2016 Compact SUV Comparison – Part 4: Ford Escape SE

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Greetings! Whether you’re a dad or not, a red-blooded motoring enthusiast or an indifferent cruise control enthusiast; Everyone is welcome here. If you’re late to the party, this fall I’m reviewing 7 different compact SUVs that sticker for around $26,000 (including destination/handling): The CR-V EX, Rogue SV, Rav4 LE, Tucson Eco, Equinox LS, CX-5 Touring and Escape SE. I’ll compare everything from styling and standard features, to price and physical dimensions. Click here to check out our previous reviews.

With 3 reviews in the books, the Ford Escape is up next! It’s a major player in the compact SUV segment (2nd place in 2015 sales behind only the CR-V) and for good reason. It has a sleek exterior, a capable and efficient turbocharged engine, and an upscale interior. However, at this point the Escape is resting on its laurels somewhat. It’s 5 years old and hasn’t received any significant upgrades since Ford abandoned the previous generation Escape and its truck-like aesthetic.

*Edit 11/17/15: At the end of this review I’ve posted breaking news about the redesigned 2017 Escape.

Even the best automotive designs need a refresh after about 4 years.

EXTERIOR

The Ford Escape has a very attractive and unique exterior. Its design has held up very well over the last 5 years, but even the best automotive designs need a refresh after about 4 years. The Escape is due. All it needs is a tweak to the front grille, hot new wheels and some modern lamp assemblies. Maybe Ford was too busy giving a face-lift to the Explorer. The Escape will get an interior and exterior refresh soon, maybe in 2017, but not soon enough. Also, I would hate to buy any brand new car with a major update looming. If you love the Escape, hold out for one more year.

ford escape

Future redesigns notwithstanding, the 17″ wheels on the SE are just OK; I think they’re the least attractive in this test. Also, the SE is missing a few exterior features commonly found on some competitors like side mirror signals, projector lamps and LED daytime running lights. At least it comes with fog lights though!

INTERIOR & SAFETY

We’ll start with utility. The Ford Escape is slightly above average when it comes to cargo volume for this segment. The rear seat reclines easily, which adds comfort and flexibility, but it doesn’t slide like the Equinox and Rogue. The cabin is well insulated, quiet and features upscale soft-touch materials. The front seats are very comfortable. Unfortunately, the rear seat is bench-like, stiff and unsupportive. Also, the front and rear seat covers have a canvas quality to them which feels durable but not plush or particularly comfortable.

On the standard Escape SE, you’re stuck with SYNC 2 which is subpar compared to the leaders of this comparison.

The Escape SE includes nice, albeit common, features like a power driver’s seat, steering wheel controls and automatic window controls, but no special features. Several of the competitors include at least one standard feature which I would consider exceptional for this comparison. Features such as a sunroof, heated seats, dual climate control or a proximity key. The Escape’s backup camera (another common feature) isn’t great. The display looks a little grainy and fish-eyed.

If you want Ford’s third generation infotainment system – SYNC 3 – it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. $1,395 to be exact (packaged with dual zone climate control). If I included this optional “201A” package as part of this comparison, the Escape would be much more competitive from a features standpoint; Sync 3 is a very good system. But, that would push the sticker price to almost $28k and that wouldn’t be fair. On the standard Escape SE, you’re stuck with SYNC 2 which is subpar compared to the leaders of this comparison. It has a small non-touch screen and a less user-friendly interface with lots of buttons. If you can get a dealer to throw in the 201A package “on the house”, more power to you!

ford escape

Now, I’ve touched on crash test performances during previous reviews, and it’s finally time for the Escape to face the music. All the compact SUVs in this comparison fare as well as possible in front, side, roof, and head restraint tests. However, since the Escape was redesigned in 2010, the IIHS added a new small-overlap crash test which was not accounted for in Ford’s design. As a result, Ford is the only competitor to receive a “poor” rating in this test. Not an overwhelming blemish, but certainly worth noting. Also, a previously discussed topic; crash avoidance technology – the next wave of safety advancements – is typically reserved for high-end models. Unfortunately, the Escape doesn’t offer it at any trim level.

PERFORMANCE

Ford’s “Ecoboost” 1.6L turbo 4-cylinder is one of the better engines in this group. The horsepower and torque numbers look average on paper, but on the road the powertrain seems willing and able whenever acceleration is needed. There is an adequate supply of torque and more importantly, the turbo’s smooth powerband assures that the transmission doesn’t get stuck in any awkward RPM situations. The same cannot be said for some competitors such as the Equinox, Rogue and RAV4. At times those contenders get bogged down.


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(+) 1.6L Turbo is fairly efficient and has power whenever you need it.

(+) Upscale interior, but some features cost extra.

(-) Attractive exterior would really benefit from a mid-cycle refresh.

(-) Tough canvas seating material and an unsupportive rear bench seat.

Moving on to fuel efficiency, the “Ecoboost” engine gets decent gas mileage of 23 city/32 hwy and 26 combined. But, the Ford Escape is lagging slightly behind its peers from Honda, Hyundai and Mazda which offer a combined rating of 29 mpg. That extra 3 mpg translates to 40-50 miles per tank.

The Escape has adequate steering and handling that is simply capable enough to allow the driver to enjoy the turbo powertrain. These SUVs are not meant to be taken to the race track, so competent handling is really all we need. The Escape’s cornering is not exceptionally sharp but it’s not loose or numb like some other compact SUVs. The ride is comfortable, stable and quiet too.

SUMMARY

With a total MSRP of $26,055, the Ford Escape SE almost hits a bullseye on the $26k target. Unfortunately, no bonus points for that, Ford. It is well-equipped but it won’t blow anyone away with its standard features. Also, it gets very expensive with the near-mandatory 201A package ($27,450). At that price it would get whooped by a Tucson Sport ($27,000). Compared to the other models I’ve reviewed so far, the Escape’s balanced list of pros and cons puts it squarely in the middle of the pack as far as I’m concerned; a very competent and fun-to-drive vehicle with a handful of flaws and dated features.

Personally, I blame the American public for buying more Escapes than any other compact SUV not named CR-V. If I was the CEO of Ford and saw the Escape selling over 250k units year in and year out, a mid-cycle refresh wouldn’t be high on my priority list either. But alas, a refresh is coming eventually. So, as I said before, if you love the Escape, I won’t try to talk you out of buying one; It’s a great vehicle. But, try to hold out for another year until the refresh arrives.

*Edit 11/17/15: Well, what do you know?! My review (or, more likely, just good business sense) has convinced Ford to refresh the Escape! Seemingly out of nowhere, Ford launched a new website for the 2017 Escape. Unveiled prior to the LA Auto Show, it has a fantastic new exterior (which addresses ALL of my criticisms) and even some unexpected powertrain improvements (which net a couple extra horsepower and a couple MPGs). It is said to be coming in the spring or summer of 2016. I’m a little concerned that the above-average price will jump even higher. I will complete my comparison as planned, then revisit the results when I have the opportunity to get my hands on the new design and exact specifications.

*Edit 6/7/16: Much to my surprise, the 2017 Escape SE was given a price decrease to $25,995! Good news? It’s got a fresh new exterior and dual climate control standard. Bad news? SYNC 3 and modern exterior lighting are all optional, leaving the Escape slightly behind the pack for $26k. Also, the power and gas mileage isn’t what was expected. Instead of getting improved power and fuel economy, it got less torque and identical mpg numbers. That said, I love turbo powertrains and I bet the new Escape is still engaging to drive. All in all, the improvements are great but not enough for me to recommend the Escape over a CX-5 or CR-V.

Check back soon for our 3 remaining reviews!

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