The Escape is Ford's all-new medium-SUV contender. Like the excellent, recently launched Ford Puma, it represents the brand's second attack on the ever-burgeoning category.
Like the Puma, expectations are high. Not just from us here at CarAdvice, but also the brand itself. It needs to diversify its portfolio and begin selling into different segments. At present, the bulk of its sales are from the pick-up/cab-chassis segment courtesy of the Ford Ranger.
Is the Escape up to the task?
Ford has employed quite a complex line-up to get it done: Escape, Escape ST-Line, Escape ST-Line PHEV, and range-topping Vignale.
Furthermore, the ST-Line and Vignale are offered in two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. That makes a total of six variants, three powertrains including a plug-in hybrid, and three spec trims. We've already reviewed the Vignale all-wheel model – you can find that review here.
Prices start from $35,990 for the entry Escape model. Our 2021 Ford Escape ST-Line test car is one step up costing $37,990 before on-roads. If you prefer a hue other than black or white, the privilege is $650.
The only other choice is a technology pack for $2650, which our car had. This bundles in a hands-free power tailgate, heated front seats, beam-shifting LED headlights and head-up display. Coupled with metallic paint, it makes our test car worth $41,290 before on-road taxes and fees.
|2021 Ford Escape ST-Line|
|Engine||2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||183kW at 5700rpm, 387Nm at 3100rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.6L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||10.4L/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)||$41,290|
As a step up from the entry model, and despite the bulk of its additions being vanity-centric, the ST-Line represents solid value. For $2000 more, its exterior design changes significantly.
All of the usual black plastic cladding becomes body-coloured, which helps create the visual effect of a lower stance. A new set of refreshingly simple single-colour wheels are introduced, too, as are black window strips in lieu of chrome items.
The biggest inclusion with the ST-Line, however, is a sports body kit. Compared to the regular Escape, this newly introduced styling effort not only looks more aggressive, but also lifts its perceived quality.
As a whole, Ford's effort here is commendable. This is not all that comes with the ST-Line model, but even at this point, the $2000 premium is money well spent.
Moving inside, the cabin feels thought out. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster takes centre stage, which is standard across the wider Escape range. The other screen is a segment-average 8.0-inch infotainment system, which features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, as well as DAB+.
A point for those interested in the option pack – the head-up display remains clearly visible through polarised sunglasses, which is excellent. Many other brands still can't get this right.
Also worth mentioning here is FordPass Connect. Free for the first three years, this system provides data connectivity to the car, and enables remote unlocking, a find-my-car feature, fuel level checking, and remote start with air-conditioning function, all from your smartphone.
More simple things, such as cabin design and storage, are also decent. A Jaguar-esque circular gear selector frees up room in the lower console, creating space for a large, open storage tray, decent-sized cupholders and a logically placed parking ticket holder. Why brands sometimes bury such a convenience under the steering wheel is beyond me. As for device charging, there's both wireless and USB-C charging in the front row.
Cloth seats are all that is offered, as leather is reserved solely for the Vignale. Despite ST-Line-exclusive red stitching attempting to jazz up the vibe, the fabric still looks of average quality.
More important than design is feel. The seat base is short and lacks adjustment, which makes it tricky to get comfy. You also sit abnormally high, which further detracts from the experience.
Driver tech is chock-a-block, with the whole Escape range featuring the same level of active driver-assist systems. Adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert all feature as standard. The only missing link here is a 360-degree camera, which would be a handy addition given the Escape's size.
In terms of quality, most surfaces are soft or well textured, if hard. The ST-Line features a sparse diamond perforation to its doors, which I felt looked awkward. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, so do check out the finish in the photo gallery.
The second row continues clever design touches. Ford has studied well and managed to translate good theory into practice. The Escape's tall, boxy roof line plays the lead role. It creates an equally tall glasshouse that instils the second row with light, airiness and great visibility – all properties that promote habitability.
Its seating also benefits from such study given the second row features a high hip point. This makes ingress and egress for adults, and kids in support seats, fantastic.
The rear doors open wide, and coupled with the aforementioned high roof line, it makes both forward- and rearward-facing child seats an equal pleasure to use. The second row is possibly large enough to go three-up if the child seats are carefully curated.
In terms of adult occupant space, a deeply scalloped seat back creates great knee room. Behind my own driving position (I'm 183cm tall), I found 5–6cm of knee space, which is above average for the segment. The boxy roof line again means head room is spot on, and foot room remains excellent also.
Adults have access to both a fast-charging USB-C and regular USB port, as well as rear air vents. The main criticism of this area is poor storage given its rear door pockets are stingy, and a lack of centre armrest, which means no cupholders or ski-flap.
Accessing the cargo area is a manual affair, unless you decide to take the option pack. If you do, the old macarena-inspired jig will operate its kick-action electric tailgate. Storage space varies between 412–526L depending on how deeply you adjust the sliding second row. Halfway is possible with younger kids, so consider usable boot space, with a family of five, to be around the middle of those two figures.
There's great width on offer, so strollers will fit lengthways up against the seat back. Four medium-sized suitcases and a squashy overnight bag would be a possible load scenario, too. The load sill is quite high, so unless you own a kelpie, consider the loading of animals to be a pick-up-and-lift situation.
Our Escape ST-Line test car features the front-wheel-drive application of Ford's 183kW, 387Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. All-wheel drive is offered at this trim level for an extra $3000. If you like some guts under your throttle pedal, or are coming from a performance hatchback perhaps, then you'll enjoy the powertrain here.
It feels potent and reasonably fast on the roll. Jamming near-on 400Nm through the front wheels does create torque steer, however, so be prepared for such antics to ensue. In the wet, don't expect to harness anywhere near 100 per cent throttle.
Its calibration feels too eager, though. The throttle feels jerky, in the sense of small movements applying power in a non-linear fashion. The steering is similar, too, coming across hyperactive and twitchy as a result. The resulting steering feels clearly artificial, and in turn vague.
Some will like its quick-to-respond nature, but I recommend parking in a longer test drive to discover all of its personality. It feels as if Ford's engineers have installed faux levels of sportiness here, or attempted to do so via overly sharp-feeling controls.
The Ford Puma is quite the opposite, feeling poised in terms of its ability, instead of its control weights and sensitivity. Ride quality can be hit-and-miss also. Out on flowing, country roads, its stiffness turns into slight vertical bobbing. Around town, over bigger imperfections, it can become jarringly stiff. I'll note here that the ST-Line gets an exclusive sports suspension tune, so expect both the base model and Vignale to ride differently.
Fuel usage over the period of the loan was 10.5L/100km versus an official combined claim of 8.6L/100km. I often state two litres over the official claim is unacceptable, so the Escape ST-Line just made it in.
It feels sporty, and maybe too much so. Given this is a family SUV, it should have comfort at the top of its agenda, and not as a third or fourth point.
The way it feels on the road starts to undermine its great packaging and tech credentials. While not as good as the Ford Puma in its segment, the Ford Escape still offers strong performance and great levels of equipment.
Given this is a family SUV, I'm going to suggest those particular folk interested in performance alone are textbook niche. Stay tuned, as we plan to line up this very Ford Escape ST-Line against a Mazda CX-5 in a head-to-head comparison.