By Todd Lassa
A dozen years after the Escape joined Ford’s SUV lineup, the small ute is finally getting a good amount of attention. Despite the looming update, Ford is not having any problems moving the outgoing model, thanks in part to end-of-lifecycle discounting as well as shortages of competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
The new 2013 model, which goes on sale in the first half of ’12, converges like most of the rest of non-F-Series/Mustang North American models with their European counterparts. The new one looks much more like the replacement for the European Ford Kuga than for the U.S. Escape. In Europe, the compact crossover with two rows of seating is far more popular, and far easier to find, than the three-row midsize and large crossovers that serve as replacements for full-on sport/utilities as well as minivans here.
Ford unveiled the Escape Wednesday at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. The new model does share one thing in common with the F-150, and indeed the new Focus and Fiesta: It tries to be the compact crossover for everyone, with a long list of features that allows aspiring and luxury buyers alike to load up the option sheet without paying for a prestige name. Like the Focus Titanium vs. the Verano, it could compete with Buicks.
The new model tosses out any V-6 option for three four-cylinder engines — two of them turbocharged gas direct-injection EcoBoosts — while maintaining a 3500-pound tow rating with either front- or all-wheel drive. The Escape Hybrid is scrubbed, with no apparent plans to reintroduce one in the future. Ford’s C-Max will be hybrid-only in the North American market, with a distinctive hybrid shape like the new Toyota Prius V, and without the heavy, mpg-sapping all-wheel-drive option. We also expect the ’13 Fusion, which will be Ford’s biggest new car intro of the model year when it bows at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, to carry on with a hybrid powertrain option.
Though EPA fuel economy ratings will be released closer to the new Escape’s on-sale date, Ford estimates up to 5 mpg better than the current Escape, with the 2.0 making more torque than a Toyota RAV4 V-6, and achieving higher fuel economy than a Honda CR-V, which is rated 23/31 mpg FWD, 22/30 mpg AWD. Ford says the current Escape sells about 50/50 front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive, and expects that kind of split to continue with the new model, but that seems high. An AWD take rate like the Chevrolet Equinox’s 28.7 percent seems pretty reasonable, though Ford likes to think of itself as the SUV leader, and more likely to attract buyers who aspire to go off-road.
Escape’s “Intelligent Four-Wheel Drive” puts 35 percent to 80 percent of the torque to the rear wheels, and constantly evaluates road conditions to adjust the split. There is no driver control. With AWD or FWD, the new Escape will come with the full complement of Ford’s latest nannies, including torque vectoring control, curve control, hill start assist, electronic brake assist, roll stability control, trailer sway control, and torque steer compensation. Curve control uses the ABS to “correct” impending oversteer or understeer in tight, fast off-ramps and the like, in both the FWD and the AWD versions. It cannot be turned off, and if it’s anything like the system introduced in the new Explorer, it will feel anal in its responses to any enthusiast who tries to push the Escape faster than the posted limit in a curve or off-ramp. So it’s probably just right for the vast majority of customers for this type of vehicle. Conversely, Ford promises “sportier” steering and handling than the RAV4 or CR-V.
Tangible showroom features will include interior quality up to the modern standard, and a simplified MyFordTouch reverting to actual knobs for radio volume and tuning. It also will have Ford’s hands-free liftgate, which allows you to open it simply by sliding your foot under the rear bumper when your hands are full, as long as the key fob is in your pocket. Improvements to MyFordTouch also include more tactile climate and navigation controls, a reaction to thorough market research Ford conducted to fix the updated version of Sync that sold so many cars and trucks in the last few years, and is now blamed for helping sink Ford’s quality scores. Ford shouldn’t worry so much. The hands-free liftgate is a cool enough feature to distract most buyers from any finicky MyFordTouch controls. It could be Ford’s biggest wagon-back feature breakthrough since the magic liftgate on 1966 models, and will assure that the Escape remains one of the most popular models in its class for years to come.