The Ford Escape is not a complicated crossover. Its basic underpinnings are derived from the Focus and the interior of our test vehicle is not particularly posh. Yet, driving and using it proves the vehicle is also sophisticated. A couple of new engines and upgraded infotainment for 2017 keep Escape at the top if its class.
Designers recently grafted on Ford’s chrome bar grille that graces the front of its crossovers. It gives Escape a bolder, tougher appearance. Large foglamps, hood ridges, and wrap-around headlamps complete the face. Walking to the doors, you notice the arching windshield, 17” wheels, body sculpting, beefy fender forms, and gray lower body cladding that hint at off-road capability. Around back, dual chrome exhaust tips, LED taillamps, and subtle roof spoiler leave their marks.
Sliding inside, passengers enjoy a deft paradox of simple and sophisticated. It’s not fancy with a rubber steering wheel, charcoal black canvas seats, and ignition with key. Forget a sunroof. There’s no passive entry or push-button starting either, though a keypad can be used for unlocking the doors. On second glance, one notices heated and powered front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and ice blue ambient lighting. A power liftgate opens to split-fold rear seats that free up considerable cargo space.
There’s also a full infotainment suite. Ford’s updated SYNC3 comes with a new touchscreen and revised controls that allow passengers to voice-operate devices connected via USB or Bluetooth. Direct tuning for satellite radio is nice, but I wish Ford would give up the ghost and install proper volume and tuning knobs. A rear view camera, blind spot warning, and reverse sensing system enhance safety.
More changes emerge from under the hood where a base 168 horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is joined by 179 horsepower 1.5-liter EcoBoost (turbocharged) four-cylinder and 245 horsepower 2.0-liter EcoBoost twin-scroll four-cylinder engines. All mate to six-speed automatic transmissions with manual shift mode while the last two come standard with Auto Start-Stop technology that pauses the engine at rest to conserve fuel.
Our Escape came with the Goldilocks 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine that benefits from active grille shutters and front-wheel-drive (to save weight) for 23/30-MPG city/hwy. The engine does not provide a tsunami of power, but 177 lb.-ft. of torque and the smooth turbo make accelerating away from stoplights and onto freeways stress-free experiences. I’d say it is both simple and sophisticated.
As is the rest of the driving experience. Underway, the steering feels a little light, but the chassis with independent front and control blade rear suspension is willing to play. A fully-independent set-up would be better, but wheels rumble over rough city pavement without unduly bothering passengers with noise and shake. There’s no escaping the fact the Escape is a tall and narrow crossover that will lean when pushed hard, but it is a competent long-distance driving machine.
During 2015, the last full year of sales, Ford sold 306,492 Escapes. That’s a lot of vehicles. Ford’s mission was to update its favorite crossover without upsetting buyers. New engines and enhancements to styling and infotainment strike the right notes. A base price of $23,600 – $28,375 as-tested – makes the Escape formidable competition for the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Renegade, Kia Sportage, Fiat 500X, and Mazda CX-5.
2017 Ford Escape
Five-passenger, FWD crossover
Powertrain: 179 hp 1.5-liter Turbo-I4, 6-speed auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Control blade
Wheels f/r: 17”/17” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Powertrain
Fuel economy: 23/30 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Louisville, KY
Base/as-tested price: $23,600/28,375