San Francisco, CA – For a weekend escape, you’d be hard-pressed to improve upon San Francisco. With convenient access to Napa Valley, Marin County and Carmel, if the city doesn’t compel you to stay you’ll find any number of compelling reasons to leave. For those media invited to a ‘first drive’ of Ford’s 2013 Escape, the reason to leave was the chance to get behind the wheel – if only for a short time – of what might very well be a game changer in the compact SUV segment.
For Ford Motor Company the launch of their new compact SUV is one very big deal. Although the existing model continued to outsell its immediate competition, calling it ‘long-in-the-tooth’ is a bit like calling Senator Santorum ‘conservative’. That original Escape platform, dating back to its 2001 model year introduction, had enjoyed a mild refresh (or two) along the way, but was still substantially the same as it had been during George W’s first administration. It was time for a change, and the 2013 edition represents both substantive change and significant improvement.
The platform is all new, and reportedly bears no similarity to the Mazda-based underpinnings which it replaces. Assembled in Louisville, Kentucky, the new Escape sits on a wheelbase of 105.9 inches and stretches 178 inches in overall length. Notably, while making no pretense of having genuine off-road capability, the Escape boasts almost 8 inches of ground clearance. Curb weight ranges from 3,500 pounds with the base powertrain and front-wheel drive to just over 3,700 pounds with the optional 2.0 liter EcoBoost four and all-wheel drive.
The new Escape sheetmetal is not unlike that of the Focus 5-door, albeit with a much higher hip point. Both enjoy a similar front end, aggressively raked windshield and hatch. Inside, both crossover and compact exhibit Ford’s current interior architecture, with contemporary design enclosing abundant technology. You’ll note a significant uptick in the quality of materials in this Escape, but then, the original wasn’t known as a benchmark in the category. Today’s Sync with MyFord Touch is more user-friendly, while offering multiple ways for owners to manage and extract infotainment.
Under the hood Ford offers one of three engine options in the 2013 Escape. Base powerplant is a refined variant of the existing 2.5 liter DOHC four, offering 168 horsepower (@ 6,000 rpm) and 170 lb-ft of torque (@ 4,500 rpm). A 1.6 liter EcoBoost DOHC four provides ten more horsepower and 14 lb-ft of additional torque (coming in at a comfortably low 2,500 rpm), and is said to offer an improvement of approximately five miles per gallon in highway driving. The ‘sport’ offering is the 2.0 liter EcoBoost four, providing the owner 240 horsepower (@ 5,500 rpm) and 270 lb-ft of torque (@ 3,000 rpm). Both EcoBoost drivetrains require premium fuel, and in our assessment would seem worth it.
On a walkaround you’re impressed with the attention paid by Ford’s design team to surface detail, along with relatively modest front and rear overhangs. And the 2013 Escape enjoys an athletic stance, with a widened track and a tire/wheel combination filling the wheelwells.
The afternoon drive, covering almost 150 miles of winding roadway north of San Francisco, was impressive. The 2.0 liter EcoBoost hooked up to the 6-speed automatic with real authority, providing both good off-the-line response and an abundance (read: A LOT) of passing capability when needed. And despite keeping my foot in the throttle, the computer showed us achieving roughly 22 miles per gallon for the afternoon mileage.
The ride was very composed. The Escape is a global product, and the suspension’s spec seemed very European. We especially liked the driver’s cockpit, with supportive seating, a beautifully shaped steering wheel, and touch points (such as the emergency brake) that reaffirmed Ford’s commitment to a quality driving experience. With that, I would need to spend more time in the Escape’s backseat to be assured of its comfort level (seat cushion seemed thin…). And the window sticker on our Titanium edition – with virtually everything but sunroof – was almost $35K (with destination). I would anticipate available incentives softening that blow, but the figure still struck me as roughly 10% too dear.
We didn’t have a chance to drive an EcoBoost 1.6, which – in SE trim – would have been closer to $26K. That, we think, would make a great Escape…cue Steve McQueen.