That’s not how it’s presented, of course.
The car companies tout the wonderfulness of the new fuel-saving technologies -including micro-turbo engines that seem way small for the size of the vehicle – and engines that stop whenever you come to a stop (auto start-stop), “active” grille shutters… and so on.
But given that gas is cheaper now than it’s been in decades, why all the rigmarole? Are customers pressing Ford for another maybe 2-3 MPG improvement, regardless of cost?
Nope. It’s the government pushing and prodding all of this.
Maybe it’s time we pushed back.
WHAT IT IS
The Escape is a compact, two-row crossover in the same general class as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, VW Tiguan and Hyundai Sante Fe Sport, among others.
It was was one of the first vehicles of its type to commit 100 percent to four cylinders engines only. Even its optional engine is a turbo four rather than a larger-displacement V6 (as used to be common in vehicles of this type).
Everyone else appears to climbing on this bandwagon, too – because it’s the only way to maintain acceptable-to-buyers power/performance while also delivering acceptable-to-the-government fuel efficiency.
But, there’s a catch… which I’ll get into below.
Ford hadn’t finalized pricing as of late February, when this review was written but we can expect a bump up from the current (2016) model’s base MSRP of of $23,590 for the front-wheel-drive-only S trim with the carryover 2.5 liter four (this one not turbocharged) and a six-speed automatic.
SE and Titanium trims come with a new (and smaller) 1.5 liter four and auto stop-start.
The base price for an SE with this engine and front-wheel-drive will likely be just over $26k. Adding the optional AWD will push the price closer to $28k.
A top-of-the-line Titanium FWD is expected to list for just over $30k; a bit over $32k with the optional AWD.
SE and Titanium trims can also be ordered (as before) with a 2.0 liter turbocharged four.
This engine adds about $1,200 to the Escape’s sticker price.
The Escape gets a new Edge-like front clip and other exterior styling changes and a new mid-range and top-of-the-line engine (1.5 liters and 2.0 liters, respectively). Also new – a suite of technology upgrades, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, an upgraded version of Ford’s Park Assist system.
Both turbo engines also come with auto start-stop (unfortunately).
Ford’s new Sync3 infotainment interface is also part of the deal. It replaces the not-so-great My FordTouch system, which (like Ted Cruz) pretty much no one likes. The new system features smartphone-style inputs (including finger pinch/swipe) and larger, easier to see at a glance icons for the various functions. You can also use it to start your Escape remotely, check the fuel level and lock the doors.
Also, the gear shifter has been moved to a more traditional location on the center console (rather than in the center stack) and there are revised cupholders and a new “swing bin” glovebox/storage compartment.
Three engine choices.
Inexpensive, when ordered with 2.5 liter four.
Quick, when ordered with 2.0 turbo four.
Hands-free/foot-swipe liftgate is … handy.
Sync3 is as much an improvement over MyFordTouch as Mortons is over McDonalds.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Just one transmission, regardless of engine.
Slow (and FWD-only) when equipped with 2.5 liter four.
New 1.5 liter engine’s economy is only slightly better than the old 1.6 liter’s – and performance is about the same.
Annoying auto start-stop system mandatory with either turbo engine.
Cost of making Uncle happy continues to go up.
Escape offers three engine possibilities – all of them fours. Two of them are turbocharged fours.
The standard engine is a 2.5 liter four, same deal as in the 2016 (and 2015 and 2014 and 2013) Escape. It makes 168 hp and is paired with a six-speed automatic and front-wheel-drive only.
This package will get you to 60 in about 10 seconds – on the cusp of slow for a vehicle in this class. Which is why Ford doesn’t offer weight-adding AWD with this engine; so equipped, the Escape would be slow… .
Gas mileage, though is pretty good: 22 city, 31 highway.
Which brings us to the new engines.
The 1.6 liter “EcoBoost” (Ford’s trade-name for turbocharged) engine that was standard in SE and Titanium trims has been replaced with an even smaller (and more EcoBoosted) 1.5 liter four. It makes about the same hp – 181 vs. 178 for the 1.6 liter engine – but because it’s smaller and because Ford has paired this engine with auto start-stop (the engine automatically shuts down when the Escape is not moving and the driver has his foot on the brake pedal, as when stopped at a red light, then automatically re-starts when the driver takes his foot off the brake and presses on the accelerator) an incremental increase in fuel economy is achieved.
This, however, is no great leap forward vs. the base 2.5 liter engine – which has neither a turbo nor (thankfully) the auto start-stop nonsense. Re-read the stats: Even if the new 1.5 liter engine manages say 24 city and 35 highway, it’s only a couple of MPGs better than the Escape’s standard engine – and both deliver similar performance (zero to 60 with the 1.5 liter and FWD should be about the same as the ’16 Escape with the 1.6 engine, so about 9.4 seconds or so).
What’s the big whoop?
Well, that 1-3 MPG uptick is a big whoop… to Uncle. The ’17 Escape gets closer to the golden 35.5 MPG fuel efficiency standard that went into effect in 2016. This helps Ford avoid government fines, which would be passed on to buyers in the form of “gas guzzler” charges added to the MSRP like some option package you didn’t want. But while you may not pay a gas guzzler fine, you will pay for the technology needed to avoid them.
Also the hassle of the auto start-stop system, which you have to accept if you want either the new 1.5 liter engine or the updated 2.0 liter engine – which is a “twin scroll” turbo engine and basically the same engine as used in the mid-sized Ford Edge Sport. It makes 240 hp and 270 ft.-lbs. of torque at 3,000 RPM.
Armed with this engine, the Escape can do the 0-60 run in just under 7 seconds, a quick time for the class. Even the more powerful (on paper) Hyundai Sante Fe Sport can’t match the Ford’s acceleration and the Honda CR-V and RAV4 are much slower(solidly in the mid-high eights).
The next-closet thing is VW’s Tiguan, which has a standard 200 hp (2.0 liter) turbo four and gets to 60 in about 7.5 seconds.
EPA hasn’t release official stats for the ’17 2.0 Escape yet, either – but the ’16 with the 2.0 engine rated 22 city, 30 highway (21/28, with AWD). As with the 1.5 liter engine, there will likely be an incremental uptick… courtesy of auto start-stop and other such Uncle-inspired technologies.
The Escape’s max tow rating – with the 2.0 engine – is 3,500 pounds, strong for the class.
The base-engined (2.5 liter) Escape is a good choice for people who don’t need FWD and drive mostly in urban/suburban stop-and-go traffic.
I’d personally choose it over the Ecoboosted 1.5 liter engine, despite the smaller engine’s slightly higher mileage – because its much higher price of acquisition will take a long time to work off in terms of at-the-pump savings.
Keep in mind, also, that to get the 1.5 engine you have to step up to the SE trim – which raises the asking price by roughly $2,200. It’s hard to justify that, if the metric is saving money on gas.
In defense of the 1.5 liter engine, it doesn’t feel like it’s working as hard as the 2.5 liter engine when you need merging/passing power (even though both engines deliver about the same speed when you’re trying to pass/merge). The difference is the 1.5 liter engine doesn’t require flooring the gas pedal to get things happening – because it makes its power at lower engine speed, courtesy of the turbocharger. Half pedal will give you the same performance as pedal-to-the-metal with the 2.5 liter engine.
The 2.0 engine, on the other hand, delivers excellent performance and pretty solid fuel economy, too. An Escape with the 2.0 engine gets to 60 something like three seconds quicker than the Escape with the 2.5 liter engine yet its gas mileage is only slightly worse.
Ford also lets you order this engine without AWD. You can, if you want to – but you don’t have to.
Yeah, AWD is helpful when it snows. But how often do you have to deal with snow? If it’s not a lot, maybe AWD isn’t a necessity.
If so, and you want to save some money (and lose some weight and gain some performance) skip the AWD.
The ’17 Escape is the same under the skin, but the skin is now more Edge-like, especially when viewed head on. Whether it’s a good look I leave up to you.
Overall length and wheelbase (178.1 and 105.9 inches, respectively) remain the same, as do interior dimensions.
One of the Escape’s virtues is that it has an extremely roomy first row (43.1 inches of legroom).
The Ford’s second row, however, is tight when compared with the backseat legroom of competitors such as the Honda CR-V (38.3 inches) which also has 37.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row vs. 34.3 for the Escape. There is also the Toyota RAV-4, which has 42.6 inches of legroom up front, 37.2 in the second row – and 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second. Another problem for the Ford is the Hyundai Sante Fe – which is available in five and seven passenger (long wheelbase) versions.
On the other hand, the Escape out-rooms the VW Tiguan – which is a slightly smaller vehicle overall (174.5 inches long; 102.5 inch wheelbase) and thus has less front seat legroom (40.1 inches), less second row legroom (35.8 inches) and a much smaller cargo area (23.8 cubic feet).
The biggest difference between the Escape and most of these competitors, though, is the Ford’s sportier demeanor. The only one that’s comparable on that score that also provides comparable (or more) room inside is the Sante Fe Sport. It is arguably the model Ford should be most worried about. Unlike the CR-V and RAV4 – neither of which offer more than 185 hp and 9-plus seconds to 60 or more than 31 MPG – the Hyundai offers a standard 190 hp engine – and an optional 264 hp turbo engine. The one thing it doesn’t offer is great gas mileage. The turbo Sante Fe rates 20 city, 27 highway with FWD and 19 city, 24 with AWD – far below the Ford 2.0’s outstanding (for this class/power/performance level) numbers.
Ford sells the Escape in Europe as the Kuga – and over there, it’s available with high-torque/high-mileage diesel engines (see here) that are also available with a six-speed manual transmission.
The European Kuga’s 2.0 liter Duratorque diesel engine delivers 45-50 MPG – slightly better than than the C-Max hybrid (see here) and massively superior to the 1.5 liter Ecoboost gas engine we’re stuck with here as the “economy” engine.
Other stuff: The new Sync3 interface is a huge improvement. Its workings can be intuited immediately. The previous FordMyTouch was a disaster. Impenetrable (and way too small) icons, fussy to use… good riddance.
The hands-free liftgate opener is brilliant. Just swipe your foot under the bumper and it automatically opens up. Amazing no one thought to add this extremely helpful feature until now. The ’17s sensors are updated, too – so that adding a hitch for trailering no longer interferes with them sensing your foot.
I also dig the keypad entry system – something Ford (Lincoln) pioneered back in the ’80s and which (so far) no one else has been smart enough to emulate. Ditto the capless fuel fill system. Just insert the nozzle, top off – and that’s it. No dirty cap to handle.
I do worry about the long-haul reliability of these strung-out micro-turbo engines being foisted on us by the government. Remember that. Ford – and probably most of the others – would be glad to sell you a simpler, inherently more reliable (because simpler) V6, without a turbo, as the optional/performance engine. But that is not feasible because of the government’s relentlessly advancing fuel-economy fatwas – scheduled, by the way, to rocket to 54.5 MPG just nine years from now.
This is really bad news. Because not a single current-year vehicle meets the standard and none of them will get close without radical technology… and that will not come free.
We may pay less for gas. But rest assured, we’ll be paying more nonetheless.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Escape is a good deal with the 2.5 liter four – and a great performer with the 2.0 liter four. But think hard before you buy the new 1.5 liter four.
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