2017 Ford Escape first drive
Everyone knows that the F-150 is the biggest-selling Ford on the market, but did you know what the second-biggest seller is? It s the Escape. The humble, small SUV has been plugging away well into the six-digit sales for years, moving over 300,000 out showroom doors last year alone. It s not surprising since Americans bought 5 million SUVs last year — one-third of industry sales — and SUVs are on-track to make up 40 percent by 2020.
Of all those sport utility sales, the small-SUV subset is the fastest-growing, from 1.2 million in 2008 to over 3 million last year. Consider that in the year 2000, when the Escape entered the market, there were only six small SUVs (bonus prize if you can name them all!). Now there are 21 entries, with all manufacturers represented, some with two entries. One more stat — there are over 2.4 million Escape owners in the U.S.
So into that growing pool dives the 2017 Escape, new from the A-pillar forward and from the C-pillar aft. The interior is also all-new, and there are two new-to-the-ute engines.
You could be forgiven if you thought that the only thing today s buyers are looking for in a car, truck or SUV is connectivity and electronic gee-whiz functions. The 2017 Escape has more connectivity than a millennial high school reunion. For instance, it will be the first vehicle from Ford to offer Sync Connect, which through FordPass allows owners to use their connected phone to locate, lock, unlock and start their Escapes. The remote start function sets the climate inside the Escape just right for when the driver gets in. This is very nice in colder or very hot climates, where a warmed-up or cooled-down interior is a big plus. You can program when you want the engine to start, too, assuming you leave at the same time every day. But having the car sit there idling while you try to remember where you put your lunch and your briefcase probably cancels out the eco-benefits of another new feature on the Escape, Auto Start-Stop, which shuts down the engine whenever the Escape stops. Better to tough it out for a few minutes waiting until the interior gets cold or hot, we say.
Sync Connect can also find open parking spots, as well as nearby gas stations, 7-Elevens, McDonald s and more. And Sync 3 supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There are also loads of new-to-the-Escape safety features like: enhanced active park-assist that steers your car into parallel or perpendicular parking spots, adaptive cruise control, collision warning that automatically applies the brakes to avoid or mitigate a rear-ender, lane-keeping and, if none of that does the trick, a driver alert system that flashes a warning and even vibrates the wheel if it thinks you re dozing off. That cool hands-free liftgate that opens the rear hatch when you wave a foot under the rear bumper is also available. In the future, the FordPass platform will allow everything up to and including autonomous driving.
But the Escape also ticks the boxes that buyers have traditionally wanted ticked in generations past: power, handling and a comfortable ride. You have a choice of two new-to-Escape engines: a 175-hp EcoBoost 1.5-liter turbo I4; another EcoBoost, this one the 245-hp 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo I4. The base engine, meanwhile, which Ford thinks will make up only 14 percent of sales, is a 2.5-liter 168-hp four. All three powerplants are mated to six-speed automatics. The two EcoBoost engines are available with all-wheel drive that can transfer 100 percent of the torque from the front axle to the rear should it detect any slip.
Ford redesigned the Escape s console for easier use, swapping out the big hand brake lever for a tiny push-button system.
We drove the 2017 Escape around the hills of Malibu and found a firm ride with responsive handling by the standards of the class. We wondered if it was too firm for small-SUV buyers tastes. But Chris Mazur, global program manager for Escape, said the setup was actually more compliant than before, thanks to larger-diameter rear shocks, new and unique tuning and the switch from progressive-rate to linear-rate rear springs. We couldn t really autocross the thing, but it is more fun to drive than arch-competitors like the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Ford is also proud of all the noise-reduction work it did on the new Escape, including laminated glass, an acoustic windshield, insulated wheel-arch liners and added insulation in the doors. It will continue to be best in class for wind noise, road noise and NVH, said Mazur. It sounded quiet for the class, indeed.
The interior is generally a lot nicer too, with a reworked dash and center console, made roomier by the switch from a big parking brake lever to an electric parking brake. There are elbow rests throughout, a feature Ford is particularly proud of since engineers and execs kept bringing them up all day.
Power? Yeah, sure, the SE and Titanium models with the EcoBoost fours we drove felt more than responsive enough for suburban needs. But this is the small-SUV class, remember; it s only sporty by the standards of the class.
The 2017 Ford Escape has a big interior for such a small exterior.
As Ford admitted at the start, there are 21 small SUV models for the Escape to compete against. To stay on top means unloading the kitchen sink, and Ford has certainly done that. Neat technology is what people want nowadays, true, but they also want a responsive ride with a comfortable, practical interior.
The Escape has all of the above, but so do so many competitors. With a starting price of $23,600, $25,100 for an SE and $29,100 for a range-topping Titanium, it s well priced to maintain its position; it s also a great time to be a compact-SUV shopper.
Mark Vaughn – West Coast Editor Mark Vaughn covers all car things west of the Mississippi from his Autoweek lair high above the LA metropolis.
Base Price: $23,600
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter I4, six-speed automatic, FWD
Output: 168 hp at 6,000 rpm, 175 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,552 lb
Pros: Loaded with tech features, yet still a serviceably fun small SUV to drive
Cons: That describes just about every other small SUV on the market
READ THIS NEXT
Los Angeles Auto Show