The 2013 Ford Escape is a total redesign that moves the top-selling compact SUV into the times, with high-tech small engines, a smooth 6-speed transmission, aerodynamic front styling, and electronic wizardry. Ford claims 11 features exclusive to the Escape in the compact SUV class, everything from a capless fuel nozzle to Torque Vectoring Control, which helps the Escape corner more securely.
Gas prices have fueled the compact SUV market (in Europe it's quadrupled in the last decade), so this is a class that's important to Ford's ongoing rebound, and they've pulled out all the stops to make the Escape good.
Fuel mileage varies from an EPA-estimated 23 City/33 Highway mpg with the 1.6-liter front-wheel drive Escape to 21/28 mpg with the 2.0-liter all-wheel drive. We drove both versions and fell below those marks, however, averaging 22.7 mpg in the 1.6-liter and 19.7 mpg in the 2.0-liter, while driving them spiritedly. That's still better than a comparably equipped Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, and good enough that the Escape Hybrid has been abandoned.
The 2013 Escape lineup features three engines, including the returning tried-and-true 2.5-liter, less powerful and efficient but with a lower MSRP than the new EcoBoost engines. The four-cylinder EcoBoosts make their North American debut in the Escape, although they've been running in Europe for three years. There's a 1.6-liter making 178 horsepower and 2.0-liter making 240 hp, both twin-turbos with direct injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT), although having different designs.
This review is a Tale of Two Escapes, because we found the 1.6-liter FWD to feel completely different from the 2.0-liter AWD. The 1.6 is quick, lively and visceral, a blast to drive. The 2.0-liter AWD feels more grownup, civilized, solid, heavy. If you want a four-cylinder compact SUV that feels like a midsize V6, the Escape is for you.
Creature comfort is impeccable, even with the standard fabric upholstery, rugged and handsome. The chassis is 40 percent stiffer, and the ride is smooth. The interior materials are soft, and the plastic high quality. Rear legroom is decent, at 36.8 inches, and rear climate control is standard in all but the base S model. There's excellent cargo space, 68.1 cubic feet behind the first row and 34.3 cubic feet behind the second row, and the standard 60/40 rear seat folds flat wonderfully fast, with one lever.
The nose of the new 2013 Escape is distinctive, sort of aero stubby, with the blue oval emblem in its wide narrow grille to say it's a Ford. Although the Escape emulates its big brother the Explorer SUV, its new nose more resembles its little brother the Focus hatchback. The hood has nice character lines, and the headlights sweep sharply back and up into muscular wheelwells.
One clever innovation that others are already copying is an available magic release for the liftgate. Kick your foot under the rear bumper, and presto, the liftgate pops open so you can drop your heavy things into the back without having to set them down. It's a feature we like, and would buy, although you can do the same with a remote keyfob that opens the liftgate, that is if you remember to carry it in your hand with your thumb over the button when you leave the grocery store with your arms full.
We'll save the worst for last, in this overview. MyFordTouch has been totally redesigned after its disastrous first generation in 2011, and you can now get the new program downloaded for free in your 2011-12 Ford, so definitely do that. The new version, as they say, is simpler and the screen is cleaner. And to be sure, we have, at times, gotten it to work for us. But it still ain't easy, and you need a real sense of humor to talk to Voice Command. It's kind of like talking to your teenagers, and getting them to do their chores.
Well, there is more in the good news department. Last but not least, the price for the Escape has actually come down. The base S model has dropped by $200, while Ford claims the SE has $1000 more content for only $200 more, and the SEL has $2300 more content for $1500 more.