The 2017 Ford Escape is the Blue Oval's latest bid to take a more substantial slice of the booming medium SUV pie.
Formerly known as the Kuga, the Escape revives the nameplate worn by Ford's twin to the Mazda Tribute of the 2000s, while bringing a number of cosmetic and technological updates to what was already a pretty solid package.
On test we have the flagship Titanium equipped with the 2.0-litre TDCi turbo-diesel engine, which starts at $47,490 before on-road costs – making it the most expensive Escape you can buy.
The Magnetic grey paint of this tester adds another $550, while the Technology Pack – which adds driver assistance features like autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning – demands a further $1300, bringing the ticket price before on-roads to $49,340.
So what do you get? All Escape models come equipped with Ford's great 8.0-inch Sync 3 infotainment system with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents (the latter something many Japanese manufacturers continue to neglect), DAB+ digital radio, six-speaker audio with USB input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, daytime-running lights, keyless start, front fog lights, and an electronic park brake.
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Moving up to the mid-spec Trend adds 18-inch alloys, silver roof rails, privacy glass, automatic headlights and wipers and leather-wrapped gear lever.
Our Titanium tester adds 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry with gesture-controlled power tailgate, adaptive bi-xenon headlights with upgraded LED daytime-running lights, power folding mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, 10-way electrically-adjustable driver's seat, park assist, panoramic glass sunroof, front and rear velour floor mats, multi-colour ambient lighting, LED tail-lights and a nine-speaker Sony audio system.
Trend and Titanium models are available with the aforementioned $1300 Technology Pack, which adds lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, automatic high beam, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) up to 50km/h, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a tyre pressure monitor. Admittedly, the Technology Pack should be standard at least on the Titanium, if not all models.
Standard driver assistance and safety features include seven airbags (dual front, side chest and curtain airbags, along with a driver's knee airbag), ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, stability control, emergency brake assist and hill-start assist. The Escape scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating, though its score is based off Euro NCAP's testing of the pre-faclift Kuga.
From the outside, the Escape sports a very clean and conservative design, while also not straying far from the pre-facelift Kuga that preceded it. The Titanium's 19-inch alloys give it a dynamic look, while the contrasting chrome and silver trims help to add contrast to the metallic grey body paint.
The LED daytime-running lights and tail-lights give a more premium appearance than the halogen units used on lesser models, while the dual exhaust tips give the Escape a more sporting appearance. It's inoffensive, if a little boring.
Inside, the Escape hasn't changed much from the Kuga, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Most notable changes are the new steering wheel, a revised centre stack where the 8.0-inch infotainment system and climate controls live, though everything else is pretty much the same. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics on the doors and dash up front, while the centre tunnel has some harder and flimsier trims that don't feel as premium as they could – especially considering the asking price.
At the rear, the clever aeroplane-style fold-out tables carryover, which are great for kids, while the door trims below the rear windows are hard plastics rather than the squishy ones up front – though the soft elbow pads remain.
Rear air vents and a 12V socket also feature at the rear – the former doing wonders for back seat passengers on hot days and something numerous competitors like the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 still do not offer.
Behind the second row is a 406L boot, which lags behind competitors like the Tiguan (615L), Hyundai Tucson (488L) and Kia Sportage (466L), though it just pips the CX-5's 403L load area.
With the rear seats folded flat, the Escape's luggage capacity increases to a much more accommodating 1603L, though it's still not class-leading.
Hopping in the driver's seat, the front pews are quite comfortable and well bolstered. In terms of the driving position, the Escape has quite a commanding view of the road, sitting the driver quite high. Drivers are given plenty of adjustment thanks to the 10-way power seats, which also includes electric lumbar support.
The steering wheel is wrapped in what appears to be fake leather, and can feel a little rubbery and sometimes feels as if it's transferring powder onto your hands. Despite this, the rim is soft and squishy and otherwise nice in the hand.
Behind the wheel the analogue dials are clear and easy to use, while the colour multifunction display offers easy access to a digital speedo, trip computer functions and also acts as a display for driver assistance features like the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist.
Visibility up front is pretty good, with a large and high windscreen along with plenty of glasshouse with the front and rear windows, though the relatively thin rear windscreen makes the rear-view camera an invaluable inclusion. The thick A-pillars can also create a blind spot.
All of the controls up front are logically laid out and easy to use, though the receded positioning of the touchscreen means you find yourself reaching over a bit to make inputs, while touching buttons at the edges or corners of the screen can be misjudged quite often.
Comfort at the rear is pretty good too, though legroom for rear passengers isn't cavernous like some rivals – particularly behind taller drivers like this six-foot-one-ish reviewer.
Three reasonably-sized people can be seated abreast at a squeeze, while two rear passengers should be just fine over longer journeys. Those fold-out tables with cupholders also eat into kneeroom.
Under the bonnet is the company's 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel developing 132kW of power at 3500rpm, and a meaty 400Nm of torque at a relatively narrow 2000-2500rpm band. The extra torque over the 2.0-litre Ecoboost petrol sees the diesel's braked towing capacity rise from 1600kg to 1800kg.
The oiler's performance is pretty strong thanks to the surge of torque at 2000rpm, though it can be a bit laggy when rolling through or pulling away from low-speed intersections or roundabouts. Additionally, the dual-clutch transmission doesn't feel particularly snappy on shifts like a Volkswagen's, though it does the job just fine.
Out on the road the Escape is competent over most surfaces, though the ride can get a little jittery over small imperfections – not helped by the fact it rides on 19-inch wheels with 235/45 rubber.
Even over rougher surfaces the cabin is quiet, while clatter from the diesel engine is kept to a minimum.
The Escape's steering is light yet tight, making the 4524mm long and 1838mm wide SUV easy to manoeuvre around car parks and tight city streets.
In the bends, the Escape – at least with the heavier diesel engine at the front – isn't as sharp as a CX-5 or Tiguan, though it feels balanced and offers pretty sharp turn-in which contributes to above average handling for an SUV.
Over longer distances the Ford's seats are very comfortable, even after a three-hour drive to Albury, myself and Mike Stevens were able to step out without any aching limbs or sore bottoms.
Something that wasn't so great over our time with the Escape was the fuel consumption. Ford claims 5.6L/100km for the diesel, though even with mainly highway driving we could only manage in the low to mid-7.0L/100km, which climbed to low eights with more city driving despite featuring idle stop/start.
It's not awful, but it could be better, especially considering larger SUVs from the class above like the Kia Sorento can achieve similar figures despite their heftier weight.
Another thing we noticed were some of the harder interior plastics surrounding the centre tunnel, which can be heard flexing at times over bumps and also if the driver has their left leg rested against them.
In terms of ownership, the Escape range is covered by Ford's three year, 100,000km warranty and lifetime capped-price servicing program.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000km, with the first three visits costing $385 a pop – totalling a relatively affordable $1155 for the first three years excluding consumables like brake fluid ($125 every two years, 30,000km).
The Ford Escape Titanium is a solid package. It offers plenty of features, effortless performance from its turbo-diesel engine, a refined driving experience and something a little different to its Asian and European rivals.
However, niggles like the lack of standard safety features across the range, some mismatched cabin plastics and underwhelming real-world fuel economy put small dents in the Ford's appeal.
For nearly $3000 less you can have the 178kW/345Nm 2.0-litre Ecoboost-powered Titanium, which offers sportier performance, comparable fuel economy and towing capacity, while also offering better value for money. Even with the Technology Pack option box ticked, the petrol model comes in cheaper than the un-optioned diesel.
If you love your diesels, the Escape is still pretty good, but you're otherwise better off buying the petrol – which is more than deserving of an 8/10.