Ford makes big changes to its popular Escape
Redesigned model gets carlike styling, EcoBoost engines, high-tech options
SAN FRANCISCO -- For more than a decade, the Ford Escape has chugged along with a conservative, boxy design firmly rooted in SUV tradition.
The look has served Ford well. In 2011, the final full year of the current Escape, Ford sold more than a quarter-million units in the United States, a record for the nameplate.
For 2013, the Escape has undergone a radical transformation, trading its squarish look for a sleek, curvy, carlike design.
There's a revolution under the hood, too, as Ford is dropping the Escape's top-of-the-line V-6 engine in favor of an all-four-cylinder lineup topped by a 2.0-liter EcoBoost. Gone also is the popular hybrid powertrain. Ford believes its 1.6-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost will match the outgoing hybrid's fuel economy.
The basics: The Escape is largely the same vehicle as its European twin, the Kuga, and those European roots show in its on-road comportment. The 2013 Escape has a firmer ride and sportier feel than the outgoing model.
The vehicle felt stable and sure-footed on hilly, winding roads of Marin County, just north of this city, where Ford staged the media launch. The feeling of security is enhanced by such features as Torque Vectoring Control, which helps the vehicle accelerate smoothly through corners, and Curve Control, which slows the vehicle when it is going to fast into a corner. Ford is confident American customers will embrace the firmer European ride.
Ford also believes customers won't miss the outgoing Escape's 3.0-liter V-6 engine, which has been replaced by the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder as the top engine. The 2.0 EcoBoost generates the same 240 hp and will offer better fuel economy than the outgoing V-6, Ford says.
The Escape retains its 3,500-pound towing capability. Ford believes the 2013 Escape's top-selling engine will be the 1.6-liter EcoBoost, which cranks out 178 hp. There's also a base, normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder that generates 168 hp.
Ford is changing its trim level nomenclature to S, SE, SEL and Titanium, replacing the XLS, XLT and Limited levels on the outgoing model.
Notable features: The 2013 Escape is loaded with high-tech goodies, some of them previously found only in luxury entrants. The new Escape will be offered with Ford's Sync and MyFord Touch infotainment system as optional equipment.
Ford touts a new hands-free liftgate that opens with the wave of the driver's foot under the rear bumper. The liftgate comes standard on the Titanium. Other high-tech options include active park assist as well as blind-spot monitoring, cross traffic alert and forward collision-avoidance sensors.
What Ford says: "It's a really big bet by the company because most of our competitors have V-6s," says Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president for global marketing, sales and service.
Shortcomings and compromises: Ford has dropped the popular Escape Hybrid model, which some dealers say they will miss. But Ford will offer a hybrid version of the upcoming C-Max, a crossover built on the same platform.
The new Escape's design may be eye-catching, but it's hard to argue with success -- plenty of customers like the current look. The new Escape's back seat is cramped, and some buyers may blanch at the price of the fully-loaded Titanium version: $34,735 including shipping.
The market: In 2011, the Escape won the entry-level crossover sales race, edging the second-place Honda CR-V by about 36,000 units. Through the first quarter this year, the Escape is running second to the CR-V, even though the 2012 Escape is winding down production. Ford had the luxury of not having to shut down an assembly line to change over to the 2013 Escape. That's because the current model is made in Kansas City and the new one in Louisville. Production in Louisville began this month, while production of the current model ends this week in Kansas City.
Ford is launching the new Escape first in the United States, with vehicles scheduled to arrive in showrooms in late spring. The base U.S. price will be $23,295 including shipping.
The vehicle will launch as the Kuga later this year in Europe and next spring in China.
The skinny: This is a competent, capable, fun-to-drive crossover that will tempt customers away from luxury brands and maintain Ford's spot near the top of the small crossover pack.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at firstname.lastname@example.org.