2020 Ford Escape

2020 Ford Escape First Drive Review: Trick Features And A New Look

by Chad Kirchner

The 2020 Ford Escape ushers in a new generation of the company's small crossover. Some of the new model's biggest highlights are the return of a hybrid offering, standard Co-Pilot360 safety features and innovative technology and design inside the cabin.

Ford's new Escape also shares a platform with the upcoming small off-road SUV that has been nicknamed "Baby Bronco." Because of this, Ford is able to focus all of its on-road engineering and talent to make an even more competent daily driver designed to tackle the rigors of everyday life. Were they successful?

We spent a few days in Louisville, Kentucky – near where the Escape is manufactured – to find out.

Is the 2020 Ford Escape a good SUV?

  • Exterior Design 8 /10
  • Performance 8 /10
  • Fuel Economy 8 /10
  • Interior & Cargo 8 /10
  • Infotainment & Features 9 /10
  • Reliability 7 /10
  • Safety 9 /10
  • Value For Money 7 /10
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2020 Ford Escape Models

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
1.5-liter Turbo Inline-3 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
1.5-liter Turbo Inline-3 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
1.5-liter Turbo Inline-3 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
All-Wheel Drive

See all Trims and Specs

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Exterior Design: Rounder and Sleeker for Urban Environments

The 2020 Ford Escape has a softer look than the previous generation, with a lowered roofline, wider stance and curves all around. The front end specifically resembles the front end of a modern Kia or even a Porsche Macan in some angles. The roof swoops a tiny bit lower in profile, but Ford managed to avoid the trend of actually creating a floating roofline. A solid C-pillar rounds out the cabin area.

Horizontal taillamps flank each side of the flat rear. The rear liftgate – power on premium models – spots a brand-new font for the model designation, which has a more futuristic flair. Because Ford is creating a completely separate model the size of the Escape for outdoor adventures in the baby Bronco, it had the freedom to go much more car-like with the new Escape. Yes, it sits up a bit taller and has some of the features that SUVs do, it's clear the company is trying to draw people in who were fans of its cars like the Focus and the Fusion.

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Engine, Performance & MPG: Turbocharged Engines & New Transmission

The standard engine is a 1.5-liter EcoBoost inline three-cylinder making a projected 180 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. The engine includes a trick cylinder deactivation system that allows the car to run on two cylinders in low engine load scenarios.

The upgraded gasoline-only engine is a 2.0-liter EcoBoost inline-four making a projected 250 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. Both of the gasoline engines are mated to the brand's eight-speed automatic transmission. The regular hybrid, on sale at launch, has a combined target horsepower of 198 hp. The plug-in hybrid, available next year, makes a projected 209 combined system horsepower mated to a continuously variable transmission.

The 1.5-liter gas and standard hybrid models are available either as front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. The 2.0-liter gas is all-wheel drive and the plug-in hybrid is front-wheel drive. Ford has not yet released official fuel economy numbers of any of the Escape variants as of the time of this writing.

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Interior Design, Features and Dimensions: Innovative Design Maximizes Space & Practicality

The 2020 Ford Escape's interior is all new and feels much more premium than the outgoing models. While there were no base models on hand to test, even the lower spec SE models with the 1.5-liter engine had automatic climate control, a digital instrument cluster and an 8-inch infotainment screen that supports Android Auto and Apple Car Play.

Premium models add features like memory seats, an auto-dimming interior mirror, dual-zone climate control and a late-availability wireless charging pad. Soft-touch materials are used throughout the cabin where you'd expect them, and the leather feels nice for a vehicle in this class. Wood accents are actually plastic, but still have a relatively natural look to them.

The highlight of the interior is the cargo space versatility, including a sliding second row that Ford claims gives rear seat passengers more legroom than they'd have in a full-size Chevrolet Tahoe. In the normal position, rear-seat legroom is 38.8 inches. The seat then slides almost three inches rearward making that number jump to 40.7 inches.

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Trunk & Cargo Space: Room For Your Golf Bags & More

The rear storage area can easily swallow up four golf bags or a full-size pet carrier. Though during a demonstration of the rear storage area, there were six bags in the cargo area. Up to 33.5 cubic feet of cargo area is available when the seats are fully back. That expands to 37.5 cubic feet with the seats slid forward. If you fold the seats down, that expands to 65.4 cubit feet.

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Driving Impressions: 1.5-Liter EcoBoost Impresses

Our day started in a 2.0-liter Titanium trim gas version that came fully-loaded with Ford's Co-Pilot 360 safety suite and all-wheel drive. Acceleration is brisk and the eight-speed automatic is seamless in it shifts. Surprisingly, the transmission is the highlight of the drivetrain. We say, surprisingly, because the shift logic is nowhere near as refined in the larger Edge. In the Escape, the eight-speed is rock solid.

There are paddles to manually shift the car, and in sport mode, they respond a little bit better. But make no mistake, this is designed to be an everyday family car and not a sports car. The handling also bears that out. It rides well over bumpy roads and the steering feels on-par for vehicles in this class. That means it lacks feel but it isn't terrifying. The Escape does lean a bit more into the corners than a good driver's car would, but people aren't canyon carving their crossover.

Ignore sport mode altogether and drive it like a normal car and it does everything well. Even the electronic stop/start system at traffic lights is fairly unobtrusive.

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There wasn't an opportunity to test out the inclement weather driving modes but each one adjusts transmission, throttle response and the all-wheel-drive calibration to provide the driver with the most confidence and traction in whatever situation they might be in.

The sweet spot though is the 1.5-liter three-cylinder. While 180 hp might not seem like a lot on paper, around town it's plenty peppy and gets the vehicle moving without issue. A flat torque curve makes the Escape feel more responsive than you'd expect.

The three-cylinder is a bit louder in the cabin than the larger gas engine, but road noise is still the loudest noise inside. The three-cylinder also has a gnarly little exhaust note because off-number cylinder engines are all naturally a little off-balance. In our opinion, the 1.5-liter is the engine to get.

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Reliability & Problems: Expect A Trouble-Free Car

Any first model year of a vehicle can have problems, so if you're worried about reliability wait a year to make sure all the bugs are worked out. The 1.5-liter engine is in a growing number of vehicles and hasn't had any issues. The same can be said for the 2.0-liter EcoBoost.

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Pricing & Trims: Advanced Safety Comes Standard

Pricing starts at $24,885 for a base S model front-wheel drive with the 1.5-liter EcoBoost. The SE starts at $27,095; the SE Sport Hybrid starts at $28,255; the SEL starts at $29,255; and the Titanium starts at $33,400.

Most buyers are likely to look at the SE package, with has the 1.5-liter engine, SYNC 3 with Apple Car Play and Android Auto support, and push-button start. Autonomous emergency braking is standard, but buyers can add the $995 Safe and Smart Package that adds adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beams, a lane-keeping system, and even a windshield fluid de-icer. A beautiful panoramic sunroof with power window shade is $1,195.

A fully-loaded gas Titanum comes in at less than $40,000 including the delivery charge.

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Verdict: Solid Replacement For Ford’s Discontinued Sedans

There are at least 22 different crossovers in this segment right now, and the new Ford Escape brings some interesting features, class-leading safety offerings and an available hybrid version that most don't offer.

Because it doesn't have to be all things to all buyers, Ford was able to leave the off-road pretentions back in Dearborn for the "Baby Bronco" and create a well-rounded city and suburban family hauler that most buyers need.

It might not drive as dynamically as the Mazda CX-5, but the Escape behaves how you'd expect it to on the school run, grocery shopping or to soccer practice. The sliding seat is also an innovative way to make a small crossover feel significantly larger inside. The 2020 Ford Escape is worth a look.

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