Since its introduction, the Ford Escape has been one of America's best-selling small crossover SUVs. For more than a decade, the Escape has successfully combined the styling and four-wheel-drive capability of a traditional SUV with the size, practicality and driving characteristics of a midsize car. For the urban dweller in need of something comfortable, versatile, fun to drive and capable of doing some light-duty off-roading or towing, it fills the bill perfectly. Of course, the Escape's affordability certainly boosts its appeal as well.
The newest Escape is the best yet and offers a pleasing mix of power, features, comfort and utility. Earlier models weren't quite as competitive, however, and many rival compact SUVs of similar vintage offer more refinement as well as a more rewarding driving experience.
Current Ford Escape
The current Ford Escape stands as one of the top entries in the very competitive compact crossover segment. There are three trim levels: S, SE and Titanium. The S comes with full power accessories, air-conditioning, the Sync voice command system, a rearview camera and a six-speaker sound system. Highlights of the SE include a turbocharged engine, keyless entry keypad, a power driver seat and satellite radio. The Escape Titanium further adds keyless ignition and entry, a power liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an upgraded sound system, and the Sync 3 infotainment interface with an 8-inch touchscreen.
Many of the higher trims' features are available on the lower trims, while other options include a power panoramic sunroof, a power liftgate, a navigation system, blind-spot monitoring and a Parking Technology package (with automated parallel parking assist and front and rear parking sensors). Features including adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning are available as options.
Under the hood is a choice of three engines, all matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional. Base Escapes come with a 168-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Standard on the SE and Titanium is a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 179 hp. The most powerful engine is an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 245 hp. The 1.5 flies the fuel-sipper flag, while the 2.0 offers performance on par with a V6 along with higher fuel economy.
In reviews, the newest Ford Escape has impressed our staff with its well-rounded road manners. The 2.5- and 1.5-liter engines provide adequate thrust, while the 2.0-liter is downright spirited. The latter flattens hills with less effort than the other two and is quieter and smoother to boot. The Escape can confidently tackle a winding road, and the ride, though on the firm side, is compliant enough to take the edge off the bumps and ruts of poorly maintained city streets. Downsides to the new Ford Escape include options that can quickly add a lot of cost.
Used Ford Escape Models
Sharing its basic platform with the highly regarded Focus, the latest (third-generation) Ford Escape debuted for the 2013 model year. Compared to earlier Escapes, it boasts roomier seating, higher-quality materials and a second-row seat that's much easier to fold down compared to before. The latest engine selection and features debuted at this time as well.
Since then, there have been only minor updates. In that debut year, Ford offered an intermediate SEL trim level and had the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine as standard for the Titanium. A few notable changes have been made in the current generation. In 2016, the Escape switched to the the much-improved Sync 3 infotainment interface, replacing the frustrating MyFord Touch system. Prior to 2017, the SE and Titanium trims used a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder, which made 1 less horsepower and returned slightly less mileage than the newer 1.5-liter.
The second-generation Ford Escape was produced from 2008 through 2012. Changes were limited to interior and exterior design. The body adopted Ford's newer styling themes seen in the Edge and Expedition, while the cabin offered a more contemporary look with improved ergonomics and more available luxury features.
The three popular trim levels — XLS, XLT and Limited — were once again offered. Standard feature highlights on the XLS included full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning and stability control. The XLT added automatic headlights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a power driver seat, and the Limited provided leather upholstery and heated front seats. Option highlights, depending on the year, included dual-zone automatic climate control, rear parking sensors, a navigation system and an automated parallel parking system.
Any Escape could be had with either front- or all-wheel drive. Engine choices were carried over from the previous generation initially, meaning a choice of the 153-hp four-cylinder or the 200-hp V6, and both came with a four-speed automatic transmission. For 2009 the powertrains were improved greatly: The four-cylinder made 171 hp, and the V6 pumped out 240 hp. Although a five-speed manual transmission could be had on the XLS, it's a rarity, and nearly all Escapes used a six-speed automatic. There was also a hybrid version of the Escape, which is covered in a separate review.
In reviews, we found this Escape's strengths to be its wealth of high-tech features and peppy performance. Downsides included poor braking performance, an awkward-to-fold rear seat and a somewhat-dated feel compared to newer rivals. That said, this generation of the Escape (as well as its Mazda Tribute and Mercury Mariner twins) remains worthy of shoppers interested in a well-rounded compact crossover.
The first-generation Ford Escape was introduced in 2001, and its basic exterior and interior design remained unchanged through '07. It was initially available in XLS, XLT and XLT Sport trims that were joined by the leather-lined Limited a few years later. Ford Escapes were equipped with a rather anemic base engine — a 2.0-liter four that made 130 hp — until '05 when it was replaced by a 2.3-liter four that made 153 hp. This first-generation Escape also offered an optional V6 that made 200 hp. Although the four-cylinder engines could have a five-speed manual, most had the optional four-speed automatic that was standard on the V6.
Considering how many of these Escapes were sold, shoppers should have plenty of opportunities to be choosy and find a used model that suits them. First-year Escapes were tarnished by numerous recall notices. Though likely resolved at this point, going with a 2002 or newer model might be a good idea. Potential buyers of this first generation of Escape should note that its interior materials were of poor quality, with cheap, hard plastics everywhere.