Even in its aged state, the 2011 Ford Escape still hits a sweet spot in terms of ride comfort, but its drab interior and clumsy handling leave it behind the increasingly flashy competition.
Car shoppers expressed their love for small crossovers more than a decade ago, and the auto industry responded. Today’s market offers a wide range of choices, from glorified hatchbacks to those just big enough to shoehorn in an impossibly small third row. Somewhere in the scrum is the Escape, a popular two-row model in its twilight years. Driving a midlevel Escape XLT back-to-back with eight competitors, one thing became apparent: The next Escape can’t come soon enough.
The XLT sits between the entry-level XLS and range-topping Limited, all three of which can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive. Our test car had Ford’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder; a V-6 is optional on the XLT and Limited. Click here to see Escape trims compared, and here to see the 2011 and 2010 Escape compared. The Ford Escape Hybrid and its gas-electric drivetrain are covered separately on Cars.com.
Comfortable Ride, Crummy Reflexes
In small crossovers, ride comfort is all over the board. There’s the tolerable Chevy Equinox, the choppy Kia Sportage, and — with a ride refined over the years — the comfortable Escape. Ford’s entry is one of the few in this category that earns that label, and not just in a relative sense. The suspension handles larger bumps well enough, but it really shines over long stretches of highway. Pavement imperfections that filter up to the cabin in other crossovers simply don’t in here. The Escape feels floaty at times — one editor bemoaned its ride for just that reason — but in terms of sheer comfort, Ford gets top marks.
Simple cruising aside, the Escape’s slow reflexes foil any chance of maneuverability — a shame, given its steering is decent. The wheel has gobs of power assist at low speeds, making parking lots a cinch, and at higher speeds it takes on winding roads with lively precision. If only the rest of the Escape followed suit. It feels as top-heavy as the Space Needle — listing hard into corners, squatting back or pitching forward when you speed up or slow down. The brake pedal feels mushy and tentative, and the Escape’s standard antilock brakes kick in quite early. Where other crossovers stop hard on all fours, the Escape’s tail gets squirrely in the same exercise. Whether it’s the low-tech rear drum brakes or the lean-happy suspension that’s to blame, the results aren’t inspiring.
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