A familiar face is what greets you upon seeing the Ford Escape, which is largely unchanged from the Kuga it effectively replaces in the Ford line-up starting in February 2017, and unifying a name across many different markets.
The Escape is a medium sized SUV that shares many components and a common platform with the Focus hatch, again, much like the second-generation Kuga that this replaces. Thinking of it as a facelifted version of that, as well as one with a different name, makes matters easier to understand.
It still drives exceptionally well for a car in this class, with a string of powerful engines, new tech features, and other refinements made to the cabin experience, it would seem up to the task of having that new name mean something more significant than an extra letters.
It comes in three trim levels for the first time that starts with the base Ambiente but now includes new mid-spec Trend model with all-wheel drive that should be a more complete package to more easily entice potential buyers.
It’s a crowded and competitive market that the newly (re)christened Escape is entering, which is why Ford chose to not alter too much of what made the Kuga popular, but merely improving the areas that were in obvious need of it as well as making it a better value buy than the competition.
At least, that was the intention. This segment moves quickly, and is Ford’s nip and tuck enough to ward off assaults from the likes the Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Renault Koleos, and Hyundai Tuscon, and Toyota RAV4?
“The Kuga's large lower grille and thin-strip top grille have been swapped for the enormous gaping mouth now worn by the rest of the updated Ford family. It's a much tougher look that works well on all Ford's cars and SUVs.” - CarsGuide
If you’re familiar with the Ford Kuga, you should be able to spot the Escape just as easily. It’s body is largely unchanged, though up front is where you’ll find the majority of the newness, adopting the trapezoidal grille that many like to compare to that of an Aston Martin.
Fact is, many automakers use this sort of shape, and brushing aside the connection between Ford and the British sports car maker being ironic as their previous partnership ultimately dissolved, the new front end certainly packs more presence than before.
The rest of the Escape is still well styled; sensible, but sleek and sporty all at the same time. Wheel sizes start from 17-inches and can run up to 19s in the top spec Titanium X for an added dose of pizzaz to the proceedings, though this will naturally have a negative impact on ride quality, literally.
Engine and Drivetrain
“The turbo four-cylinder gives the Escape rapid acceleration. Unlike many competitors, it never lacks for power. The transmission is a smooth operator, and the manual mode gives easy access to engine braking.” - Edmunds
A total of three engines choices are available for the Escape, with each model grade (Ambiente, Trend, and Titanium) receiving a combination of either. All of these are turbocharged, meaning a more even spread of torque as well as more of it in addition to a improvement in fuel economy, with power sent to either the front wheels or all four, depending on variant selected.
Starting with the Ambiente, it’s only available with a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that is tuned to 110kW in the entry-level model but otherwise produces 134kW. Torque, however, is uniformly 240Nm. It’s a fine performer, as attested to in the Focus, with a good amount of grunt low down but also keen to rev out.
Meanwhile, the mid-level Trend and range-topping Titanium offer the choice of a considerably more powerful 2.0-litre from the Focus ST, with 178kW and 345Nm on tap. More power, though, does mean more thirst, and so it goes that running costs for this engine will be the highest. There’s also quite a frugal diesel for the Trend, however, offering 132kW and 400Nm while managing claimed 5.5-litres/100km, though it’s far less characterful than the angrier petrol.
Only the least expensive Escape Ambiente will bag you a 6-speed manual transmission, if you’re into that. The rest of the range, meaning the 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre EcoBoost varieties, get a 6-speed SelectShift torque converter automatic with standard paddle shifters.
The 6-speed PowerShift dual-clutch transmission makes a return here from its former ubiquity, interestingly, but only to handle shifting duties when mated to the 2.0-litre Duratorq turbodiesel. While the ‘normal’ automatic may not offer the lighting shifts of a dual-clutch, many consider the smoother slow-speed behaviour and general longevity to be worthwhile trade offs.
“The Escape has a better interior than the previous model Kuga but not by much, with a fair bit of the design still prevalent.” - Practical Motoring
For an SUV, the driving position is one that feels immediately well judged about the Escape’s interior, just like the Kuga, and in turn, just like the Focus. In fact, the Kuga’s heavy reliance on the characteristics of the Ford hatch is evident here, with little changed by way of dashboard layout, switchgear, or instrumentation.
Surfaces do have generally good tactility, and the materials come together in a well put together package, though there are certain areas where the Escape’s interior presentation falters in small but ultimately meaningful ways to, say, the Tiguan. On flair alone, too, it loses out to the Mazda and Renault, even if all three are roughly on par in terms of build.
The seats are comfortable, and more so if it comes with leather upholstery and overall the cabin enjoys a very airy feel - particularly so with the panoramic sunroof in the Titanium variants. This doesn’t impede much on the headroom either as there’s ample to go around.
There’s plenty of cargo too, though at 406-litres it’s hardly class leading, and the tailgate opens to reveal a wide aperture and square boot for easy sorting of cargo, made easier by the low load lip. More space can be had if the second row seats are folded, making room for 1,603-litres of usable volume.
Behind The Wheel
“The suspension may err of the firmer side, but this is typical of European-sourced medium SUVs (and does mean sharper dynamics).” - Motoring.com.au
The Escape certainly has some good genetics going for it, and it’s evident that Ford did as much as they could to make sure the SUV traits did little to dilute the inherently talented chassis. It drives more like a car, in a good way, than pretty much all of its major competition, and inspires confidence on the road.
This sense of grip and sure footedness is amplified by the all-wheel drive system that spreads the delivery of power the road, making sure every steering angle registered through the steering wheel is met with swift direction change, usually without any drama whatsoever, though this can wear on as feeling a tad artificial.
It’s not all about sportiness, though, as the Escape manages to remain entertaining while being refined and surprisingly comfortable. The wheels are large the tyres may be rather thin, but even so it’s able to remain poised and calm under less than ideal surfaces.
Safety and Technology
“The big 8.0-inch colour touchscreen is a long way from the driver’s eyeline, and its small buttons are painfully difficult to use while bouncing down the road – best to learn how to use the much-hyped SYNC3 voice controls.” - Wheels
Because the Escape and preceeding Kuga have so much in common, the newer car inherits the former’s 5-star ANCAP safety rating. The safety advocate revised its rating for the Escape in early 2017, finding its current form deserving a very high overall score of 36.33 out of 37.
Other safety feature highlights include 7 airbags, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, and hill launch assist. On Trend and Titanium variants, the Technology Pack can be had as an option, adding Active City Stop which can autonomously brake or stop the car entirely if it senses an imminent collision, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control - well worth the upgrade.
The main change here is the inclusion of the newer SYNC3 infotainment system. Succeeding SYNC2, it’s now much quicker thanks to newer hardware, though it outwardly looks the same as it’s displayed through the same 8.0-inch touchscreen as before.
Because of this upgrade, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is now included along with a 6-speaker audio setup (9-speakers on the Titanium), joining other features such as dual-zone climate control and standard satellite navigation, something Ford says the Escape pioneers as the first SUV to offer both even on the entry-level specification.
The Escape is rather defined by its new name, but really the whole exercise has been about making a good car even better. Ford’s execution has led it, ironically, to a car that doesn’t really go very far to break free of the Kuga, though this has been a deliberate attempt to not ruin the appeal that older model had.
The updated fascia and new technologies certainly are appreciated, and honestly couldn’t come soon enough for the German-built SUV as more contenders are arriving to claim a larger slice of this ever growing market.
It’s still as fun to drive as we remember it to be, with the engines that truly make this family vehicle quite a rapid runabout. But it counters this with being comfortable and refined, more so than its predecessor, and closer to being the all-rounder it clearly is aiming to be.
Edmunds - 3.5/5 - “The 2017 Escape receives style and power upgrades, improved small item storage, and an updated tech interface that packs plenty of connected punch.”
Practical Motoring - 3.5/5 - “Improved styling, a choice of good engines and sharper pricing lift the appeal of the Escape over the outgoing Kuga. The interior isn't the update we wanted but it's comfortable and comes with good tech across the range.”
Wheels - “Big changes in exterior looks and interior presentation, dicking around the edges of pricing and expanding the model line-up with a circa $33,000 sweetener all do a lot to improve the Escape over the Kuga that it pushes aside. But it meets benchmarks rather than advancing them.”
CarsGuide - 3.5/5 - “The new Ford Escape is more than a renamed Kuga, but it retains many of the old car's great attributes such as the comfortable ride, easy to drive nature and a great level of standard features.”
Motoring.com.au - 75/100 - “It’s a quiet and refined drive letdown only by a firmer ride on rough roads. The broad model mix should extend Escape’s appeal beyond that offered by the Kuga, as should the combination of sharper pricing and increased specification.”
CarAdvice - 8/10 - “On face value, the new Ford Escape offers an exceptional package that's big enough for families and versatile enough to be used by buyers wanting a bigger car that stands out in traffic.”