Compact SUV Comparison: 2017 Ford Escape

By Bob Nagy on June 6, 2016 10:06 PM

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More style, more power, more refinement.

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Starting MSRP: $24,495

Above Average: Roomy, comfortable, well-connected and tops for towing

Below Average: Driver sightlines, maneuverability in tight confines

Consensus: A well-focused mid-cycle revamp makes this mainstay of the segment even more attractive on every level

450 Miles in 141 Words

Ford's best-selling SUV has undergone a significant recasting for 2017 to enhance its appeal with an even broader potential buyer base. While retaining its existing platform architecture, the 2017 Escape complements a bolder-looking exterior with a pair of new EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylinder engines. It also benefits from a major interior makeover that adds more upscale flair and greater user-friendliness along with even better connectivity highlighted by the availability of the automaker’s new Sync 3 infotainment package. Our trek to Big Bear Lake provided a good opportunity to check out these changes on a top-line Titanium-spec AWD version fitted with the more potent of the two new engines plus the Sport Appearance Package. Further upgraded with a glass panoramic vista roof, navigation and adaptive cruise control, our extremely well-appointed example stickered at $36,650 -- making it the costliest member of this group.

A Closer Look

Although not exactly perfect, the mid-term uprating did make the 2017 Escape an even stronger player in this hot segment. Here’s how it fared across a variety of categories, followed by a deeper dive into each:

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Highway Driving

While the 2017 Escape offers a carryover 179-horsepower naturally aspirated 2.5-liter as well as a new 186-horse/1.5-liter EcoBoost engine, our Titanium tester was fitted with the revised but still smooth and free-revving 2.0-liter EcoBoost four that also appears in the new Ford Edge. Now fitted with a twin-scroll turbocharger, it cranks out 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of peak torque. Paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission -- paddle-shiftable in Sport trim -- it makes the Escape feel decidedly responsive even in its heavier all-wheel-drive configuration. However, midway through the trip, the engine in our test vehicle -- a late preproduction model -- periodically began to slip into a temporary fail-soft mode during full-throttle acceleration runs. It’s an issue we’ve never encountered before with any EcoBoost engine and one that hasn’t recurred since. Ford is still checking into the cause but initially indicated it likely resulted from an electronic glitch.

That idiosyncratic negative issue aside, the Escape proved quite adept when it came to long-distance cruising. The seats are comfortable, the driving position can be easily adapted to accommodate almost anyone and overall cabin noise levels remain impressively low even at freeway speeds. Helping the cause are a selection of new driver aids that include lane-keeping assist, a well-mannered adaptive cruise control system, forward collision warning with brake support and a Driver Alert System than can detect signs of fatigue and provide a warning in the instrument cluster. 

City Driving

While the same levels of comfort and confidence it showed when cruising carried over to its in-town demeanor, the Escape fared less well during certain close-quarter maneuvering than its smaller rivals. In addition to having the largest turning circle of the group, the Escape’s high nose and substantial A-pillars can make navigating narrow streets or crowded parking lots a bit more challenging. On the upside, the 2017 remix does include a new Enhanced Active Park Assist system option that automatically provides steering assistance to slip into parallel or head-in parking spots as well as helping on exits from the former. 

Sporty Driving

Some of our testers felt the new Escape had lost a bit of its handling edge in the transition. However, opting for Sport-spec kit on an SE or Titanium version does inject at least a touch of enthusiast charm, albeit mostly the result of more aggressively bolstered front bucket seats and larger 19-inch wheels wrapped in slightly lower-profile rubber than the standard 17-inch or 18-inch fitments used on other models. Admittedly less adept at corner carving than the Mazda CX-5, the Escape still feels reasonably confident in the twisties and the suspension does keep body roll decently controlled.  

Interior Appeal

The Escape’s makeover is particularly apparent in the sweeping changes seen in its passenger compartment. For openers, virtually every “touch” surface has been upgraded to add greater refinement. The redesign also endows the 2017 Escape with even more user-friendly qualities thanks to a new multifunction steering wheel, space-saving electronic parking brake and a redesigned center console that features better cupholders and greater stow space.

Infotainment  

Bolstering the basic in-vehicle experience in the 2017 Escape upgrade is its new Sync 3 infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen. The setup also features Ford’s first integrated support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as Sync Connect that facilitates using a host of remote-access functions via the owner’s smartphone. Although this is easily the best Sync system ever, we found the horizontal orientation of its central dash interface to be less than ideal.

Rear Seat

Even with the extended panoramic roof, the rear quarters of the Escape remain fully adult-accommodating, with generous legroom and headroom in all three positions. Adjustable backs on its well-padded 60/40-split bench are operated by large side-mounted levers that also control the basic fold function, while SE and Titanium models complement their upgraded dual-zone climate control setups with supplemental rear air vents and a 110V AC outlet.

Cargo Utility

Although falling modestly behind the Honda CR-V in the overall great space race, the Escape offers a decidedly generous 34.0 cubic-foot storage bay that can be literally doubled in size by dropping its rear seatbacks which fold to a near-flat configuration. The combination of a large hatch and low liftover height with the available hands-free activation makes for easy loading and unloading of even bulky objects.

Fuel Economy

Pairing the biggest engine on offer in the lineup with AWD is hardly the ideal combo for making mileage. But despite having 60 more ponies than its closest rival in this shootout, the new Escape’s sophisticated 2.0-liter EcoBoost four still registers relatively impressive 20/27 mpg city/highway EPA numbers -- down only two mpg in each category compared to the front-drive version. The “Eco” setting plus new and impressively seamless auto start/stop tech helps the econo cause on both this and the new 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine. Equally notable, that extra muscle also lets this max-pack Escape tow a segment-leading 3,500 pounds giving it a heady 1,500-lb edge over the front-drive Sportage and AWD CX-5 that tie for a distant second.

Resale Value

Historically, residual values on the Escape have fallen somewhat below average, especially when compared to the CR-V. However, the 2017 upgrading should help lift those figures a bit while making any version of this versatile compact SUV a more attractive daily driver throughout the original ownership period.

Inside and Out: 2017 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD


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