Monday, April 16, 2012

2013 Ford Escape test drive review. Pug no more

One of the most popular dog breeds in America is the Pug. Pugs are little. Pugs are tough. They’ve got that flat little nose that means business, and they are one of the oldest dog breeds. Sure, others come and go—Poodles may be big one year, Dalmatians may be popular another—but the Pug always seems to hang out toward the top of the list.

Now imagine heading to the pet store to purchase a Pug puppy, and finding something much different than you expected. Starting immediately, Pugs are now bred to be less frumpy. Their noses are sleeker. They can run faster. They eat less. Instead of looking like your neighbor’s dog, the new breed of Pug looks like something that you would expect to see on the sidewalks of Beverly Hills.

For more than a decade, the Ford Escape has been the Pug of SUV’s. About a half-size smaller than an Explorer, the blunt-nosed trucklet has proven to be extremely popular. More than 2-million of them have been sold. In 2011, 254,000 Escapes left Ford showrooms—more than any other SUV. Sure, they’re kind of dated and outclassed, but people love the hell out of ‘em.

And while the Pug isn’t actually undergoing a complete mutation this year (at least to my limited knowledge of dog breeding), the same cannot be said for the Escape. The 2013 version is different. Completely different. Unrecognizably different. So different, in fact, that they could have gotten away with calling it something else. I mean, it literally has more in common with a Honda CR-V than it does the outgoing Escape. This is a totally different animal.

Instead of being built as an old-fashioned SUV, the new Escape is built on Ford’s C-platform that also underpins the Focus and upcoming C-Max crossover. And this isn’t strictly an American design. Ford has really been pushing their “One Ford” product philosophy, where the same cars and trucks are sold throughout the world. On other parts of the globe, this same vehicle is known as the Kuga.

So what’s the verdict on axing our beloved Pug for this all-new Escape? Well, based on the ride and drive I attended last week in the mountains above Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., this is a welcome and overdue change. The old one may have had a quaint (AKA antiquated) charm, but the new one is clearly better in every measurable way.

It actually looks like an overgrown Focus. The taillights are similar, and the air intakes, scoops, and scallops are Focus-like. The same story can be told on the inside, with an instrument panel layout reminiscent of the worldly compact.

Today’s Fords are all about the content, and the Escape is no exception. It comes in four trim levels, but none of them are exactly Spartan. And really, the base, or “S” model is basically a price leader/fleet thing, so most people will consider an SE, which is loaded with stuff. Among the features and options are MyFord Touch (which has been improved amid complaints about the complexity of earlier versions), the Ford SYNC system, and a really sweet rear hatch sensor that opens and closes the door when you make a kicking motion under the rear bumper.

They also offer rain-sensing wipers, which came in handy during our drive through the Santa Monica Mountains. We saw all kinds of wrecks and craziness, but it was never a concern while driving the new Escape. That's partly because of all the safety systems built into this new vehicle. Features like the roll stability control and enhanced torque vectoring systems apply the brakes on certain wheels as you barrel through the twisties. You don't really notice these things working specifically, but they quietly operate behind the scenes.

A trio of four-bangers are available for the 2013 Escape. The base engine is a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter that puts out 168-hp and is good for 30-mpg on the highway. The upgrade is only a 1.6-liter, but it bumps out ten more horsepower thanks to Ford's "EcoBoost" twin-turbo technology. That one is the fuel economy leader. The top-'o-the-line is a 2.0-liter EcoBoost, good for a satisfying 240-hp and 30-mpg highway. If you're like me, you'll sacrifice a little gas mileage for horsepower, but the 1.6-liter will probably find the most takers. That is particularly likely since there will be no hybrid like the outgoing Escape. No worries, though, because that little EcoBoost gets better fuel mileage than the Hybrid did anyway.

Ford has a monstrous ad budget for the launch of the new Escape. You'll see it all over the TV. You'll see it all over the Internet. You'll see it all over your favorite magazines. You'll see it all over the freaking place. It wasn't even out yet and there was a TV show about it on NBC called Escape Routes.

Prices for the 2013 Escape range from about $22,000 for a base 2WD stripper, to somewhere around $33,000 for a loaded Titanium 4WD. To put that in perspective, the average yearly tuition for Pepperdine University near where we were driving is more than $40,700. There's not even an iron-clad guarantee that you'll land a job after graduating from Pepperdine, but it's a sure-fire bet that you'll be driving a modern, comfortable SUV four-years from the purchase of your new Escape.

If your heart is set on a Pug, you are going to be disappointed when you figure out that it was been replaced by a Whippet. But if you want a state-of-the-art smaller-sized crossover/SUV, the all-new 2013 Escape is definitely one you should check out.

The slideshow below contains pictures from our California ride and drive, including a few shots of the competitive vehicles that we also tested. You will also find some Ford-provided beauty shots, for those who enjoy pictures that are in-focus and do not have my thumb in front of the lens.


  1. Hmmm, sounds awfully similar to the Edge. I wonder if it will take sales from the Edge--or is Ford going to discontinue the Edge?

  2. It's similar to the Edge in concept, but it is a little smaller, and you can't get a V6 in the Escape. The Edge sort of bridges the gap between the Escape and the Explorer. The Escape is a bit more economy-minded.

  3. That looks way better than the old Escape.

  4. I don't love the looks of it, but it does seem like a high quality piece. Ford is making some decent vehicles lately.

  5. I cannot decide b/w the 1.6 and 2.0 engines! Any suggestions?

  6. 1.6 for fuel mileage, 2.0 for power. Personally, I'd pick power every time.

    1. I'd agree. The 2.0L will give up a little in mileage for sure, but the extra oomph it provides is world class.