Driven: 2013 Ford Escape

By John Beltz Snyder

April 26, 2012

—Marin County, California
You can expect to hear a lot more about the new Escape in the months to come, as Ford continues to build awareness for the name through advertisements, product placement, and the like. You may have already seen the NBC program, Escape Routes, wherein teams compete in various challenges to win prizes and a 2013 Ford Escape. If not, don’t worry, Ford has you in its sights, and it thinks its new compact crossover is worthy of your attention. Here’s why.
The all-new Escape is offered with three engines. The entry level, starting at $22,470, features a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated inline-four, offering 168 horsepower and 31 miles per gallon on the highway. The darlings of the brand, though, are the two available EcoBoost turbocharged, direct-injected inline four-cylinder engines. The 1.6-liter EcoBoost offers 178 maximum horsepower, and 184 pound-feet of torque. This will be the most efficient powerplant option, with a class-leading (for an automatic) 33 mpg on the highway. If you want the 3500 pounds of towing, capacity, you’ll need to pony up for the 2.0-liter EcoBoost. This range-topper produces 240 horsepower, and 270 pound-feet of torque. Even then, it gets a highway mileage of 30 mpg, despite the added power.
Cosmetically, the 2013 Escape gets big visual changes, but still shares a lot of DNA with the rest of the Ford line—particularly the other newly updated vehicles. It’s less boxy, with more curves, and has a much more fluid look overall. The new fascia forgoes the heavy look of the chrome grille. The headlights sweep back into the body, and the rising beltline continues this look of bold motion. The lines of its hood resemble those of the upcoming 2013 Ford Fusion. The Escape’s aerodynamic touches look sporty, but are also quite functional, and help the lineup achieve those 30+ mpg figures.
[Click here to read our review of the 2012 Ford Edge Limited EcoBoost.]
Inside the car, we immediately liked the forward-thinking, very cockpit-esque cabin with controls and form-fitting seats that seem to envelop you. The four-way headrests and telescoping steering wheel made it easy to find a comfortable driving position as soon as we sat down in the car. Soft touch plastic dash and door inserts are accented by glossy trim. The switchgear all feels nicely finished, and the touch controls feel more accurate than before. We particularly liked the attractive layout of the four-inch color touchscreen in our tester, as well as the controls below it, and how that whole stack comes together in a visually prominent way.
Other new features will appeal to those of us who enjoy all the newest technology available. MyFord Touch has been improved to work faster, be easier to read, with better voice commands. We found it easy to navigate the touch screen, divided up into memorable quadrants for phone, navigation, entertainment, and climate. (There were also redundant climate controls lower on the center stack, which were laid out quite simply and within easy reach.) Passengers can also hook up their tablet computers to the system, or download audiobooks from
A feature we would have loved to have all along has been implemented; the Escape now offers a power liftgate with kick-to-open sensors in the rear bumper. Now, even with your arms brimming with limes, you can approach the rear of the Escape, make a kicking motion under the rear bumper, and the liftgate opens on its own for you to unload your haul (as long as you have the key fob in your pocket). It features adjustable opening height, too, so you aren’t dinging the door against the roof of your garage.
This new Escape also gets some chassis upgrades, to make sure it handles as well as all the other updates—not to mention all the excitement from Ford—would lead one to believe. Suspension components are updated for better motion control, and also help to create the quiet interior environment. Ford has also stiffened up the body structure, which helps to reduce cabin noise and improve handling.
Our tester for the day was a 2.0-liter EcoBoost Titanium 4WD model, which is about as high-end as it gets (the main offering our car was lacking was the power panoramic Vista Roof). That means we got to enjoy that kick-to-open rear liftgate (we played with that for quite a while before we got underway), as well as the very helpful assists in the Parking Technology Package.  This includes the partially automated parallel parking feature, BLIS blind spot information system with Cross-Traffic Alert, forward sensing system, rear-view camera, and, as an added bonus, rain-sensing windshield wipers. The parking package really took the stress out of knowing what was around us in the parking lot and on the highway.
Our drive route took us through the winding, undulating roads of Marin County, above the Golden Gate Bridge from scenic San Francisco. Putting the right foot first, we tested out the acceleration. Low-end torque off the line is pretty good, getting the 3645-pound Escape rolling with good response from the gas pedal. After that, power tapers off for a bit, and comes back in a small wave of boost in the higher revs. It felt perfectly up to the task of in-town driving, and what we’d call adequate for the highway. Now, we weren’t super confident about making a lot of passes on two-lane highways, but we had no problem keeping pace with the faster drivers on the road.
Right away, we noticed just how quiet the cabin of the Ford Escape really is. Engine noise is minimal, but slightly louder in the higher revs. The sound that does filter its way into the cabin from the 2.0-liter EcoBoost, though, is very pleasant. One can even hear a soft whisper of the turbocharger under the hood, but most passengers probably won’t even notice it. Wind noise was also minimal, with just a little bit of soft buffeting heard along the side windows behind the mirrors. Tire roar is kept in check, event higher speeds. Ford claimed a class-leading level of quiet in the cabin, and we’re inclined to believe it after our drive.
The only transmission offered is a smooth-acting six-speed automatic. Left to work on its own, it helps to keep the engine quiet, and the shifting doesn’t lead to any jerking around inside the car. The transmission feels “barely there,” which is ideal for comfortable isolation from the workings of the vehicle. One can shift manually, via a rocker switch on the gear selector, which is a little hard to find without looking. Even then, the quietness of the engine meant we had to keep one eye the tachometer to time our shifts properly. It’s a bit pointless for enthusiastic driving, if not frustrating, and we preferred to just let the gearbox do its own thing. In this car, you’re going to get more pleasure enjoying the scenery (in the case of Marin County, a lot of beautifully abrupt transitions between redwood forest and hilly pastures and vineyards), than trying to get your kicks from shifting through the gears. Save the manual mode for towing duties and steep downhill grades.
The steering was also very isolated in the Escape. It didn’t transmit much information from the road. It also didn’t give much feedback when going through the corners, but response was still direct enough that turning wasn’t much of a guessing game. A little bit more time with it, and it would have been ingrained in our muscle memory, we’d be willing to wager, and our cornering confidence would have risen.
And there’s confidence to be had, especially with the very solid and planted feeling of the Escape in the bends. We were being careful not to send a cyclist headfirst into a giant sequoia (like in the speeder bike scene of Return of the Jedi, some of which was filmed in this same area), but we did try to keep up speed in the curves when we could. The Escape’s “Intelligent 4WD” offered plenty of grip. Not that we could discern it happening ourselves, but we were able to enjoy the effects of the engine’s power being transferred from one axle to another, and the brakes helping to slow the inside wheels while the outside wheels pushed us around a corner. Going from an uphill left to a downhill right and back again felt easy and natural, despite the drop-offs looming about our drive route. The very comfortable, contour-fitting front seats also helped to keep us in place throughout the drive. Still, though, all the turning and accelerating and bounding through the forest was not a very visceral experience, for better or worse (we’d argue worse).
On the straight roads, the ride was fine, absorbing what small bumps there were. On big undulations, though, the Escape would bounce and rebound a bit. Other than that one fairly uncommon complaint, we found the ride of the new Escape to be suitably inoffensive. It is actually remarkably solid, stiff, and padded all at once. We think most people who get behind the wheel expecting a comfortable, unobtrusive motion profile will, except for the occasional heave, find what they’re looking for. And for folks looking to get their money’s worth in comfort and refinement will find the Escape to be a shrewd investment.
So, a driver’s car the Escape may not be, even with the turbo 2.0-liter. But even the adamant car guys among us will find much to appreciate and impress us in Ford’s updated crossover. We can certainly enjoy its welcoming cabin, its balanced powertrain, its suite of fresh available technology, and the overall look and refined feel of the car. Buyers will also enjoy the reasonable pricing, content value, efficient motor, comfortable ride, and general ease of use. The 2013 Escape is highly practical, and we think owners (which will be quite numerous, if the automaker’s predictions are correct) will be just as excited about the car as Ford is.
VS: 2012 Honda CR-V
The Escape is much more memorable than the humble CR-V. Where the Ford has three engine options, the CR-V has but one: a 2.4-liter inline-four making 185 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. Both cars get similar fuel economy. There are a lot more decisions to make when building out the Ford, for better or worse, and you’ll probably end up paying more than for the Honda, but we think that Escape buyers will feel like they are getting more content for their money.
VS: 2012 Chevrolet Equinox
To match the performance of the Escape with 2.0-liter EcoBoost, you’ll have to get the Chevy’s available 3.0-liter V-6. The prices will be about the same, as will the towing capacity. The Equinox offers more horsepower (264), but less torque (222 pound-feet). This means you’ll likely be able to have a bit more fun in the turbocharged Ford than with the Chevrolet’s unexciting power delivery. The Escape also offers more in refinement, technology, fuel economy, and, if it’s your thing, bolder styling.
2013 Ford Escape EcoBoost 2.0 Titanium 4WD
Engine: Turbocharged inline-4, 2.0 liters, 16v
Output: 240 hp/270 lb-ft
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 22/30
Cargo Capacity: 68.1 cu ft
Towing Capacity: 3500 lb
Base Price: $32,120
Price As Tested: $34,735