Ford Escape XLT V6

2006 Ford Escape XLT V6 Road Test

$4,530 $5,390 Dealer
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Prior to even setting foot in the car, it became clear where a large amount of the Ford Territory’s outside bits were derived. Things such as the dual-release boot, door handles, alloy wheels, mirrors and to some extent, exterior styling, all seem to have come from the Ford Escape in some way. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; it’s just great to see where some of the ideas were formed.

The Ford Escape is by no means a ‘rock hopper’ but with 215mm of ground clearance, it has no troubles tackling some rough terrain. Compared to the Toyota Landcruiser (210mm ground clearance) and the Nissan Patrol (ST-L Turbo Diesel, 210mm ground clearance) it has the potential to be taken through some mud without too many worries.

Based on the Mazda Tribute, the Ford Escape is powered by a 3.0ltr V6 engine, producing 152kW @ 6000RPM and 276Nm of torque @ 4750RPM, it becomes clear that the Escape isn’t a car for dedicated off-roading, more so a daily city car and a weekend bush car. All models come fitted with a system called ‘On-Demand 4WD’. The car is a Front Wheel Drive (FWD) during normal operation and if the vehicle detects a loss of traction at the front wheels, it engages the Four Wheel Drive (4WD) mode to assist the car. Along with a button that activates a standard 4WD mode, more on this later.

When you jump into the car you start to realise how uncivilized and bland the interior is. A simple centre console with a 6-stack CD player, heater controls and then a drop down to the various little cubby holes. The transmission is even operated by a column shift and the handbrake is in the worst spot in the car, making you reach down awkwardly to release it. It may seem very abrasive, but the interior is very simple, it’s not a bad thing though. At first it takes a bit of work to get used to but after a few k’s behind the wheel it becomes of second nature.

There is plenty of room for the driver and passenger, offering great leg room and head height. Rear leg room is relatively poor when the front seat is pushed all the way back, leaving little for the rear passengers to work with. There is also a very weird metal bar placed in the top section of the driver and passenger seat that can all too often become an annoyance when getting in and out. With smaller kids on the other hand, there is plenty of room for three of them to fit on the back seat with relative comfort.

The driving positions is also fantastic, it feels really high, the mirrors provide excellent coverage and you feel like you can see far more than a conventional sedan. Of course, as with most things, there is a downside. Extra height means a different centre of gravity, which in this case means worse handling. Through corners there is a large amount of body roll and the car doesn’t feel as sure of itself. Through a straight line though, the drive is quite soft and easy going, the suspension handles bumps in the road very well.

If you are thinking this is the perfect small off-roader for an emerging young family, spare a thought for the fuel consumption. Official estimates from Ford rate the fuel consumption for the V6 Ford Escape at 12.2ltr/100km (which, in itself is pretty big for a predominantly FWD, only weighing 1566kg). The ‘official’ figure must have been achieved with some extremely soft driving, as the best we did from the Escape was 14.7ltr/100km, which is a very decent amount, considering the fact that it is mainly a Front Wheel Drive vehicle.

Taking off from idle takes a bit of practise, the Escape has a very touch throttle and even the slightest tap sends the power to the front wheels without any delay. I think this is also why the car had such a high fuel consumption, the throttle was very touchy and dropped down a gear all too often when tapped on the highway. You also have to be mindful of the cruise control, which is all too happy to send you 5k’s over the limit on a downhill and all too happy to drop to 2nd and rev to its hearts content to get you back up to speed.

The Four Wheel Drive (4WD) system is also something to be very careful with. After driving the Territory earlier this year (which was equipped with constant AWD) I didn’t spare a thought for the 50/50 centre locking differential the Escape comes with. It’s a little tricky to explain, but I will keep it as simple as possible.

During normal driving the Escape is a Front Wheel Drive (FWD) vehicle. When the Four Wheel Drive (4WD) mode is enabled the centre differential locks, providing the same power to all wheels, meaning all wheels need to be spinning at the same speed. The best example is if you were to drive the Escape onto a grassy area and do a U-Turn in 4WD mode the rear tyres would start ripping up the grass, as they aren’t spinning as fast as the front wheels, due to the front wheels being turned and covering more distance than the rear wheels.

So, to my surprise, when I was reversing out a car space at the supermarket with 4WD enabled, once I started turning the wheel and moving backward there were thudding noises. This was the driveline trying to move the rear wheels at the same speed as the front (in essence, it was trying to spin the rear wheels at around 2000RPM which was causing the transmission to bind), I eventually got to a point where the car wouldn’t move any further, releasing 4WD mode sent it all back to normal.

This is why all too often people have accidents whilst driving in 4WD mode in the wet (on normal roads). They turn a corner and because the rear wheels aren’t keeping up, they eventually break traction and all hell breaks loose! So make sure you only ever drive in 4WD mode when you are in mud, sand, dirt and basically anything that allows semi-free wheel spin. Never use 4WD mode on normal roads unless totally necessary.

Don’t get the two confused though, AWD mode varies the amount received and is a slightly different system, used on permanent AWD cars and performance cars. Sorry if I have insulted any experts with my explanation, it should give you the general idea though.

So what is the final verdict?

For a car that is manufactured in Japan it’s really well built and the interior is very sturdy and strong. The Escape has adequate power to get you from A to B and is capable for some off-roading, an occasional trip to the bush and to take the boat down to the ramp.

A couple of things I didn’t like were the extremely annoying chimes when the key was in the ignition with the door open. Along with the very big fuel consumption (which was greater than the average for the Falcon).

I would recommend this car to a young family, couples without older kids or for people looking for a second ‘getaway’ car. It certainly exceeded my expectations and proved itself to be an excellent get around vehicle that wasn’t intimidated by some stones and mud.

- by Paul Maric

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