Despite the name change, the Ford Escape is a very familiar product, and that's a good thing. But, will the lack of AEB across the range cause it to stumble in this tough category?
Let's clear this bit up first – the 2017 Ford Escape is what we knew very recently as the Ford Kuga. Ford's rationalised medium SUV naming structure now follows the (mostly) global naming rule of thumb where all SUVs carry a name starting with 'E'.
And, it's actually a name that may be familiar to some. The Escape brand was around in the noughties, but disappeared when it was replaced by Kuga prior to the most recent change back to Escape.
The flurry of name changes never really helped Ford's medium-sized SUV gain ground in Australia. Selling under 5000 cars per year, the Kuga always played second fiddle to the likes of CX-5 and Tucson and RAV4, with each of the three selling at least three times as many vehicles as Ford's Kuga.
Ford hopes to alter the Escape's trajectory by introducing new technology, new engines, increasing model availability and reduced prices across parts of the range.
While you can read the full breakdown in our pricing and specifications article, Ford has launched the Escape locally with the availability of an entry-level Ambiente, a mid-specification Trend and a top-specification Titanium model.
Ambiente models get the option of one engine with two gearbox combinations and two drivetrains. Starting from $28,490 plus on-road costs, it's $760 cheaper than before. It's available with Ford's new 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine mated to either a six-speed manual front-wheel drive or six-speed automatic gearbox that's available with both front- and all-wheel drive configurations.
Next up, the Trend model starts from $32,990 (plus on-road costs) and comes with the option of the 1.5-litre EcoBoost, a larger 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine or a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine. All three engines can be had with all-wheel drive, while the 1.5-litre can also be had as a front-wheel drive. Each engine can only be mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Finally, the Titanium model kicks off from $44,990 (plus on-road costs) and is available with either the 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine or the 2.0-litre diesel and only as an automatic all-wheel drive.
The exterior of the Escape has received a nip and tuck with all models getting daytime running lights, while the Titanium steps it up with LED daytime running lights and bi-xenon headlights. The Ford family SUV face couples with a rising beltline that follows the sides to the rear where the tail lights have ben redesigned.
Ambiente models are fitted with retro steel wheels and hubcaps. Trend picks up 18-inch alloy wheels and Titanium increases that offering to 19-inch alloy wheels.
The Escape's interior has also received a facelift, now sitting more comfortably amongst its peers with the inclusion of Sync3 across the range. Steering wheel buttons now sit closer to the driver and extra space has been created thanks to an actuated emergency brake instead of a manually operated one.
That means the centre of the cabin is now big enough for dual cupholders and a reasonable-sized centre console that holds two USB ports and a 12V power outlet. The glove box is reasonable in size, but there isn't any room around the gear lever, which takes up a large portion of space within the centre console.
Sync3 comes standard with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB+ digital radio and an intelligent voice recognition feature that can be used for everything from climate to navigation. The 8.0-inch infotainment system has also been calibrated to suit Australian voices as part of Ford's local homologation program. This now makes Escape a clear leader in the medium SUV segment in terms of infotainment.
The seats are quite comfortable and offer an elevated driving position that looks over other traffic and affords good visibility out the front, rear and sides. An LCD screen between the speedometer and tachometer displays a digital speedo along with vital car information and settings.
Rear seat accommodation is good, but a bit compromised for taller adults in terms of knee room. This is compounded in Titanium models that come with a retractable tray table that kids can use to read books, hold drinks or rest tablets.
Given the rear seats will predominantly be used by kids, it's not such a big issue. And, the addition of tray tables is a clever way of utilising the space behind the driver and front passenger's seats. On the plus side, all models feature rear air vents.
Titanium models are loaded with features, including a nine-speaker Sony sound system, a panoramic glass sunroof with automatic parking technology, hands-free power tailgate, 10-way power driver's seat, leather seating, heated front seats and keyless entry and start.
Trend models miss out on the automatic parking technology, the panoramic glass roof, heated seats, leather seats and the fancy stereo, but both models get dual-laminated glass to help reduce road noise. Trend buyers can option the Hands-Free Tailgate Pack for $1200, adding the foot-operated 'Open Sesame' tailgate as well as keyless entry and start.
Ambiente, while feeling a little stripped out in comparison to Trend and Titanium, still comes with a host of standard kit including cruise control, rear parking sensors and rear-view camera, Sync3 emergency assistant, front and rear fog lights and dual-zone climate control.
Cargo capacity sits at 406 litres with the second row of seats in play. Drop the second row and that space balloons out to a mammoth 1603 litres. Under the boot floor is a space saver spare tyre.
On the safety front Ford should be commended for scoring five stars by ANCAP in January this year. The Escape scored an impressive 36.33 out of 37, which comes down to a rigid chassis and employment of high tech safety equipment.
But, Ford Australia can't be commended for the availability of Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) technology, which is optional on Trend and Titanium and not even available on the Ambiente base model.
It sits within a $1300 technology package that includes AEB (50km/h maximum), lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, automatic high beam, adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and tyre pressure monitoring.
An entry-level Ambiente 1.5-litre manual buyer would need to fork out an additional $4500 (before on-road costs) to upgrade to an entry-level Trend and then pay an additional $1300 to have this technology fitted — a total outlay of $5800. Crazy, isn't it?
Ford argues the $1300 is a reasonable price to pay for the technology package, which is absolutely true, but safety items like AEB shouldn't be well out of a buyer's reach at any model point and this type of gear really should be standard on the top-specification Titanium model.
We had the chance to sample the 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol, 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol and 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel on the launch with a mix of six-speed torque converter automatic and six-speed dual-clutch automatic (exclusively available on the 2.0-litre diesel engine).
Part of the reason the Trend front-wheel drive will be the sweet spot in Escape range is due to the 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine.
Producing 110kW of power and 240Nm of torque when mated to a six-speed manual and 134kW of power and 240Nm with the six-speed automatic, the four-cylinder turbocharged engine offers a pleasant balance between torque and fuel efficiency, consuming just 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle for manual and 7.2L/7.5L/100km respectively for the front- and all-wheel drive models.
The six-speed automatic gels nicely with the engine to ensure torque is always available. With two large adults on board, it coped well with hills and getting through traffic in and around the city. It's an eager engine that's keen to rev out if it needs to. It also comes with a fairly decent 1500kg braked towing capacity for front-wheel drive and 1600kg braked for all-wheel drive models.
With this engine, it's worth sticking to the front-wheel driven combination given the extra efficiency loss you would expect to gain by adding the weight and complexity of an all-wheel drive system.
Drivers after a real performance punch will opt for the cracking 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine, which produces 178kW of power and 345Nm of torque. Available exclusively with the all-wheel drive drivetrain, it has a 1600kg towing capacity and consumes a combined 8.6L/100km.
Acceleration here is truly linear and punchy, with a raspy engine note to match. Like the smaller EcoBoost engine it's eager to rev out and quite willing to drop down gears on demand to provide a surge of torque.
When the automatic gearbox is selected, each model comes with steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters to make gear access even easier. It's a handy feature for downhill runs where you don't want to cook the brakes. Both EcoBoost engines require 95RON premium unleaded fuel as a minimum.
Our final stint was in the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel. Producing 132kW of power, the engine punches above its weight with 400Nm of torque. That also means extra towing capacity with 1800kg on offer and an official combined fuel use figure of just 5.5L/100km.
Unlike the other two engines, this one exclusively uses a six-speed dual-clutch automatic Powershift transmission. Now, before you jump on to your keyboards to complain, it's a completely different gearbox to the one giving Ford so many headaches at the moment in Fiesta, Focus and EcoSport.
We spent a great deal of time at the launch in the diesel over gravel roads. While the surge of torque is great when the engine comes on boost, it can be quite laggy at times and despite the fact it uses a dual-clutch setup, the gearbox doesn't feel much more responsive than the torque converter units when demanding torque in a hurry.
It also exhibits very minor (and typical to a dual-clutch gearbox) hesitation off the line as the gearbox does its thing. It's something we'd like to see ironed out of all dual-clutch gearboxes, as it makes for a sometimes unpleasant drive experience at low speeds.
Each model comes with independent MacPherson struts with stabiliser bar for the front and Ford's Control Blade independent rear suspension setup with stabiliser for the rear.
In terms of ride, it's the Trend that excels on its 18-inch alloy wheels. Both in and around the city and on the open road, it rode nicely over sharp bumps and corrugations where the 19-inch-clad Titanium could feel a bit sharp and a little too sporty.
It was most evident when we tackled a stretch of coarse gravel road where the Trend rode over anything thrown at it with little fuss. The Titanium was much harder riding in comparison. It also felt a little busy over city streets with minor imperfections where its sportier ride and 45-profile 235mm wide tyres compromised ride ever so slightly.
Buyers wanting to stay on the comfortable side of sporty will want to opt for the Trend, while buyers needing a bit more feel from their car and a sportier attitude will go with the bigger wheels on the Titanium.
On the handling front the Escape continues to excel. It was always one of our favourite cars in terms of handling and that hasn't changed. The electrically-assisted steering offers plenty of feel and is weighty enough to feel sporty, while being easy enough to use at lower speeds. We didn't get a chance to drive the entry-level Ambiente model, but we suspect this will ride even better than the Trend given the steel wheels and chubbier 55 profile tyres.
At highway speeds, we noticed a bit of wind noise from the car's exposed parts (like the wing mirrors). That's despite Ford using dual-layered glass on Trend and Titanium models.
On face value, the new Ford Escape offers an exceptional package that's big enough for families and versatile enough to be used by buyers wanting a bigger car that stands out in traffic.
But, the Escape is compromised by optional safety technology (or a model where safety technology isn't even available) and a number of brand new competitors (such as the Volkswagen Tiguan and soon-to-be-replaced Mazda CX-5). So, we're looking forward to spending some more time with the car and putting it up against the best vehicles in this segment.
If you are looking at the Escape for your next medium SUV, we'd recommend aiming toward the Trend front-wheel drive and making sure you option the Technology Pack for $1300 that adds AEB.
Listen to the quality of the Bluetooth audio from the 2017 Ford Escape below. Subscribe to the CarAdvice podcast at caradvice.com/podcast.