Ford's New Off-Road Model Could Be An Escape In Wolf's Clothing

Future Cars

New concept would likely slot in beside, not above or below, Ford Escape.

At the "Ford Uncovered" event held this past Thursday in Dearborn, the Blue Oval surprised with a brand new, unnamed off-road concept that's likely to slot in beside the Ford Escape. While Ford didn't offer much in the way of specifics on the model, we do know it will be visually softer than the Bronco based on teaser photos. And according to Ford, the new compact SUV is part of the automaker's future growth plan, stopping just short of offering reveal and on-sale dates.

Even without specifics offered on Ford's behalf, we can glean details about the new model with relative certainty. First, expect the new model to be an adventurous alternative to Escape on Ford dealer lots instead of slotting above or below it. There are three reasons for this: Edge, Ecosport, and Bronco. If the new model is anything but the same size as the Escape, it could encroach on more models than it should. Also, there's one other reason why Ford has room for another SUV in the compact segment that's a bit more nuanced. When Ford first introduced the Escape in 2001, it wore more angular bodywork wrapped around its unibody chassis.

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In its second generation, Escape grew even more truck-like in its design, with squared-off headlights and a grille more like the ones worn by Ford's F-Series pickups. However, Escape became a global model in its third generation (sold elsewhere as the Kuga), and Ford gave it a much softer exterior design because of it. The softer Escape was a great play on Ford's part as it brought more female buyers into the brand, but the third-generation Escape also left a gap in Ford's lineup for a more aggressive, off-road focused SUV to slot into the segment. Expect the concept shown this week to be a more off-road friendly offering sitting beside Escape.

Ford stopped short of offering any powertrain details. Still, one can likely decipher possibilities for the new model, including a hybrid option and all the same engines that are likely to be used for the forthcoming redesigned Escape. Currently, the Escape offers three different four-cylinder engines, but its base engine—a naturally aspirated 2.5 liter—probably won't make its way into the next-generation Escape. Instead, expect the 1.5- and 2.0-liter EcoBoost mills to survive into the future, with the latter engine becoming the base engine in a new off-road model if Ford markets the SUV as a more premium alternative.

Beyond shared powertrains, the Escape and a new off-road model will likely share a majority of their chassis components, too. In an increasingly difficult regulatory environment, it makes little sense for Ford to offer two separate body-on-frame SUVs. Instead, expect a new off-road model ride atop a reinforced version of Escape's unibody chassis with a taller ride height. Ford's new off-road SUV will probably arrive sometime in 2020.

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