I gave in to the other half insisting she wanted an SUV. I couldn't even have a sporting sedan or wagon, so after deciding to get rid of the beloved Alfa, I thought I'd also throw away my last ounce of enthusiasm to drive anything remotely enjoyable.
We seriously considered a Suzuki Vitara Turbo or the even more practical but weirder-looking S-Cross with the same engine. But despite being much kinder on fuel, insurance and service intervals lost out to the Ford. I also wasn't convinced with the FWD at-limit handling and an AWD Vitara was hard to find.
Another family member owns a Focus ST with a version of the same 2.0-litre Ecoboost engine as the petrol AWD Escapes, and really that's what the mid-size SUV feels like – a heavier, jacked-up Focus ST with more usable space. No, it's not as sharp as the Focus on initial turn-in and you can feel the extra 300+kg of weight mid-corner, but it's actually better powering out of sweeping turns – you can feel the AWD and torque vectoring working to push and pull out of corners. Keep the right foot buried and you'll get past that initial understeer, where the Focus starts ploughing on into torque steer or encourages a bit of lift-off overseer.
I would love to see how the new ST-line trim with lowered springs handles compared to the regular suspension, which is still firmer than most in this class. With traction control switched off, drive is actually sent more evenly to the rear wheels. It helped when we were slightly bogged on a dirt track going uphill.
It's actually quite capable on the loose stuff, but despite the decently high ride height, spring rates are too firm to be comfortable off-road for too long, and way too much suspension jiggle over corrugated surfaces. It was like the engineers couldn't decide, so they gave it a 4WD ride height but kept most of the firmness and damping of the Focus.
No, it's still no hot-hatch alternative, but it's more fun to drive than any of the 2.0-litre turbo FWD sedans or wagons tested – Mondeo, Sonata, Optima (not that the other half liked them anyway). I would like to see how the new Mazda 6 turbo steers, and if the CX-5 had the same 2.5-litre turbo unit in it, it would probably be what we'd have owned instead.
The Escape has grown on me, and with the transmission in Sport mode using paddle-shifters it's quick enough. I'd probably be looking to add a tuning chip and minor intake/downpipe work to extract another 30–50kW when the warranty runs out.
Although not widely reported here, US owners have commonly found the six-speed auto appears to be the weak link in the driveline. I know one local owner who insisted on constantly towing a caravan 'within spec' and is currently on a third transmission, luckily under warranty. I'm taking no chances and will do a trans’ fluid flush and change every 50,000km with additives. The new eight- or nine-speed trans’ rumored to be in the next all-new Escape would solve this issue.
Otherwise, it's easy to live with. Although it looks basic, Sync3 is one of the better infotainment and sat-nav systems out there. The dash design and interior plastics are still typically Ford, but with drive-away prices about $5–8K lower than anything similarly powerful, e.g. Tiguan 162TSI or Forester GT, it's a bargain.
Unless you really need that sunroof, 19-inch wheels (instead of 18s) and Ford-quality leather seats, stepping up to the Titanium trim isn't worth it. We did get the auto tailgate and I wish we had the safety pack, but this car was floor stock at the dealership and it can't be retro-fitted. I'm still deciding if we miss leather seats enough to get them re-trimmed or just order custom-fit 'leather look' seat covers from the US for a few hundred dollars.
The only issue we've had in the first year of ownership is having to head back to the dealership three times to fix a head unit module under warranty, and with half-city and half-suburban driving, I can't get better than mid-11s for fuel economy. It is E10-compatible, but when I did try I would only fill up with E10 that is rated at 95RON. I wouldn't risk 94RON E10.
But with e10, fuel economy would jump into the high 12s, so I have decided it's not worth the trade-off in dollar savings (despite being about 14c cheaper than premium), or the fact the engine was running rougher and had less response. I would like to try E85 if I ever get a custom tune.
Overall, it's a good, decently powerful, practical mid-size SUV that is capable of tackling the loose stuff on the odd occasion. If only it were a couple of hundred kilograms lighter or came in a higher state of tune (circa 220kW) it'd be perfect, but that's what the aftermarket is for.
And given this engine was used in earlier Volvos, Range Rover Evoques and Jags with 2.0-litre turbos (when Ford had owned these brands), it's a relative bargain.