Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Test Drive: 2012 Ford Escape Limited 4x4


By Ben Aghajanian, UpShift Contributing Editor
            
They say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” ‘They’ could be talking about the outgoing Ford Escape, which  was replaced this year by an all-new model.

In 2008, Ford did a heavy refresh on the already strong-selling Escape. The exterior was restyled and the interior was redone, as well. In 2009, it received comprehensive engine, transmission, and suspension updates. Out went the 4-speed automatic, swapped for a new 6-speed Aisin unit. The 2.3-liter and 3.0-liter engines were replaced by a 2.5L inline four with 175hp, and a substantially revised 3.0L Duratec V6, with reworked plumbing good for a 40-horse jump to 240hp.

One of my favorite things about the Escape is the styling. While many SUVS have cut down on the greenhouse size considerably, the Escape kept its upright appearance, large windows, and consequently excellent sightlines. Additionally, it has not packed on the pounds like many other vehicles, weighing in near 3,550lbs, which aids in handling and fuel economy.

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This particular Escape was a 4WD Limited model equipped with the Duratec 3.0. This engine may be one of the most underrated in the industry. I really hope it stays in production because it has plenty of life in it. The 3.0 moves the Escape with authority and is matched very well with the 6-speed auto.  Around town, it always has plenty of power, even if you don’t put your foot into it too much. Punching it on the freeway while merging or passing yields very prompt downshifts and a nice growl to the exhaust note, and before you know it you’re going 20mph faster than traffic. Altogether, it’s a very willing and able powertrain, as well as efficient due to the wide spread of gear ratios and light weight/lack of unnecessary mass. It weighs nearly 600lbs less than the Chevy Equinox.

 Unlike the Jeep Grand Cherokee I drove a couple weeks ago, the Escape does not have a +/- gate, or “manual mode” on the shifter—although it does have an overdrive off button, and L, for engine braking and steep hills. But, unlike some other cars that really need it, I found this to be a non-issue with the Escape. The powertrain just works very well by itself, and doesn’t need the driver to override the car’s shifts due to “lack-of-torque” syndrome. Shifts are quicker than other vehicles I’ve driven in this class.
        
The interior of the Escape is no-nonsense and well put together. Knobs and buttons dominate, not touch screens. This was the first time I drove a 2nd generation Escape, and I easily found all the controls. The radio and climate control systems are both intuitive and easy to use. Additionally, I was very impressed with the sound quality of the radio. It was clear, crisp, and had strong bass. It didn’t need to be turned up halfway (like many stereos) just to hear it—and it didn’t wash out on the highway either. In fact, it’s the best stereo of any car I’ve recently ridden in or driven for a long period of time—this includes a GMC Acadia SLT with the optional Bose stereo, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Honda Accord EX-L, a BMW 135i…you get the idea. It sounds really good.


The cabin is comfortable, as well. It’s not luxurious, but this is a compact SUV that stickers in the $20s, not a Lincoln. The seats are supportive, there is generous console and door pocket storage, and it’s pretty quiet as well, even driving 75 on the freeway. The engine turns just over 2,000rpm going 75, which contributes to the quietness and relaxed highway demeanor. The Escape is also very stable and surefooted on the road. This is aided by the progressive, predicable throttle and brake pedal. Despite its upright appearance, handling is nimble. I didn’t make any autocross-esque maneuvers, but there was minimal lean while accelerating onto onramps. The ride is on the firm side, but definitely not harsh; solid is the word that comes to mind.

The Escape does not have some of the latest whiz-bang technology, but it does have all the technology that you need—and it all operates flawlessly. It doesn’t suffer from some of the frustrating issues that plague certain new cars such as hunting transmissions and giant blind spots. The platform is a proven one that has benefitted from worthwhile refinements in the last few years, and the traditional, truck-like styling is popular in the marketplace (and practical, too). Every Escape owner that I’ve spoken with has been happy with them—a telling metric by which to judge a vehicle’s success. It’s definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a useful and fuel-efficient small SUV.




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