For the past 12 seasons, the Ford Escape has proven a popular choice with buyers of entry-priced wagons. In car terms, 12 years is a lifetime — or two lifetimes, even — so the arrival of a successor to one of the company’s top sellers is way overdue.
With an impressive sales history on its side, it’s important that the Blue Oval automaker get it right with the soon-to-arrive 2013 Escape. According to Ford’s own statistics, the Escape and its ilk are exactly the type of conveyance that many folks are contemplating for their next vehicle purchase.
Accordingly, the new Escape presents a clean-sheet design-and-content approach to satisfy the needs of multi-continent customers (it’s called the Kuga in Europe and elsewhere). The sleeker look is radically different from the outgoing Escape’s boxiness, which would otherwise mean a reduction in interior room. But with slightly larger dimensions overall, including an extra 2.8 inches between the front and rear wheels, the result is greater rear-seat room plus slightly more passenger and cargo volume with the back seat in place or folded flat.
The Escape’s “world-car” approach should play well in North America where most vehicles in its class look more like tall passenger cars. The interior is certainly inviting with an attractive segmented gauge/control panel with asymmetric air vents. The floor shifter’s position at the base of the dashboard partially blocks the heating/ventilation controls, but makes the area designated for cupholders and armrest/storage more accessible. The up-level Titanium model features well-bolstered front seats that are a major advancement from earlier Escapes.
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Ford has also advanced powerplant choices and has done so without resorting to a V6 option. Base front-wheel-drive models run with a 168-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, while front- and all-wheel-drive SE and SEL designations use a 173-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged “EcoBoost” four-cylinder. A 237-horsepower turbo I4 (also an EcoBoost) is optional on both trims, but is standard when the Titanium is specified.
Apparently a gasoline-electric hybrid option won’t be available since Ford’s upcoming hybrid-only C-MAX wagon will cover that off.
Sadly for a few Escapees, the six-speed manual gearbox has shifted away from the base Escape, leaving only a six-speed automatic (with a detent for manual gear selection) as the sole transmission.
Fuel-economy stats for the trio of motors haven’t been announced, but both turbos will likely be rated at better than 25 mpg in the city. For the highway, you can expect somewhere in the area of 35 mpg.
The Escape’s new “Intelligent” all-wheel-drive system is available with the turbocharged models. According to Ford, it continually assesses road conditions and driver inputs “about 20 times faster than the blink of an eye” and can shift up to 100 percent of the available power to either the front or rear wheels for maximum grip.
Additionally, the Escape is the first Ford to incorporate Torque Vectoring Control and Curve Control. The idea is to distribute the correct amount of power to each wheel when cornering so that the vehicle sticks to the intended path. A display screen keeps you informed as to where the power is being directed, if you’re at all interested in that kind of information.
The new tech extends to the option sheet, which is understandably lengthy considering the Escape’s four-level lineup. There, you’ll find upgraded an voice-activated MyFord Touch communications, navigation and entertainment system, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts for lane-changing or when backing up, and a parallel-park-assist program that selects an appropriate space between two cars then guides the driver into the spot. The most unique helper is the power liftgate that automatically opens and closes the hatch by shaking your foot, hokey-pokey style, beneath the bumper (handy when your hands are full of kids and/or groceries).
Given the highly competitive small utility category with the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5 and Kia Sportage, the Escape’s advanced mechanicals and handsome looks should keep it relevant for at least another dozen years. And with a $23,000 base price, it’s new style and technology that’s affordable.