DEARBORN, Mich. — The Ford Escape is getting a long overdue makeover, ditching its boxy styling for a sleek look that Ford hopes will outshine competitors.
It has reason to be confident: Ford Explorer SUV sales are at a four-year high thanks to a similar redesign last year.
Ford unveiled the 2013 Escape at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday. It goes on sale early next year. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but it likely will start around $25,000.
The Escape’s boxy profile was looking stale in a market full of newer, more aerodynamic competitors such as the Chevrolet Equinox. The new Escape, which was designed in Europe, now has the elegant, tapered look of Ford’s other new models, including the Fiesta subcompact and Edge crossover.
In addition to better styling, customers have been asking for more features and better fuel economy, said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas. The more aerodynamic design, along with three updated engine choices, will help improve fuel economy from 28 mpg to as high as 33 mpg. Ford will discontinue the hybrid Escape, saying that its EcoBoost gas engines get better fuel economy than the 31 mpg on the current hybrid.
The Escape has some whiz-bang features, including a liftgate that opens when the driver makes a slight kicking motion under the bumper and a system that parallel parks the vehicle automatically with the press of a button.
The Escape will still tow up to 3,500 pounds, or enough for a 1-ton boat on its trailer.
The Escape, which went on sale 11 years ago, had its last big makeover in 2008. Escape sales drooped and a rival, the Honda CR-V, outsold it until this year, when Japan’s earthquake disrupted supplies and hurt Honda’s sales. The Escape regained the lead.
Honda will push to recapture those sales with a new CR-V that is being shown at the auto show and will go on sale by the end of this year.
Honda, which got rid of the boxier style in 2007, is making more subtle changes to the CR-V’s styling, giving it more of a forward slant and an edgier look. It has also tweaked the engine to deliver better fuel economy, from 28 mpg to 31 mpg. New features include a split rear seat that folds down and a system that reads text messages to the driver.
Earlier versions of the Escape and CR-V were considered small SUVs, but they’re technically crossovers, which combine the roominess of SUVs with the nimbler handling and fuel efficiency of cars, because they’re built on car platforms.
J.D. Power and Associates, a marketing information firm, predicts crossovers will be the largest segment in the U.S. by 2015.
CAR OF THE YEAR: Motor Trend magazine has named the Volkswagen Passat as 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year.
Motor Trend’s editor-in-chief, Angus MacKenzie, said “chassis, steering, ride and handling all are tastiest within this segment.”
The midsize sedan with a starting price of about $20,000 is built at VW’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.