Test Drive

The 2017 Ford Escape Shows Us Why Being Great Is Not Enough

For crossovers, it's no longer enough to be great.

Cars have always, first and foremost, been transportation devices, replacing the horse-drawn carriage only because they were faster, easier to deal with, and didn’t require a stable with hay and a street cleanup crew for optimal operation. But it’s the cars that go above and beyond, becoming objects of desire rather than rolling enclosed safety cells, that capture our imaginations and gave rise to our breed, the gearhead. The 2017 Ford Escape is unfortunately no spark of inspiration, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad car. Not by a long shot.

Like a great accountant, assuming all accountants follow the stereotype of being people-pleasing number-crunchers with play-dough personalities, the Ford Escape excels at doing what it needs to do to satisfaction, above it even. But it does absolutely nothing to perfection, except for maybe prove that the current standard of driving experience can be upheld even with the latest fuel saving technology. Equipped with a 1.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder, our tester stood as a shining example of Ford’s proficiency with the turbocharger. With a brisk 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque at beckon call, it gets off the line with minimal lag and tackles hills that would give a mountain ram reason to pause without complaint or a hit of overtaxation.

It’s a relief that Ford nailed down the hardware, engine and six-speed automatic included, with the handicap of fuel-saving technology. Additional mpg is a boon to sales in this competitive segment, so active grille shutters were added behind the Blue Oval badge. Given the low inertia the starter motor needs to overcome from such a small displacement, the auto start stop system was one of the most active participants in the quest for fuel economy. At every stop, no matter how brief, the engine shut down and promptly started back up after lifting off the brake. The system did alright at distinguishing between momentary stop sign pauses and red lights.

On the other hand, it could prove to be annoying at best and slightly dangerous at worst when shutting off in stop and go traffic or packed four-way intersections. Giving us reason to forgive is the welcome facelift. The Escape is Ford’s second best selling vehicle, beaten only by the F-Series pickup truck. By the end of 2016, the Escape had come in 4th place in the crossover segment, led by the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Nissan Rogue. These are the same vehicles that are turning the sedan into a thing of the past, and to compete with that kind of volume, the Escape has to be more than practical, reliable, inexpensive, and efficient. It also has to look good. Until Ford installed this new front end, that was a box the Escape did not tick.

Unless going for comedic shock value, ugly cars are not something we like to be seen in, and the Canyon Ridge Metallic paint job accented by the sinister SE Sport Appearance Package that blacks out the 19-inch wheels, roof rails, front fenders, upper grille area, front and rear lower fascia, and that gives the rear tail lights a dark tint made sure we endured no such plight. The interior was another matter. Without the leather seats, business came first and pleasure was forgotten entirely. Not that it’s uncomfortable, even with Ford’s typical Lego quality button feel, but it’s obvious the designers did absolutely nothing to make the driver feel special. It’s not a requirement in this price bracket, but sales numbers show that it pays dearly.

The recently restyled Nissan Rogue unseated the Escape from its third place perch, and its new and highly attractive interior undoubtedly had some part in swaying buyers during back to back test drives. At least technology is more than covered in the Escape. SYNC 3 comes as a part of the 201A equipment group along with a nine-speaker audio system, a 100v outlet, reverse sensing system, and blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert. For shits and giggles, or maybe comfort and convenience, the Escape also features power liftgate, a surprise since a keyless entry system is passed over in favor of an old school turnkey starter. Where the Escape surprises most is in the way it drives.

Standing at 66.3-inches tall, it manages to corner flatly like a sedan and even though the steering feels vague, its excited front end dartiness makes it a fun driver for the overly caffeinated urbanite, just don’t expect the fuel economy tech to justify itself when driving as such. At the conclusion of our week with the Escape, the average fuel economy gauge read 16.2 mpg, far less than the 23 advertised in the city (30 highway, 26 combined). San Francisco is notorious for kicking fuel economy numbers a few notches below EPA city ratings, but a loss this steep on a car with such a small engine that likes to shut off whenever possible begs the question, how effective are these fuel saving gizmos anyway?

Our tester was only the front-wheel drive model, so expect mileage to dip when saddled with the $1,750 all-wheel drive option. Without power going to all four wheels or the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost, our Escape had a 2,000 pound tow capacity. It's nice to know that sort of versatility is on tap for when life throws the unexpected at you, but that's the spirit of the Escape. Its interior won't spoil anyone, and even though fuel economy is worse than the tech says it should be, the hardware, functionality, and now, exterior looks, are all there for $29,975 including the $895 destination fee. For bargain hunters out there, a few options can be knocked off to make the deal even better.

We'd take out $3,185 worth of options by removing the the 201A equipment pack, power liftgate, and SE Sport Appearance package to be left with a reasonable $26,790. If you're buying a car for nothing more than the hardware and function rather than the driving experience, why not remove the fat? But the problem remains. The entry-level crossover segment has become so competitive that experience is now part of the equation. Buyers seeking driver-oriented thrills can find it in the more upscale-feeling Mazda CX-5, edgy-looking Nissan Rogue, or hugely popular Honda CR-V for the same price. The Escape is great by most measures, but if Ford wants to stay in this tight race, it needs to up the ante stat.

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