On a recent trip to the USA I won the Rental Car Lottery. As the attendant at the rental counter handed me the keys I think I may have wet myself a little as I read “2014 Ford Escape” printed on the keyring. Well aware of Fords reputation for outstanding chassis balance, ahead of me lay four hours of tight, twisty roads, crawling up and over Colorado's independence pass from Aspen to Pikes Peak like the Rocky Mountains central nervous system, all without another vehicle in sight. As far as “my first rental car” experiences go, this was turning out to be a banger.
On initial impressions “my” 2014 Ford Escape didn't disappoint. Glistening under the bright Colorado sky the Ruby Red Escape stood out in the grey and white fleet car park. The Fords curvaceous belt line and aggressive front end a refreshing change from the bland and forgettable styling typical of the SUV breed.
Retailing for $28,005, the midrange SE tested came fitted with optional 4x4 ($2000) and outstanding Ecoboost 2.0L ($1200), shared with the Focus ST, minus a handful of ponies. The strong midrange punch combined with a quick shifting six speed automatic allows the Escape to pass slow moving Toyotas with ease even over some of the steepest ascents, surging all the way to redline, all the while making a very un-SUV like growl in the process.
This same un-SUV like theme continues in the way the Escape handles. Unlike other SUV's in the category, in normal conditions the Escape drives all four wheels from standstill, disengaging the drive to the rears above 40 km/hr. It's this unique approach that cements the Escape's status as the drivers SUV, shooting it out of second gear hairpins with minimal fuss, the instant 4x4 providing endless traction and eliminating any hint of torque steer in the process The chassis set up is on the stiffer side of the class norm but not uncomfortably so. While no doubt it's Chevrolet Equinox and Toyota Rav 4 rivals would be more comfortable on a leisurely drive through Florida, when the road twists towards Colorado, the Ford is far more relaxing to drive than any of it's rivals when piloting the 1600kg SUV between corners with sheer cliff faces either side.
With the pass in my rearview mirror I settle down to legal speeds and begin to appreciate the rest of car not dedicated to canyon carving. The well built dashboard exhibits an even greater emphasis on extreme styling than the exterior and looks decidedly 2020. The infotainment controls are initially an overwhelming button fest but are generally made redundant thanks to the far more intuitive set of controls provided on the steering wheel. As ever, the Ford Sync voice activation proves useful for calling friends so long as you are patient and pronounce words carefully (a good dose of southern American twang helps too). Highlights of the spacious cabin are the firm but supportive seats, fantastic to hold steering wheel shared with the Focus and the huge panoramic sunroof - standard in SE trim that provides exceptional “wow” factor, especially for rear seat passengers. It significantly opens up the otherwise dark cabin and adds another dimension to the “escape the city” aspect SUV buyers dream of. The Escape is otherwise well equipped, providing all the toys expected in the class while adding a useful 110V outlet in the rear of the center console, allowing for laptops, iPhones and iPads to be charged without the need for an inverter. The stereo provides great sound, making up for the small, often hard to read screen that is located deep within the dashboard.
After contemplating the Escape's respectable fuel economy of 11.5l/10km (given the way it had been driven) and general brilliance on the return leg to Aspen two days later, I passed a sign reading “Pike National Forest”. With five hours up my sleeve and a zero excess insurance policy in my hand I felt it was irresponsible to not find out how the Escape performed off road. As my jaw hung low in disbelief as the Escape crawled up every rocky incline I could find, it dawned on me. The Ford Escape is the Aldi Supermarket Porsche Cayenne. With an expansive, comfortable interior, smart looks, a great soundtrack and with physics bending ability both on and off road this humble Ford is more Sports Utility Vehicle than any of its rivals.