It’s fair to say the previous generation Ford Escape didn’t set the Australian sales charts alight in the all-important medium SUV segment. Going up against the likes of runaway sales successes like the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 was never going to be easy.
And so it proved, the Escape enjoying a meagre 1.9 per cent market share with 3326 sales in 2019 in a segment where over 170,000 medium SUVs found new homes.
But now, with this new fourth generation Escape, Ford is hoping to claw back some of that ground to become a contender in this all important segment.
There are three specification levels in the range which gets underway with the front-wheel drive only Escape priced at $35,990 plus on-road costs.
The slightly sportier-looking Escape ST-Line asks for $37,990 while the range-topping Vignale wants $46,590. That’s the front-wheel drive range.
Additionally, both the ST-Line and Vignale are available with all-wheel drive, a $3000 premium over the FWD models.
And joining the line-up for the first time in Australia is a plug-in hybrid version, sharing its specification with the ST-Line. It’s priced at $52,940 plus on-roads, making it the range-topper on price, if not on specification.
|2021 Ford Escape Vignale AWD|
|Engine||2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||183kW at 5700rpm, 387Nm at 3100rpm|
|Drive type||One-demand all-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.6L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||11.4L/100km|
|Boot volume (min/max)||412-526L / 1478L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars (awarded 2019)|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$50,240|
The new Escape is built on Ford’s modular C2 platform that the Blue Oval claims is stronger and more rigid than the outgoing model. It’s also dimensionally larger than the old model, 89mm longer, 44mm wider and with a 20mm longer wheelbase.
That translates to a more spacious cabin, with occupants the big beneficiaries. Up front, shoulder room has increased by 43mm, while hip room is up 57mm. Those in the back, enjoy 20mm more shoulder room and 36mm more hip room.
And, despite losing 20mm in overall height over the old model, Ford says there’s an additional 13mm of headroom for front seat occupants while rear seat passengers score an additional 35mm.
Ford threw CarAdvice the keys to just one specification for the local launch, an all-wheel drive Escape Vignale. It starts at $49,590 plus on-road costs, with only premium paint ticked on the options box, $695 for a coat of Solar Silver. That makes our launch car a $50,240 plus on-roads proposition, which is about on par with its main rivals in the segment.
As befitting a range-topper, the Vignale enjoys a level of comfort and convenience, unsurprising as the Blue Oval is keen to spruik its luxury aspirations with the Vignale nameplate.
A word on Vignale. Originally an Italian design studio founded in Turin in 1948, it was acquired by Ford in 1973, who promptly shelved the name. It resurfaced occasionally on one-off concept cars but remained in the spare parts bin until 2013, when Ford Europe announced it was resurrecting the name as a luxury sub-brand of the Blue Oval.
The first car to carry the name was the 2015 Ford Mondeo Vignale. Subsequent models for the premium sub-brand include the Edge, European S-Max and Kuga, the latter the name for the Escape overseas.
Which brings us neatly back to the Escape Vignale sitting in the CarAdvice garage. Externally, the new Escape looks more resolved in terms of design than the model it replaces. Where the outgoing Escape looked a bit awkward, this all-new model benefits from its squatter stance, thanks to its extra length and width married to a lower overall profile.
It looks, if anything, like a slightly longer, marginally taller, and little bit wider Ford Focus. And that’s no bad thing, as the Focus hatchback is an aesthetic winner in our eyes.
The Vignale alone sits on 19-inch alloys (20-inch wheels are optional), whereas the rest of the Escape range sits on 18-inch wheels. Silver roof rails adorn the top, again setting it apart from the regular range, which features black roof rails.
Inside, the Vignale looks pretty familiar, borrowing plenty of styling cues from the Ford Focus.
Soft-touch materials abound, including a leather-look dash, complete with contrast stitching, that goes a long way to establishing the Vignale as a premium offering. Dark wood-like accents and interestingly-textured door cards add visual appeal.
The leather-accented seats are comfortable and supportive, as well as electrically adjustable for both passenger and driver. Heated too. And, unusually, the second row also features heated seating for outboard passengers.
The second row offers decent enough room for passengers, while the seats remain comfortable. The seatbacks can recline a little for added comfort, while the seats themselves slide for and aft as to free-up legroom. For those with kidlets, there are ISOFIX mounts on the outboard seats.
In terms of amenities, there are a pair of cupholders in a fold-down armrest, while devices can be kept topped up via either a USB, or the more contemporary USB-C outlets. There are air vents back there too.
Boot space measures in at 412-526 litres, depending on how far forward, or back, the second-row seats have been moved. Fold the second row, not quite flat, and cargo volume increases to 1478 litres. A space-saver spare can be found under the boot floor.
Like the Escape’s external visage, the overall cabin presentation is a big step up over the previous model, and certainly gives a good account of being premium.
So too the list of standard features in this top-spec model. Highlights across the entire Escape range include an 8.0-inch touchscreen running Ford’s excellent Sync 3 infotainment system, in-built navigation, DAB+ radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth connectivity.
There’s dual-zone climate control, ambient LED lighting, privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry and push-button start, as well as heated power-folding door mirrors.
The Vignale adds some key luxury fittings including a panoramic roof, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, a 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster, a head-up display, hands-free powered tailgate, 180-degree rear-view camera, advanced automated parking assist and a premium 10-speaker sound system from B&O Play.
In terms of safety tech, the entire Escape range is brimming with key technology like adaptive cruise control with stop&go function, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring and a driver fatigue monitor.
ANCAP awarded the new Escape range (except for the plug-in hybrid which remains untested) five stars in 2019, the mid-size SUV scoring commendably in all key areas: 92 per cent for adult occupant protection, 89 per cent for child occupant protection and 82 per cent for vulnerable road user protection.
Powering the Escape range is Ford’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol. It’s good for 183kW at 5700rpm and 387Nm at 3100rpm, and is mated to an eight-speed automatic. Drive is sent to all wheels via Ford’s on-demand all-wheel drive platform, which apportions things between the front, and rear wheels, as needed.
There’s certainly some pep from the drivetrain, as the 1690kg (kerb weight) Vignale moves away briskly, from standstill. It feels light on the road, no bad thing, especially in an urban environment.
There is a hint of torque steer from take-off, dissipating when some of that 387Nm are apportioned to the rear wheels. Not a deal-breaker, by any stretch, but it’s there.
On the highway, the Escape Vignale settles into an easy lope, never feeling overly stressed. There’s enough left in the tank too, for overtaking, the Vignale happy to pile on some extra speed as required.
The drivetrain is let down a little by the eight-speed auto. There’s a tendency for the Escape to lurch forward in a slightly unpredictable manner from standstill, and some hesitation on downshift is also evident, when on the move. Paddle-shifters help mitigate the latter issue somewhat.
One final disconcerting issue with the transmission, is the propensity for the Escape to roll slightly forwards or backwards, depending on the slope, after park is engaged.
The steering remains light and easy to use, a little too light if anything, lacking much in the way of feedback. Despite being razor sharp, responding to even the smallest inputs, it would be nice to have some steering feel, to match its accuracy.
There’s plenty of feel from the suspension set-up – MacPherson struts up front and an independent set-up out back. It’s a firm ride. Not uncomfortably so, but the Escape does border on the firm side of comfortable. That translates to a jiggly ride around town, where the roads are rough, and undulated. You feel those undulations, definitely. It’s better out on the highway, where smoother surfaces abound, while road noise is acceptable too.
Ford claims the Escape Vignale in AWD trim will use 8.6L/100km on the combined cycle. We didn’t get close to that claim, with an indicated 11.4L after our time with the car. To mitigate, the bulk of that time was spent in the urban jungle, which gave a reading as high as 12.4L before a longer highway run saw that drop to 11.4L.
Ford covers the Escape with its five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty while servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Ford has capped the price of the first four visits to the workshop – four years or 60,000km – at $299 a pop.
Interestingly, the Blue Oval’s new FordPass Connect technology will alert you when a service is required via an app on your smartphone. The app will also allow owners to lock, unlock and start their Escape remotely.
Other features include delivering alerts to your smartphone, warning owners of general maintenance needs, such as a blown lightbulb. Handy.
There’s no question the new fourth-gen Ford Escape is a better mid-size SUV than the one it replaces. It’s bigger, packed with features and connectivity and, in this top-spec Vignale trim, does a decent job of appearing on the premium end of the spectrum.
But, it’s let down a little by some minor quibbles with the driving experience, a pity as in almost every other respect, the Ford Escape Vignale is a decent alternative to its highly-specced rivals in the segment.