Here are three scraps of information we’ve learned over the past couple days. Uno, the public wants to know about the Apple Car. Dos, the Ford Explorer Platinum, which starts at $53,915 USD, needs only four days to turn. That’s hot. And tres, Ford‘s Louisville Assembly Plant needs to churn out more Escapes to capitalize on the compact crossover segment’s anticipated growth. Yep, Apple lovers nationwide can’t stop themselves from buying sport-utility vehicles, though that’s not exactly new news (see: Explorer Platinum). SUVs are as hot as the #MTAppleCar opinions we’ve delightedly scrolled through, and, fortunately, Ford’s clock app alarm is ringing in time to freshen up its littlest (in the U.S.) SUV.
Our first driving encounter with the 2017 Escape took place in our own Santa Monica Mountains backyard, which is just superb. There, on ribbon-y and undulating roads where we may or may not have putted briskly along in anti-SUVs such as the Audi S4, Nissan GT-R, and Shelby GT350R Mustang, driving the Escape was like reconnecting with a long-lost friend. It was clearly one of the finest dynamic choices in the class after its complete makeover for the 2013 model year, and our stints behind the wheel of three different 2017 vehicles (one SE and two Titaniums) suggest the Escape will continue to happily play tag with the Mazda CX-5 on twisty commuter routes. The 15.2:1 steering ratio (identical to the previous Escape’s) reacts very quickly to the driver’s input and is being engaging and responsive without wading into the twitchiness realm. Body control is taut enough to help you momentarily forget you’re in a crossover. Really chuck it into a corner, and the body will adequately roll to pass along the unmistakable sense of top-heaviness.
This intimate sensation of driving a new vehicle that feels so similar to the “old” one can’t be communicated through a chart of numbers. As before, the Escape relays more road texture through the seat of the pants than the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 (two of the Ford’s primary bogeys) do. The Escape’s underpinnings are mostly carried over, and customers see that connection to the road as a core product strength, so there was no real reason to soften the ride up for 2017. In fact, the existing “comfort” wheel and tire equipment (235/55 Michelin Energy Saver A/S on 17-inch wheels) on the front-drive SE trim felt to be incongruent with the Escape’s persona, compared with the noticeably firmer-riding 18s and 19s on two different Titanium grade, all-wheel-drive vehicles.
Customers did want interior modifications, and those changes were executed with extreme prejudice in favor of greater well-being and ergonomics. The overhauled center console relocates the transmission shifter farther down and nearer the driver to free up real estate for storage pockets. The lever-actuated parking brake is terminated in favor of an electronic pull/push switch. The console’s rear center bin is 50 percent more voluminous. The cupholders integrate recessing tabs for more secure beverage transport. The supportive and rather wide seats (skinned in both cloth and leather) carry on as excellent places to sit, and increasing the seat foam thickness was actually a running change already made during this Escape generation, so there wasn’t a lot of work to be done there.
Scanning the list of specs again for both the 2016 and 2017 Escape reveals many similarities, but Ford made changes where it counted in response to consumer feedback. The six-speed automatic transmission’s final drives and individual gear ratios are the same, though the new Escape features steering wheel paddle shifters with its EcoBoost inline-four engines. Anti-roll bar and brake disc diameters, turning circles, and exterior length x width x height, and front and rear tracks are duplicates on paper, but there have been observable visual alterations to the outer sheetmetal to better align the Escape with the rest of the current Ford SUV lineup. A few noteworthy variations year over year: The ground clearance is 0.1 inch lower with the 2017 model (down to 7.8) and the fuel tank is 0.8 gallon bigger in the new one (up to 16.2).
The larger gas tank feeds the new 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinders that will fill 90 percent of Escape engine bays. The 179-hp, 177-lb-ft, 1.5-liter I-4 makes 1 more hp and 7 less lb-ft of torque than last year’s 1.6-liter. The peak power is also produced 300 rpm higher in the powerband than before (now at 6,000) and the 1.5-liter consequently needs the revs to keep the crossover moving. The six-speed auto willingly downshifts without the driver needing to dig deep into the accelerator pedal, which is a much-preferred avenue over having to poke and prod before a shift hesitatingly occurs. Most modern automatics shift up into high gear early and often already anyway; let the downshifts come as easily, we say.
The new 2.0-liter I-4 benefits from a twin-scroll turbocharger and a higher compression ratio for 5 additional hp and 5 more lb-ft of torque versus the last 2.0-liter. As expected, the 2.0-liter and its enviable thrust don’t huff and puff as hard as the 1.5-liter to keep the wheels rotating and the engine sounds conspicuously less tortured when called to full-throttle action. EPA combined ratings indicate the 2017 models either tie or are 1 mpg lower than the 2016 vehicles. At any rate, the new start/stop system standard with the EcoBoost engines operates with minimal intrusion, vibration, and noise, and it can be turned off at the touch of a button on the lower center stack, right next to the traction control button. Start/stop automatically defaults to on after the Escape is cycled on and off.
There we have it; the new Escape is a lot like the old Escape but with deliberate and courteous changes. It’s fairly quiet (unless the 1.5-liter is bawling way up in the rev range), fun to drive, and still on the smaller side of the segment with regards to outright cabin space. Our biggest wish is for a future IIHS small-overlap crash test to lift it away from its Poor rating. It is an utterly familiar CUV, meaning Ford should continue knocking the Escape out of the park and into waiting shoppers’ arms as quickly as the bluegrass plant can crank them out. It won’t be remembered as a crowning achievement like the Apple Car, but at least the 2017 Escape comes with Apple CarPlay.
|2017 Ford Escape|
|BASE PRICE RANGE||$24,495-$31,745|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINES||2.5L/168-hp/170-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4, 1.5L/179-hp/177-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4, 2.0L/245-hp/275-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,550-3,750 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||178.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.5-9.2 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||20-23/27-30/23-26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||147-169/112-125 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.75-0.86 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||May 2016|