The Escape was purchased just under three years ago to replace a Toyota RAV4 V6. My wish list included a traditional automatic gearbox rather than a CVT, the full suite of active safety features including radar cruise control, decent performance, no “premium” European brands, and new or nearly new. Despite my attempts at persuasion, my husband’s wish list was that our next car had to be an SUV.
I had shortlisted the Subaru Forester (servicing costs, CVT and lacklustre performance ruled it out), the Kia Sportage Platinum or Hyundai Tucson 1.6-litre turbo (both just about to be facelifted and at the time didn’t have the technology features I was looking for) and the new Honda CR-V. The Honda really impressed with its looks, practicality, economy, warranty, equipment and drove pretty sharply, although there were no deals to be had as the car had just been released. However, a test drive of the Ford Escape showed performance and handling that felt much more assured than the competition. An ex-Ford company car from a Ford main dealer in Melbourne, ten months old with only 2500km on the clock, a compelling discount from new and generous trade-in sealed the deal.
It’s a 2.0-litre Titanium ZG with the added Technology Pack that was absolutely loaded with equipment; it really is a comprehensively equipped car. In black with privacy glass, chrome accents and the 19-inch ST-style starfish alloys it’s also a bit of a sporty looker with a nice stance on the road. Performance from the 178kW 2.0-litre turbo engine makes the Escape an entertaining drive with 345Nm of torque. I’ve found that there’s an occasional off-boost (?) flat spot between 1500 and 2000rpm where the car feels like it’s taking a quick breath, but otherwise there’s always plenty of power available when moving away - and when demanded it positively flies when passing slower traffic. Personally, I always keep the gearbox in the standard Drive setting as the Sport shifts can feel a bit too aggressive and grabby for daily use. The Sport setting is simply another “notch” below Drive and it’s quite easy to knock it down into the Sport setting without realising.
Ride on the standard 19-inch alloys is always a bit fidgety and unsettled, and as other reviews have attested, the ride on the Trend’s 18-inch wheels is noticeably more comfortable on our rough Victorian roads. Handling is perhaps the chink in the Escape’s armour; it handles with assurance and there’s plenty of grip through tight corners, but while body roll is contained, corners betray the weight and height of the car. It’s definitely better than other more comfort-oriented SUVs and is quite car-like, but you always feel that you’re sitting on a highchair rather than in the driver’s seat.
Fuel economy has always been a bit adrift of Ford’s 8.6 litres per 100 kilometre claim, even with the lightest of right feet. My daily commute is forty minutes through suburban traffic and I’m usually seeing a combined figure of 10L/100km or worse; it is at its most economical on long motorway journeys where it can average 7.0L/100km. It also requires 95RON premium unleaded, so it’s not a cheap car to run; a tank lasts between 500 and 600km, with Ford’s stop/start working smoothly and unobtrusively. Annual servicing has been very reasonable, and Ford’s fixed-price servicing means no nasty surprises. Ford’s guaranteed courtesy car has provided me with a Mustang GT, a Ranger XLT and an Escape Trend.
Things I’ve not enjoyed about the car? The mechanism for folding the rear seats is actually at the base of the seat in the cabin and not accessible from the boot, which is a bit annoying. The powered tailgate is slow (and mostly unnecessary) and the entertainment system can sometimes take ages to pair with a phone, blaring out the radio suddenly after a minute of failing to open Apple CarPlay. Ford’s lane-keep assist can be really obtrusive, suddenly dragging the wheel out of your hand, especially in corners where you might choose a tight line - it is best turned off.
I found the interior nowhere near as ugly as reviewers have stated although it’s obviously a face-lifted version of an older design. There are a lot of things going on aesthetically and lots of different shapes and textures vying for attention, but the dials are attractive, clear and legible. The infotainment screen falls easily to reach and is high in the dash, and everything else falls easily to hand. Incidentally, Ford’s SYNC 3 is intuitive and quick in operation.
Things to recommend the Escape? It’s definitely a driver’s SUV, as much as that is possible. It’s also a “Goldilocks” size; not too small to pack with people and stuff, but not unwieldy or hard to park in small spaces. As I said, it’s been well-made and reliable, very well-equipped and cheap to maintain (if not to fuel). Passengers appreciate the space in the rear, the light-filled cabin with the panoramic sunroof and the low road and engine noise. There are even fold-out picnic tables for those in the back. It has been faultlessly reliable and despite my fears, no rattles or squeaks have emerged. Other than two recent front tyres and a new battery, nothing else has needed replacing in 35,000km.
The dead battery (after having been abroad for a month) turned out to be a complete fiasco. It’s hidden way up on the top of the engine bay on the passenger side, half underneath the windscreen. This means that it’s hard to access and various things have to be removed before it can be accessed; the RACV had to trailer it away for Ford to supply and fit a new battery, which was surprisingly expensive (independents were much dearer than the main dealer).
My Escape shares a garage with a Mazda MX-5 NC weekender and over the Summer I was using the Mazda more and the Ford less. My husband passed away last year after a short but hard battle with an aggressive cancer, and with no kids and no stuff to lug around, I realised that the Escape wasn’t the sort of car I needed any more, so it has been traded in. I’m looking forward to my 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI, which should suit my needs much more, as well as completing an “enthusiast’s” garage. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but after two RAV4s and the Escape, I’m happy to be turning my back on SUVs, although I know I’m in the minority.