact Blue Metallic Escape Titanium proved to be an attractive wagon, with optional 19-inch wheels highlighting an eye-catching stance. Stickering for $35,625, our well-equipped crossover cemented my previous impressions about the overall attributes for this sensibly sized family hauler. With base prices beginning at just over $23,000, Ford offers a blend of models and features that should capture the allure of thousands more crossover buyers.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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