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2012 Ford Escape ReviewThe Good
The 2012 Ford Escape offers one of the roomiest rear seats in the compact SUV class and continues to draw buyers thanks to such high-tech features as Ford's SYNC and MyKey systems.The Bad
With a new, fully redesigned Escape due for the 2013 model year, the 2012 version seems to be treading water, receiving no new significant features, and its interior and exterior designs are outdated when compared to newer, sleeker competitive vehicles.
The CarGurus View
While the 2012 Escape, now in the last year of its current generation, looks dated inside and out, reviewers and owners still find a lot to like about the compact SUV, including its relatively smooth ride, roomy interior and high-tech features. Although many prospective buyers will want to wait for the updated 2013 version, retailers will more than likely be offering good deals on the current generation, so it's worth a look if you're seeking a compact family hauler with a roomy back seat and good road manners.
At a Glance
With a new Escape due for the 2013 model year, the 2012 version coasts on past glories, receiving no significant new updates or features. The Escape created quite a buzz when it debuted for the 2001 model year, thanks to its sporty, compact design and car-like platform, a notable departure from the big truck-like SUVs of the era. Slotted into the entry-level position in the automaker's range of SUVs, which also included the Explorer and the Expedition (and now the Edge and Flex crossovers as well), the Escape seemed like the perfect vehicle for the time. But in the years since, the compact SUV market segment has grown significantly larger and more competitive, and despite a number of exterior updates and the addition of high-tech features in recent years, the current Escape shows its age both inside and out.
That should all change when Ford rolls out the Escape's next generation sometime in late 2012. Until then, buyers will have to make due with the 2012 version. What they'll get is a capable compact SUV with a somewhat boxy, squared-off exterior design, which seems outdated in this era of sleek, swept-back, more aerodynamic automotive styling. The Escape's interior design has struggled to keep up with the competition as well, and many consider it bland and unexciting. On the plus side, the Escape's cabin provides plenty of room for passengers, especially in the rear seat. In addition, high-tech features like Ford's SYNC and MyKey systems continue to distinguish the Escape from the competition.
For 2012, Ford offers the Escape in base XLS, mid-level XLT, and top-shelf Limited trims, as well as in Hybrid and Hybrid Limited versions. All trims come with front-wheel drive, although Ford offers its Intelligent 4-wheel-drive (4WD) System on all trims except the entry-level XLS. Similarly, all non-Hybrid trims come standard with a 2.5-liter Duratec 4-cylinder powerplant, although owners can upgrade to an optional 3.0-liter Duratec V6 with Flex Fuel capability, available on the XLT and Limited trims. The Hybrids come equipped with a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine coupled with an electric motor.
Although it's not designed for heavy-duty off-roading, the Escape does have relatively high ground clearance and a distinctly sporty side. However, competitors like the Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester are often better-equipped and considered more stylish, refined, and practical.
Ford offers the 2012 Escape with a choice of engines and transmissions, as well as optional 4-wheel drive. The base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, which powers the XLS, XLT, and Limited trims, develops 171 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque. In the entry-level XLS, the engine mates to a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 6-speed automatic. In the XLT and Limited, the 6-speed automatic comes standard. The EPA estimates fuel-economy numbers for the 4-cylinder powerplant at 23/28 mpg when linked to the manual transmission and 21/28 with the automatic.
Generally, for around-town driving and light towing, the 4-cylinder engine delivers plenty of power, according to reviewers. However, owners who expect to carry heavier loads or plan to use the Escape regularly for towing can upgrade to the optional 3.0-liter Duratec V6, which produces a more potent 240 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque, with Flex Fuel capability. Available in the XLT and Limited trims, the V6 connects only to the 6-speed automatic shifter and posts fuel economy numbers of 19/25 mpg.
Thanks to their hybrid powerplants, which consist of a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder gas engine and an electric motor, the Escape Hybrid and Hybrid Limited can run up to 44 mph on electricity alone during light acceleration, making them true hybrids. Combined fuel economy checks in at 34/31 mpg. The Hybrids also come equipped with a nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery, which resides underneath the rear cargo area and is charged through regenerative braking.
Ford's Intelligent 4WD System, offered on all trims, automatically adjusts torque distribution when it detects wheel slippage to ensure optimal grip and stability. However, many caution that while the system works well on pavement, it's not designed for off-road use.
In its standard configuration with the 4-cylinder powerplant, the Escape can tow up to 1,500 pounds. When equipped with the V6 and an optional Class II Trailer Towing Package, the Escape's towing capacity increases to 3,500 pounds.
Ride & Handling
When it debuted in 2001, the Escape set the standard for front-wheel-drive SUVs, since it offered improved handling in an era when most SUVs sat on truck-like, rear-wheel-drive platforms. However, in the years since, the competition has leap-frogged the Escape in the handling department, offering smoother, more car-like rides.
The Escape sits on an independent MacPherson-strut front suspension with an independent double-lateral and semi-trailing arm design in the rear. Overall, owners and testers still find the Escape's handling acceptable and even nimble at times, thanks to such features as electric power-assisted steering, but it's not nearly as capable nor as smooth-handling as other vehicles in the segment. Some testers find the Escape's ride relatively smooth, but others criticize it for being too rough and noisy for the class.
The biggest ding on the Escape, however, remains its brakes. For 2012, as in earlier years, Ford equips the Escape with front disc and rear drum brakes, rather than disc brakes all around, resulting in a lack of braking power and longer stopping distances than some competitors.
The Escape sits 4 passengers comfortably, but can be a tight fit for 5 adults. Most adults will find plenty of legroom in the front and back rows, with comfortable, supportive seats for long trips. But again, the Escape shows its age with the lack of a standard tilt/telescopic steering column and a sliding back row, resulting in limited adjustment for drivers and passengers.
Cabin & Comfort
Like its ride, handling and exterior design, the Escape's cabin draws mixed reviews. Many owners like the easy-to-read instrument panel, with its Ice Blue lighting and simple-to-use climate controls, but others are not impressed with the Escape's fit and finish, and note a lack of trim-wide standard features, such as Bluetooth and an input jack for the audio system, found on some competitive vehicles. In addition, the driver's seat in the base XLS trim features only 2-way manual adjustment, while competitive vehicles offer more adjustable seats for the low-end trim.
Still, the standard feature list for the entry-level XLs isn't that bad. Air conditioning, power windows, a 4-speaker audio system and cloth-trimmed seats with a 60/40 split rear seat are among the standard features. In addition, Ford's MyKey system, which gives parents the ability to moderate younger drivers' habits by setting limits on speed and audio volume, comes standard, while options include an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a remote start system and Ford's voice-activated SYNC system, which enables hands-free calling through Bluetooth-enabled cell phones.
The XLT adds such features as a 6-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel, and a 4-speaker audio system equipped with SiriusXM satellite radio and an input jack. At the top of the heap, the Limited also includes leather upholstery, heated front seats and Ford's SYNC system as standard equipment.
For the Hybrid, a 6-way power-adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and 4-speaker AM/FM audio system with SiriusXM satellite radio are among the standard features. Eco-friendly seats and Ford's SYNC system also come standard. The Hybrid Limited gets leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power moonroof, a chrome-trimmed shifter knob and ambient lighting, among other features, as standard equipment.
Optional tech features for the Escape include a voice-activated navigation system with SiriusXM Travel Link, which provides details on traffic, local fuel prices, weather, movies and sports. The system also includes a 10GB hard drive for maps and music storage. In addition, owners can add an optional second-row, dual-headrest DVD Entertainment System, which includes two cordless headphones.
With the rear seat up and in place, the Escape offers 31.4 cubic feet of cargo space in the rear (30.9 in Hybrids, due to the battery under the cargo floor). That expands to 67.2 cubic feet (66.4 in the Hybrids) with the rear seats folded down. While adequate for the class, competitive vehicles such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V offer up to 73 cubic feet of cargo space. A low lift-over and tall hatch opening make the Escape easy to load. However, some testers note that folding down the rear seat can be time-consuming, since the headrests must first be removed and the seat cushions flipped foward before lowering the seat.
The 2012 Escape received moderate ratings during recent crash tests. The NHTSA gave it 3 out of 5 stars for front-crash, side-crash and rollover tests, and the IIHS gave it a top rating of Good for frontal and side-impact tests. However, the Escape received only a Moderate rating from the IIHS for its roof strength.
Six airbags, including dual-stage front, front-side, and side-curtain airbags, come standard on the Escape. Other safety features include Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control system, which comes standard on all trims, as well as an optional rear-view camera, which displays an image either on the rear-view mirror or navigation system screen, if so equipped. In addition, the Escape's exterior side mirrors are equipped with integrated spotter mirrors to help reduce rearward blind spots.
What Owners Think
Most owners purchase the Escape because they're looking for a compact, easy-to-drive, and relatively affordable family and cargo hauler with decent features and fuel economy, and on all those points, the Escape delivers. Although many owners consider the Escape more truck-like than its competitors, they like its smooth ride and good handling, especially at highway speeds. It provides plenty of power for most everyday maneuvering, owners note, and they find its fuel economy acceptable for a small SUV. They also like the Escape's value, noting that it's a great vehicle for the price, especially since some dealers are dropping prices on current-year trims as the next generation approaches.
The Escape's front seats and especially the rear seats provide plenty of room, owners note, although some find fault with the Escape's audio systems, including the premium unit. In addition, some owners do find the interior bland and plasticky. A few owners find the Escape's manual transmission hard to shift, but others find no fault with the automatic transmission, which delivers smooth shifting. Similarly, most owners have no problems with the Escape's braking systems, despite what some critics say. Overall, owners seem very pleased with their Escapes, finding them to be quiet, capable and practical vehicles.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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