A standout compact crossover with a midsizer's price tag
The increasingly popular compact crossover segment is making things tough at Ford. Three trim levels compose the 2017 Escape line: base S, mid-level SE, and top-grade Titanium. But even with this year’s revised exterior styling, including a new Sport Appearance package, minor interior revisions (cupholders with “fingers”), a newly available 1.5-liter turbo-four, and a modified 2.0-liter turbo-four with more output, the Escape seems to be merely maintaining its solid third-place sales rank (behind the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4). But why? Safety features now available include lane keep assist, a driver drowsiness monitor, and adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert plus auto brake boost. With most new vehicles aiming for IIHS Top Safety Pick+, even those innovations aren’t very novel. Indeed, a modestly equipped 2017 Ford Escape SE AWD’s sixth-place finish in our recent Big Test of 2016/2017 small crossovers proves just how competitive this white-hot segment has become. So what if we were to consider a top-grade Escape Titanium AWD model with the best Escape engine available?
Going for Broke
Upgrade to Escape Titanium AWD ($31,745 USD) with the optional 245-hp 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine ($1,295 USD), and suddenly you’re at the top of the heap. Standard equipment includes, among other things, privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels, a roof rack, a foot-activated power liftgate, keyless entry and ignition, one-touch power windows, heated exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient interior lighting, eight-way power/heated/leather front seats with driver memory settings, reclining rear seats, rear air vents, and a 350-watt 10-speaker Sony audio system with satellite and HD radio.
Our example went further with metallic paint ($395 USD), a power panoramic glass roof ($1,495 USD), Sync3 with voice-activated touchscreen navigation ($795 USD), adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning and automatic brake boost ($595 USD), 19-inch wheels ($695 USD), and the 301A equipment group ($1,995 USD) for bi-xenon headlamps with LED signature lighting; automatic high-beams; enhanced active park assist with parallel parking, park out assist, reverse perpendicular parking, and forward and side sensing systems; a heated steering wheel; lane keeping alert/assist; rain-sensing wipers; and a supplemental heater). In other words, loaded. Grand total? $39,010 USD. For reference, a base-trim Ford Explorer with front-wheel drive starts at $32,105 USD, and a mid-level Explorer XLT AWD comes in at $42,470 USD.
Price notwithstanding, from the base S trim through SE and to top-shelf Titanium, the 2017 Escape’s finely tuned European-flavored chassis and precise steering are universally outstanding. “Ford’s chassis excellence shines through,” Jason Cammisa said, and with the Escape equipped with optional 19-inch wheels and grippy tires, Jonny Lieberman went so far as to say that it drives “very much like a hot hatch; you can tell that Ford of Europe had their hand in there somewhere.” The Escape taken to the limit, Scott Evans praised the neutral chassis. “Mild understeer here, mild oversteer there, but no big moments,” he said. “Linear and predictable responses plus enough grip to have a little fun.”
Class Leading Acceleration
In that nine-way comparison test, the 2017 Escape SE AWD with the fuel economy–oriented 1.5-liter turbo finished dead last in acceleration with a 9.6-second 0–60 time, this Escape Titanium AWD with the optional 2.0-liter turbo with its 7.3-second dash to 60 mph would have finished first among the four-cylinder crossovers. What’s more, this Escape is at least a second quicker compared to the non-turbocharged sales leaders in the class. The Honda CR-V AWD Touring (185-hp 2.4-liter) managed an 8.3-second time; the Toyota RAV4 SE AWD (176-hp 2.5-liter) at 8.7 seconds. The Ford’s well-sorted six-speed automatic certainly adds to the enjoyment here, as well. It rarely if ever picks the wrong ratio for the occasion—and with so much torque available at relatively low engine speeds (275 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm), it hardly matters if it maintains a tall gear on gentle acceleration. Our past experience with these turbocharged Ford EcoBoost engines, however, has been that one can have either frugal Eco or fun Boost but not both at the same time. We tend to see fuel economy plummet with the least bit of spirited driving, and we’ve rarely met the official EPA economy estimates in the real world. This time around, however, our Real MPG lab recorded 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined (10.2/7.8/9.1 L/100km), easily surpassing the EPA’s 20/27/23 (11.8/8.7/10.2). Huh. Eco and Boost this time.
Front seats are supportive and power adjustable, but with such a sporty chassis and so much grip available, some tight corners had us occasionally wishing for more lateral support. Rear seats offer a generous amount of leg, head, and shoulder room, and not just by compact crossover standards; the Escape is nearly the most accommodating in the class. The cargo area, too, is sizeable at 34.0 cubic feet behind the second row and 68 cubic feet behind the first row. That the rear hatch can be opened with the swipe of a foot beneath the rear bumper is a true bonus.
However, where the Escape’s interior, or more accurately the design of the dashboard and instrumentation, was once a trend-setting, this styling treatment is really beginning to show its age. Like an overly styled coffee maker, its angles-and-buttons-all-over-the-place presentation is now getting in the way of function. Contrast that with the upgraded 8.0-inch color display and Ford’s first application of Sync3 plus Apple CarPlay plus Android Auto plus a new Sync Connect app, the infotainment system is not only cutting-edge but also highly competitive. Crisp, modern graphics, large virtual buttons, and intuitive functionality (like pinch/unpinch zoom) thankfully similar to that of mobile devices separate it from many contemporary systems in competitors’ crossovers. MyFord Touch is a distant memory best left in the past, yet all this electronic goodness doesn’t begin to address “the brow over it looking even more like a Stormtrooper helmet,” as Frank Markus called it. We think it’s time for an equally robust dashboard rethink.
“Ford needs its entry in the white-hot small SUV sector to be class-leading in every respect,” Angus MacKenzie said, “and the Escape isn’t.” Be that as it may, there are so many check marks in the pluses column that we’ve got a recommendation. All the goodness to be found in the 2017 Ford Escape could be had for several thousand dollars less than this loaded Titanium example; consider the midgrade SE trim with the outstanding 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. This version might’ve even won that mega comparison test. Starting at $27,290 USD if you don’t require all-wheel drive or $29,040 USD if you do, this version of the 2017 Ford Escape will suit both the driving enthusiast and the economy enthusiast. What you choose thereafter from the a la carte menu to suit your individual desires will keep the price under control.
|2017 Ford Escape EcoBoost 4WD (Titanium)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$39,010|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/245-hp/275-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,868 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||178.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.7 sec @ 85.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||125 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.2 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||20/27/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||169/125 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.86 lb/mile|