Kugas can be fun. And I don't mean in a male locker room sense. Ford's now defunct Kuga medium SUV wasn't without its virtues, but it really needed a change of name and a lift in feel and equipment to broaden appeal and arrive at today's Ford Escape.
That's a good start. But liberate the purse strings to the tune of $45k, roll out the flagship specifications list and add formidable performance – by everyday family hauling measures, at least – and you rise further into 2017 Ford Escape 2.0 Titanium petrol territory, a place of fun-loving practicality that, on paper at least, few medium SUVs dare.
Arriving at this single 'garage' review, the Escape breed is already a familiar face. We've already driven this specific variant of the mid-sized-SUV-formerly-known-as-Kuga twice – once at its local launch, once in twin-testing with Hyundai Tucson – and we’ve sampled top-rung Titanium trim in diesel form in single review. We've also driven most of the variants on offer, including sand-blasting many of them on a beach.
We’ve poked around the Escape enough thus far that, realistically, this $44,990 petrol-powered prospect shouldn't present many surprises. And yet, I'm still surprised about just how much I enjoy, even at the testing at hand, a week spent with it as a urban runabout.
As a team, we’ve praised its lusty powertrain and its improved infotainment and tech credentials, if marking it down for all-round interior space, its value pitch relative to other Escapes and its segment in general, and the lack of standard fitment of some of today’s smarter safety tech that still wants for a $1300 premium even in this top-shelf, seriously priced Titanium variant. That it knocked off the highly regarded Tucson Highlander on the CarAdvice score sheet is testament that there are ample pros to more than balance out any cons.
And, no, we still can't find an ounce of actual titanium in it anywhere...
In fact, many of the gripes about the Escape Titanium to date have centred around the TDCi version’s diesel powertrain, specifically the engine lag and lack of response as well as consumption not nearly as impressive as Ford’s claims.
That version is also $2500 pricier than the petrol version, shining stronger positive light on this petrol version, though I’ll parrot my colleagues from the outset in that buyers really should take the Technology Pack as given fitment and therefore treat the Titanium as a $46,290 prospect before adding on-road costs.
Otherwise, the list of features is bourgeoning: 19-inch alloys, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, proprietary sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, DAB+, Bluetooth audio and phone, leather trim, electrically-adjustable front seats with heating, ambient interior lighting, high-spec nine-speaker Sony audio, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, a glass roof, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Well, almost. As discussed in reviews past, the Titanium lacks radar-based cruise, seat cooling, a full-sized space wheel or an infotainment controller, all of which you’ll find on segment competitors commanding similarly rich outlays.
Despite the lack of – or added cost for – so-called advanced safety smarts, the Escape, as a breed, gets a five-star ANCAP rating thanks to seven-airbag surety and a solid array of conventional electronic driving aids.
Even in fridge white – well, it’s actually pearl effect – the Titanium is a stylish looker. Better yet, sat on 19s that look lifted form Ford’s hot hatch catalogue and with a front fascia that might’ve been lifted from its ute range, the top-shelf Escape is downright ‘dad certified’ when parked in the company of other, more mum-oriented medium SUVs.
I still wonder how much Ford’s SUV sales have improved with male buyers simply by substituting the defunct, sigma-riddled ‘Kuga’ nameplate or, well, any other name you dare concoct…
The cabin treatment is a mixed bag, though the many positives are, thankfully, in mostly the right places. Entry and egress are easy, the seating and controls offer sound driver-centric ergonomics, and general visibility from behind the wheel – thick A-pillars notwithstanding – is excellent even for height-challenged occupants. It’s not measurably the roomiest cabin space up front, but the design is quite airy and light despite having every surface drenched in the same premium-by-numbers shade of dark grey.
The monochromatic colourisation does temper the designed-on-red-cordial dash and central stack, a excess of angles and tiers seemingly for the sheer sake of it that add nothing to causes of freshness or premiumness, (neither of which are strong suits for Ford, even globally).
It’s new styling that looks eminently old hat. The instrumentation, too, with its analogue temperature gauge and tiny, crammed driver’s screen might fit a Focus RS to a tee though the ‘youthful sportiness’ is out of sync with a near $50k family hauler.
Speaking of ‘sync’, my esteemed colleagues have heaped positivity on this latest Sync 3 application of infotainment but I can’t agree less. Better graphics and sound? Perhaps. But it’s evolved form a low base and this iteration, be it hardware or software, remains a below-par real-world experience.
For a start, the countersunk touchscreen is beyond the reach of the normal driving position, so you have to stretch to reach it. Jumping menus is less than rapidfire, and unless you preprogram any radio station you care to listen to, the search feature is long-winded and highly distracting (while you’re craning forward).
The time-temperature displays disappear in some submenus, DAB+ incessantly refreshes itself, and there’s very limited control from the steering wheel controls – on the wrong (right-hand) side of the wheel – and there’s no infotainment guide in the driver’s screen line of sight. Hardly a thing of cutting-edged slickness, then…
As we’ve found in reviews past, rear accommodation is decent if hardly class-leading for space. It is, however, amply roomy for four adults for decent trip durations, though a lack of knee-room, mostly due to those Titanium-spec fold-down trays, hampers outright comfort slightly. Air vents, a flip-down centre armrest, bottle-swallowing door bins and outboard LED reading lights tick essential passenger friendly boxes.
The 60:40 split-fold rear seat inherently favours a road-side child seat placement when aiming to maximize luggage space with one little’un on board, though this will be a minor detail for many SUV shoppers.
Ditto the less-than-flat load space once the second row is stowed and luggage space expands from 406 litres to 1603L. Again, like cabin space, it’s ample for small-family purposes if not exactly class-leading for luggage swallowing capacity.
Clearly, if sheer roominess and volume is of highest priority, the Escape mightn’t be the perfect fit. As we've found, Tucson creams it for second row roominess. But size isn’t everything – otherwise they'd only sell upper-larger SUVs, right? – and the balance of practicality with a compact footprint amply handy for the negotiating the confines of urban laneways and multi-storey car parks is one well struck.
But it's those call-to-arms moments of attacking the urban jungle with vigour when the Escape Titanium petrol becomes a particularly enthusiastic ally.
With a lusty 178kW (at 5500rpm) and 345Nm (from 2000rpm) from its turbocharged 2.0-litre four, plied to all four wheels on demand when you need it, the Ford SUV makes hasty (ahem) escape indeed, despite its one-and-three-quarter-tonne weighbridge ticket. In fact, its power-to-weight ratio is very hot hatch-like and, indeed, it feels about as swift on the march.
Even better, sans any sporty visual pretentions outside those 19-inch wheels, it’s pace with a subversive, inconspicuous facade – more satisfying than thrilling pace, perhaps, but easily enough to give petrolhead dads and mums a decent grin after dropping the kids off to school and without drawing unwanted attention.
Impressive throttle response, strident mid-range, and a six-speed conventional auto eager enough to chase the engine’s redline without hesitation, there’s real fire enough in the Ford’s belly. After living with this much firepower, even just for week, more conventional mid-SUV engine outputs start to feel a bit limp.
No, it’s not the most frugal SUV on the block – eights on the highway, tens around town – but some owners might happily pay a little extra at the pump for the added herbs underfoot this engine delivers. I would.
It’s quite the slick, quiet and foible-free powertrain, too: no lethargy or laziness in D for drive, a decent hike in response and purpose dropping the console shifter in S for Sport. That said, one markdown is that it’s easy to inadvertently knock the transmission into ‘S’ when shifting down from park or reverse.
Equally, in the past we’ve commended the Escape Titanium’s reasonably polished ride and spirited handling, and deftly struck balance of both. And this example returns similar impressions. Compression over speed bumps is firm rather than terse, it settles on rebound smoothly and quickly, it’s easy to place on the road with accuracy and feels connected to the driver.
Kudos to Ford Australia for fitting quality 235/45 R19 Continental ContiSportContact tyres, from my experience some of the finest rubber out there for providing by dry and wet performance. They bring a nice crisp edge to steering together with seemingly unflappable road-holding. The steering is also lightweight enough, and the Escape’s extremities are compact enough, to make even the trickiest parking manoeuvres a doddle.
In terms of ownership surety, the Escape comes with a rudimentary three-year/100,000-kilometre warranty with roadside assist providing you abide by dealer servicing conditions. Servicing intervals are 12 months or 15,000kms, whichever comes first, currently capped at $375 per service with the exception of the 60,000/72month interval, which asks $625.
I’m keenly aware I’m compelled by the turbo-petrol, top-spec Escape for not terribly pragmatic reasons. Is it the most sensible variant choice in range by traditional SUV values? No. But I’m pro-choice kind of guy, a believer that the more the variety the richer motoring gene pool, so surely there’s a valid place for SUVs with pace without wearing performance in its shirt sleeves as a want rather than a need.