Ford Escape is roaring back

Nov 13, 2013, 5:21 PM

(AP) – 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. Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $23,595 for a base, 2014 Escape is an increase of only $230 from 2013.

Better yet, the base, 2014 Escape S with front-wheel drive and 168-horsepower, non-turbo four cylinder is priced $180 less than the $23,775 starting retail price for a base, 2014 Honda CR-V with front-wheel drive.

The CR-V, which has a 185-horsepower, naturally aspirated four cylinder, already has a standard rearview camera on all models.

Both Escape and CR-V are offered only with automatic transmissions. But another compact SUV competitor, the 2014 Subaru Forester, starts at $21,995 with 170-horsepower, naturally aspirated four cylinder, manual transmission and all-wheel drive. The 2014 Forester starts at $22,996 with a continuously variable transmission that drivers operate like an automatic.

While all-wheel drive is standard on all Foresters, this feature adds substantially to the price of a 2014 Escape. According to Ford’s U.S. consumer website, starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2014 Escape with all-wheel drive is $28,195 because buyers must move up to the Escape SE with 178-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder.

Meanwhile, the lowest starting retail price for an all-wheel drive, 2014 CR-V is $25,025.

The test 2014 Escape SE FWD 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-size 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 mid-range, 1.6-liter, double overhead cam, EcoBoost, turbocharged four cylinder that provides the best fuel economy ratings of 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway.

Given the experience in the test Escape FWD model, 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.

Best of all, the turbo helped the Escape zoom around and away from bottlenecks when needed.

The quick acceleration from the Escape’s 184 foot-pounds of torque at a low 2,500 rpm isn’t typically found in non-turbos. It compares with the CR-V’s 163 foot-pounds of torque arriving at 4,400 rpm and the Forester’s 174 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm from its base, 2.5-liter, non-turbo four cylinder.

Still, the Escape’s not-quite 15.1-gallon gasoline tank needed filling before 390 miles.

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.

Note that the Escape is at the top of fuel economy among non-hybrid, gasoline-powered, compact SUVs. The 2014 CR-V, for example, is rated by the federal government at 23/31 mpg, while the 2014 Subaru 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 four cylinder.

The ride in the test Escape 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. And the Escape rode stably through curves and held its line and its poise even on speedy, curvy downhill roads.

In fact, the test Escape kept up with some sporty cars in aggressive driving through hilly turns and curves.

There were a few nits: A rear window defrost button on the dashboard seemed to be loose and cheap-feeling. 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.

The sales rivalry between Escape and CR-V goes back years. During calendar 2012, though, the CR-V’s 281,652 U.S. sales soundly surpassed the Escape’s 261,008. Calendar 2013 is a different story. As of the end of October, the Escape was just 1,093 vehicles shy of the CR-V’s 251,636 total sales for calendar 2013 in the United States.

This was despite Consumer Reports magazine listing the Escape’s reliability as worse than average.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Ford Escape is roaring back