The 2017 Ford Escape is more a change of identity than a new model. While retaining the core European design and build of the previous Kuga, a judicious make-over and a return to the more recognisable Escape nameplate is designed to give Ford a fresh start in the important medium SUV market.
And there are many places to start. With eight variants, there’s sure to be the right combination of engine, driveline and specification to suit most buyers’ individual needs. The starting point is the Ambiente which comes with a 1.5-litre EcoBooost turbo-petrol engine and the options of a six-speed manual (the only manual in the range) or six-speed automatic in front-wheel-drive, and an automatic-only all-wheel-drive version. In the mid-spec Trend models, the choice is the 1.5-litre engine in front-wheel-drive, a more powerful 2.0-litre EcoBooost turbo-petrol engine (all-wheel-drive) and a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel (also all-wheel-drive) version. The top-of-the-range Titanium models are all-wheel-drive, with either the 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engine.
Pricing across the various equipment levels is competitive, from $28,490 plus on-road costs for the manual Ambiente through to $47,490 for the Titanium diesel. Some cost savings, however, can be seen in things such as the steel wheels and cheap looking hubcaps on the Ambiente. Even though Escape has a five-star ANCAP rating, the $1300 optional Technology pack available on the Trend and Titanium models has a range of highly desirable active safety features that make it a really worthwhile investment.
As well as driving the 1.5 litre manual Ambiente and the new 1.5-litre automatic Trend, we did our full test on the Titanium petrol model. Refreshed exterior styling has smartened up its appearance, while the Titanium’s leather-trimmed interior looks the part and has some excellent features. But the chunky dash layout is busy and not everything was user-friendly. However, Ford’s SYNC3 communication and entertainment system has been upgraded to simplify its operation and it works well.
Front-seat occupants are perched relatively high on smallish but well-shaped seats that provide a good level of comfort and support. Leg and foot room in the back is only adequate but not abundant, and the width is better suited to two rather than three adults. A good-sized luggage compartment is also compromised by a large step in the floor level when the rear seat is folded down.
Engine one of the best
The Titanium’s 2.0-litre engine is one of the best performers in its class with an impressive 178kW and 345Nm. With a new twin-scroll turbocharger improving the engine response, average acceleration over 400 metres was an impressive 15.3 seconds, around a full second or more quicker than most of its peers. A good spread of strong torque coupled with a well-matched smooth-changing six-speed automatic provides excellent drivability around town. This performance however, comes at a cost in fuel consumption, and our test car averaged a rather thirsty 10.8L/100km. Nor are running costs helped by the need for premium grade (95-98 octane) petrol in the EcoBoost engines.
Being smaller, the 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine works harder and is not exceptionally strong down low but with its power and torque output of 134kW and 240Nm, which is around the class average, the performance is respectable. And its fuel economy improves by around 1.0-2.0L/100km depending on operating conditions.
In keeping with the performance ability, the Titanium has sharp, almost sports-car like handling and braking, which is typical of the chassis dynamics found in Ford’s other European-sourced models. But for a vehicle of this type, the ride is a touch firm, due in part to the Titanium’s low-profile 18-inch wheels and tyres. Our test car’s steering feel, with the Lane Keep Aid (fitted as part of the Technology Pack), had a slight twitchy vagueness that we did not find in the base model with the standard steering and higher-profile, softer-riding tyres.
Service intervals are the conventional 15,000km or 12 months and standard warranty is a basic three years/100,000km, whereas many competitors now have five or even seven-year warranties. Ford, however, does provide roadside service, through the state motoring clubs, for up to seven years or 105,000km. Membership is renewed each year when the vehicle is serviced as specified, and by a Ford dealer.
In the increasingly popular medium SUV category, Ford Escape delivers an interesting mix of appealing aspects, intermingled with a few compromises. The petrol Titanium’s class-leading performance and sharp handling create a sporty feel but it comes at the expense of fuel economy and some ride comfort, which are often high priorities for buyer wanting a family-friendly SUV.