By Kevin Harrison
Everyone always says that the first impression is the last impression. Whether it be during a job interview or meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time, you better make sure you nail it because if you don’t, you will always be measured against your bumbling mistake.
I was invited to a Ford Escape launch event back in the summer. What was my first impression? To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed. The event itself was amazing – beautiful drive down to Peggy’s Cove, some delicious local chowder, some Nintendo Wii, slalom courses a nice boat trip around Halifax harbour and friendly knowledgeable staff. What more could you ask you, you say? A better car. Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time.
After the usual PR bragging about how great the Escape supposedly is, I slipped behind the wheel of one and thought to myself “this is it?”
I thought the styling was boring, the interior too complicated and the ride/transmission/engine package to be yawn inducing. Not wishing to be rude to our gracious hosts I would nod and say “it’s nice” every time they asked what I thought of the new Escape. And I wasn’t lying, it was indeed a nice vehicle, just nothing special in my mind. It was your typical ‘cute-ute’ crossover that got moms and their kids from point A to point B comfortably and efficiently. All the mommy-bloggers at the event confirmed that part at least.
But it just lacked a certain something. As a result, when it came time to take the Escape for a full review, I felt as though I was just asked to help a good friend move. I wasn’t excited and I was almost dreading it after remembering how unimpressed I was the first time. It would still be the same sleep inducing vehicle it was back in the summer.
Boy, was I wrong.
I’m not sure what I was on about when I originally was unimpressed with the exterior styling back in the summer. Perhaps it’s because it’s such a large departure from the styling of the ever popular and ever traditional boxy SUV styling, but I can now say with confidence that the Escape’s new styling is decidedly attractive. Even though it loses the traditional SUV shape, it takes on a more European styled look, especially from the rear. The 18 inch “sparkle nickel” aluminum wheels are really my only gripe with the styling – they are too flashy for my taste buds. That and the fact that the front turn signals are not integrated into the headlight units, they are tucked way below the grille making them a bit more difficult for oncoming vehicles to see. But this is just my nitpicking, it’s a good looking crossover no matter how you slice it.
Inside, the interior seemed less overwhelming to me than before. The materials are top notch, everything feels solid and of high quality. The centre stack layout is nice and less complicated than in the Flex, however with it being sloped inward at the top, it makes reaching and seeing the controls a bit difficult. The infamous (for the wrong reasons) MyFord touch isn’t as fussy as its reputation seems to suggest. My feeling is if you are at least somewhat familiar with technology aka you know how to work an ipod, then you shouldn’t have too many issues. Response time was a criticism of MyFord touch however Ford claims they have improved that and I have no reason to doubt them since response time didn’t seem particularly slow. One thing that irritates me on all new Ford’s is the goofy noises it makes whenever you signal or whenever you push a button. It always makes me feel like I’m in a cartoon.
The front seats are comfortable and rear legroom is decently roomy. I got my rather tall brother-in-law to adjust the passenger seat to his comfort level so I could try out the back seats and surprisingly there was much room to spare. Cargo space is wide and plentiful, but is still bested by the recently redesigned Honda CR-V. The good news is that the rear seats fold completely flat making room for a large loading area, however you need to fold the seats down from the passenger doors rather than the trunk area.
One rather neat feature (or odd feature depending on how you look at it), is the hands-free ability to open the tailgate. All you need to do is make a kicking motion under the rear bumper (no need to physically kick the Escape), take a step back and voila. Closing the tailgate hands-free is the same process. The idea is if your hands are full with groceries etc. then you don’t need to worry about putting the bags down and rooting around for the keys. This is a feature that is just making the rounds on most luxury car makers such as BMW, so kudos to Ford for being able to offer it on a $30K vehicle. With that said, I did get a lot of stares in the parking lot from people who were likely wondering why that seemingly deranged fellow is kicking his brand new Escape.
Another unique to the segment feature is the Active Park Assist which essentially helps the driver to parallel park their car. I’ve said it a thousand times, so here’s a time number one thousand and one. If you can’t parallel park a car, you shouldn’t be driving. It always baffles me how much difficulty most people seem to have with this. Perhaps that’s why such a feature is needed in the first place, so I digress. The feature itself works fairly well although there are times when the system will literally take you within an inch of the car’s front bumper behind you which can be unnerving. It should be noted that with this system, the driver is still very much in control of the gas and brakes, the Escape just takes care of the steering. Despite going unnecessarily close to parked cars behind you, the Escape, eventually, will parallel park itself perfectly.
The SEL model which is only bested by the Titanium model for top of the line features, gets a 2.0 L EcoBoost engine which produces 240 horsepower and 270 pound foot torque. When I first tried out this engine in the Titanium model in the summer, it felt underwhelming, although a good chunk of that could be chalked up to the fact that I didn’t want to scare the dickens out of my mommy-blogger partner that I was paired with for the day. Although during the slalom course she was able to open it up and as a result so did I. I still found power to be lacking. Perhaps the problem was on a slalom course, the Escape feels slow. However in the real world, power is readily available and can get you out of the way in a hurry. When pushed, there is a strong engine sound without the typical 4-cylinder whine. The secret to the Ecoboost engine is that those large torque numbers get the Escape moving quickly before the automatic settles it down for fuel efficiency. By the time this happens, you are already at speed.
As a result, fuel consumption numbers are good at 9.8 L/100 kms city and 6.9 L/100 kms highway. However, keep in mind that all that torque-y goodness entices the driver to take advantage more often than not, so real world numbers would likely be a bit higher.
The Escape’s 4 wheel drive system enables the driver to have confidence in the corners which is also helped out by the 18 inch sparkly wheels. I was not able to take corners completely flat (such an expectation for a small crossover is unrealistic anyway), but it is surefooted during emergency handling maneuvers. The steering feel provides moderate feedback and turn-ins are fairly quick.
Basically this wasn’t the car I remembered. I actually enjoyed most of my time with the new Escape unlike at the event in the summer. I can only chalk this up to the Escape performing better in real world situations rather than carefully plotted slalom courses. And that was the issue all along. In fact I ended up liking the Escape so much that I even tweeted that it very well could be the new king in the segment, which is a bold statement considering the long-time favourites that are the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
Regardless, this new Escape basically proved that first impression indeed are not last impressions. My opinion on it is a complete 180 from my first negative impression and in the automotive world that’s a hard (if not impossible) feat to achieve.
Price As Tested: $33,799
- Agreeable styling
- Solid feeling ride
- Excellent interior/cargo room
- High quality materials
- Powerful yet efficient engine
- Innovating technology
- Interior layout is a bit overwhelming
- Irritating interior noises
- Price can get a bit steep at higher trim levels
*apologies for poor quality of pics!