Pleasantly styled inside and out and offering fuel-savvy, turbocharged power, the Ford Escape sport utility vehicle is threatening to dethrone the Honda CR-V as America’s top-selling compact SUV.
For 2014, the five-passenger Escape retains its agile handling and tidy size while adding a rearview camera and improved Sync MyFord voice-activated phone and audio system as standard equipment on all models.
Pricing also is notable. The starting price, including destination charge, of $23,595 is an increase of only $230 from 2013.
The base Escape S with front-wheel drive and 168-horsepowerfour-cylinder is priced $180 less than the $23,775 for a 2014 Honda CR-V with front-wheel drive.
The test Escape SE with a total price tag of $26,840 exhibited many of the best attributes of today’s Escape.
The attractive, upscale-looking exterior is one of the nicest on a smaller SUV on the market. Inside the test vehicle, the smartly designed dashboard, contrasting color fabric seats and Ice Blue lighting had a modern appeal.
The strongly supportive seat foam, even without a lot of side bolstering, provided fatigue-free driving for three-hour-plus trips. Still, the seat fabric allowed passengers to slide a bit into place and felt neither too hot in the sun nor too cold on frosty mornings.
The SE included power adjustments for the driver’s seat, and the front passenger seat, while not powered, has four adjustments, including height adjustment.
The generous seat track for fore and aft movement of the driver seat as well as the power seat height adjustment helped make all sorts of drivers comfortable. At the same time, adults got inside the 5.5-foot-tall Escape easily – no climbing needed.
All three Escape engines have four cylinders. The test SE had the midrange, 1.6-liter, double overhead cam, EcoBoost turbocharged engine that provides the best fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway.
Given the experience in the tester, this is entirely attainable, too. The tester averaged 24.6 mpg in city driving and posted a 27.4-mpg average over long highway trips that included hilly areas.
The turbo helped the SUV zoom around and away from bottlenecks when needed.
The quick acceleration from the 184 foot-pounds of torque at a low 2,500 rpm isn’t typically found in nonturbos.
The Escape’s gasoline tank holds almost 15.1 gallons. Regular gasoline is all that’s needed, and the Escape includes Ford’s innovative gas tank that has no fuel cap, just a self-sealing opening.
The Escape is at the top of fuel economy among nonhybrid, gasoline-powered, compact SUVs. The CR-V, for example, is rated by the federal government at 23/31 mpg, while the 2014 Subaru Forester with base, 2.5-liter four-cylinder is rated at 24/32 mpg.
The Escape’s maximum towing capacity is 3,500 pounds with the top 2-liter, turbocharged, EcoBoost engine.
The ride was loud with considerable road noise from the 17-inch tires coming through. It was noticeable enough that the driver often adjusted the audio volume while driving.
But the 14.8-foot-long Escape steered, handled and braked more like a well-connected car than a taller-riding SUV. The electric power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering had good on-center feel and relatively quick response to driver inputs. The SUV rode stably through curves and held its line and its poise even on speedy, curvy downhill roads.
In fact, it kept up with some sporty cars in aggressive driving through hilly turns and curves.
The quality of the floor in the 68.1-cubic-foot rear cargo area didn’t match the upscale exterior. There was no knob for tuning the radio.
The 2014 Escape earned four out of five stars for overall crashworthiness in federal government tests.