Ford’s Escape has been one of America’s favorite crossovers since its debut for 2001. Countering the early compact wagon editions from Toyota and Honda, the then-new Escape set new standards in a burgeoning segment with multiple powertrains, driving virtues and general performance. Escape sales ate into Explorer sales — Ford’s second most popular selling vehicle at that time — it was that good and made that great an impact right from the start.
Today, the Escape is now Ford’s second most popular vehicle as crossover sales eclipse car sales at an escalating pace. And while the Asian automakers have regained sales supremacy in the segment that they originated (RAV4, CR-V, Lexus RX), four of the top 10 selling vehicles in America are compact crossovers — Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, in that order. The top three spots are pickup trucks, while only three cars remain on this exalted list.
This week’s Escape Titanium edition made great impressions from the start, enhancing a statement made with last fall’s front-drive SE model. This time with AWD and a host of electronic safety aids, panoramic sunroof, power liftgate and blacked out trim, the Titanium level provided a sense of polish and refinement that elevates this compact crossover into the same conversation as perhaps a Volvo XC60. No longer heresy, the new versions of everyone’s offerings have stepped up their game.
It starts with the general feel inside, greater safety offerings and numerous convenience features that buyers are taking for granted, and extends to the exterior, where LED lamps are now the norm, plus grille shutters for efficiency and dual tailpipes for styling chops. Smartphones are 10 years old this month, and you can now get your Escape with an app that locks and unlocks your Ford, remotely starts it, plus tracks it with a GPS connection. You also can recharge remotely inside the Escape.
Best features include the cross-traffic and rear-traffic alert system, which detect oncoming obstacles as well as close proximity collision possibilities, the radar-adaptive cruise control system and the keyless ignition and access that isn’t available in lesser Escape models. Add the power-liftgate, which is fast becoming a female favorite feature in all crossovers, as well as the huge panoramic sunroof, and the Escape proves user-friendly in more than the expected venues.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged Ecoboost four-cylinder engine producing 245 hp mated to a six-speed automatic. Throttle response is excellent, with a calibrated step-in feel that is spot-on and very fluid. This subtle tuning means the Escape is responsive while also delivering top-of-the-segment acceleration and relaxed cruising power. Combined with a supple chassis and above-average steering feel, the Titanium tracked well and provoked no driving complaints. The peppy Escape is easily one of the more enjoyable small crossovers to drive, as it displays an agility and spirited attitude lacking from some rivals.
And drive we did, covering 1,400 miles, realizing a low of 24.7 mpg and a high of 26.9 mpg against EPA estimates of 20/27/23 mpg. For buyers who may not relish the thrill of this much driving fun, there is a 1.5-liter Ecoboost engine with 179 hp and slightly better EPA fuel economy estimates. Deleting AWD also will increase fuel economy, but compromise overall handling and foul-weather capabilities.
The Escape’s rear seat falls a little short of some rivals, lacking the ample legroom available in Forester or Equinox, yet the Ford compensates with a spacious cargo compartment and a split rear seatback that folds into a flat load deck. As with all of these wagons, the ingress and egress height is convenient for young and old. The Ford adds wrap-around doors that create cleaner access as well as a slightly narrower threshold.
Escape pricing starts at $23,600; our fully equipped Ruby Red Metallic Titanium stickered for $37,045 with the full array of Escape features. Ford’s Sync system is better (could be better still), other controls are intuitive, and the overall presentation and feel of the latest Escape marks a solid, likable entry into the crossover field. Tough to fault the effort of one of the veterans of a crossover class that knows no boundaries.