published Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Test Drive: New Escape SUV could be game-changer

This 2013 Ford Escape is one of the first to arrive in Chattanooga at Mountain View Ford.
This 2013 Ford Escape is one of the first to arrive in Chattanooga at Mountain View Ford.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

FAST FACTS

Model: 2013 Ford Escape Titanium

Exterior color: Tuxedo Black

Interior color: Charcoal Black leather

Engine: 2.0 liter, Ecoboost (turbocharged)

Horsepower: 231

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 30 mpg highway, 25 mpg city

Dealer: Mountain View Ford

Price (as tested): $34,75

Note to broker: Buy more Ford stock.

This week, we got a sneak peak at the brand new 2013 Ford Escape, a clean-sheet redesign assembled in Louisville, Ky., that will almost certainly be a game-changer in the compact SUV segment.

The Blue Oval company is smack in the middle of one of its most important new-product seasons in decades. The slick new Focus compact car debuted to rave reviews earlier this year, and the gorgeous 2013 Fusion midsize sedan will hit showrooms late this summer.

Meanwhile, the new Escape arrives just when enthusiasm for the model is at an all-time high. Ford sold more than 250,000 Escapes last year, more than in any 12-month period since the model was introduced in 2000.

In almost every way -- styling, performance, safety, space-age gadgetry, fuel economy -- the new Escape offers vast improvements over the already popular outgoing model. The result should be explosive sales for this small crossover SUV, which competes with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

STYLING AND FEATURES

As luck would have it, Mountain View Ford had just taken delivery of a top-of-the-line Ford Escape Titanium on the day we called earlier this week, and new car sales manager Doug Cawood was wiping it down with a chamois when we arrived for a photo shoot.

To my eyes, the first two generations of the Escape have been "generic Ford truck," with square edges that branded the model as a junior Explorer. The new Escape has more personality. A two-tiered hood blends beautifully into the A-pillars, framing an expansive windshield that is so deep it's almost square. The hood also has two little character lines in the middle that make the Escape look like it's concentrating.

The roofline tapers gently down from front to back for a sporty profile that suggests a vehicle poised for serious speed -- and it is. (More on that later.)

Attractive, 19-inch painted aluminum wheels and a modest use of chrome to outline the windows created a nice contrast on our Tuxedo Black test car. The black metallic paint creates a sheet-metal light show that should turn heads day and night; so, when's the last time you thought of a small SUV as a fashion statement?

Our test car was equipped with a towing hitch, which negates one of the Escape's neatest features, a hands-free electric eye that lets you wave a foot under the rear bumper to open the liftgate, a lifesaver if your hands are full of grocery bags. (Note: You must have a smart key in your pocket to activated the system.)

The interior is well thought out and includes some nice Ford flourishes such as white stitching on the leather seat upholstery and glossy black dash inserts. The leather seats are firm and supportive. My only quibble is the loud turn-signal tones, which sound like a rubber hammer striking a marimba.

The 2013 Escape comes equipped with almost every conceivable electronic advance, including voice-activated navigation (a $795 option), a panoramic sunroof with motorized shade ($1,395), FordSync Bluetooth phone interface, and a myriad of safety features such as blind-spot monitoring and parking assist, which beeps if you are about to hit something.

DRIVING AND HANDLING

With all the neat cosmetic and electronic improvements to the Escape, it's easy to forget the most important new feature -- an optional 2.0 liter, turbocharged motor (Ford calls it Ecoboost) which makes 231 horsepower. This is the same motor as in the luxury Range Rover Evoque, which sells for about $22,000 more than our $34,750 Escape, comparably equipped.

Base model Escapes get a 168 horsepower, four-cylinder engine, and there's a mid-trim, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder Ecoboost option with a bit more juice that might represent the sweet spot for sales.

In a test drive on I-24 this week, the Escape turbo blasted through midday traffic. Throttle response is instant and startling; steering is tight and responsive. Motor Trend clocked an Escape Titanium with all-wheel drive from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds.

BOTTOM LINE

Top to bottom, the 2013 Escape is an amazing value and a completely satisfying vehicle. If you can stretch for the Titanium trim level, you won't be disappointed, but the base and mid-line trims also represent compelling values.

Think of the Titanium edition Escape as a Land Rover Evoque at a 35-percent discount. Wow!

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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