It’s interesting that I had the last remaining 2014 Ford Escape Titanium this week, because I was making my way toward Massachusetts’ cranberry country to drive the all-new 2015 Honda CR-V, which is its lead competitor. Despite all the advances in the CR-V, though, the Ford Escape is going to be tough to catch up to.
Ford introduced the Escape model for the 2001 model year. I drove a really early model to the New York International Motorcycle Show at the Javits Center in late 2000, and I came away with two things that never really went away through two generations of the Escape: One, it offered a 205hp V-6 which seemed insanely powerful and thrashy at a time when Al Gore was suing to be president. Second, it was the most horrendously uncomfortable vehicle I’d ever taken on a long trip.
Both of those observations are long past. The powerful, relatively low-tech Duratec V-6 is long gone. At that time, gas was relatively cheap and plentiful, but even as the economy improves, we’re paying $3.45 a gallon for fuel, and at least in high volume vehicles like the Escape, fuel economy is the brass ring manufacturers are striving for.
In the old V-6’s place is a sophisticated, remarkably quiet EcoBoost 2.0-liter GTDi four-cylinder. It’s a relatively small engine that somehow manages to to churn out 240hp, and more importantly, 270-lb.ft. of torque at a reasonable 3,000 rpm. 240hp is available from any run-of-the-mill manufacturer now, but 118hp per liter bears mentioning. Over at Honda — a company that for years was considered an engine manufacturer which also happened to build cars — the all-new CR-V offers 75hp per liter, and with almost half a liter more in displacement doesn’t come within 40hp of the 2.0-liter in the Escape.
Many manufacturers who make vehicles in this class are opting for continuously variable transmissions. One of the things that makes the Escape — and I’m surprised I’m even writing this — fun to drive is that Ford has held the line on a more traditional six-speed automatic transmission. Ford is sacrificing a nominal increase in fuel economy for the sake of the driving experience. If you’re someone who needs to feel like you’re extracting every mile per gallon possible out of your vehicle, there might be other choices to look into, but if you enjoy driving, the six-speed auto in the Escape makes it sound like you’re driving a car, rather than enjoying the monotonous drone of a Shop Vac.
The second observation — that the original Escape, plus the second generation that followed it offered all the comfort of the bleachers at a high school football game — is also something that’s mercifully fallen by the wayside. On short trips and longer journeys, you’ll find that the Ford Escape’s seats are about as comfortable as you’ll find in this segment. I mentioned in our first look at the CR-V yesterday that it’s also surprisingly quiet. When I measured the sound level, I set the cruise at 75mph, but there was a steady rain falling and the wipers were running at low speed. Had it been clear at the time, I’m pretty sure the sound level would’ve been even lower. Not that you can hear the wipers anyway. They’re nearly silent when they operate.
So if it’s so good, why would you look elsewhere?
Ford leapfrogged a lot of the competition when the Escape arrived in 2012, largely based on its engine technology, its fuel economy and the comfort level inside. For 2015, though, it’s going to start losing out to technology. For example, the 2015 Honda CR-V Touring — a trim that was specifically launched to compete with the top-level Titanium trim in the Escape — is stuffed with semi-autonomous features. Ford has a blind-spot monitoring system, but the CR-V will brake itself if it identifies that you haven’t seen a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
This Escape Titanium featured the $1,735 Titanium Technology Package, which includes the Active Park Assist system, which allows the Escape to parallel park itself, but active safety systems like self-braking are a few years off. If that kind of technology is what you’re looking for in a vehicle, Ford simply doesn’t offer it at this time, and won’t in 2015. It remains to be seen whether that type of early autonomous feature will drive sales in the years to come.
It also doesn’t compete against a rising wave of compact crossovers that are built to withstand at least some off-road use. What this vehicle is not is a “sport utility vehicle.” You’re a lot better off thinking about it as a Ford Focus station wagon that has pretty decent ground clearance and the ability to get you through a snow storm. Vehicles either in the market now, or soon to arrive, will have at least some off-road ability (see: Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Renegade), but the Escape is a car.
I usually reserve this space in the review for complaints. I have one: I still hate SYNC. It’s better than it was a few years ago, when it required more attention than actually looking at your smartphone to operate, but I found the voice command setup still didn’t recognize about 30 percent of my Yankee commands, and the touch screen interface isn’t nearly as intuitive some competitive vehicles.
Yes, driving the vehicle for a week isn’t a really fair assessment of its capabilities, but I when I sit in a Chrysler vehicle with Uconnect, I know exactly how its major functions operate before I leave the driveway. Attention Ford SYNC engineer types: Whatever Chrysler’s doing, just start over and copy that.
Other than that constant complaint, though, the best thing you can say about the Escape is that it does its job without ever calling a lot of attention to itself. Honestly, I’m not even a fan of vehicles in the crossover class. I wish Americans would learn to love station wagons again. But given the choice of all the cars the Escape competes with, I’d come back to this one every single time.
2014 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD
Base Price: $30,850
Price as Tested: $35,625
Equipment Group 401 – Titanium Technology Package: HID Automatic Headlamps, Blind Spot Detection System, Active Park Assist ($1,735)
2.0-Liter I4 GDTi EcoBoost Engine: ($1,195)
Fantastic power-to-displacement ratio
Quiet operation at highway speeds
Observed 24 mpg average