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2008 Ford Escape Test Drive Review

Will a fresh new look be enough to help Ford’s compact SUV stay ahead of the pack?

6.7 /10
Overall Score

Since arriving in 2001, the Ford Escape has been a stalwart among compact crossovers and SUVs. This year, Ford refreshes the trucklet’s design with a chrome grille, taller beltline, and less (but more heavily styled) plastic cladding the running boards. But with the same set of engines and bones underneath, will the new-look Escape be able to keep up with a rapidly improving class?

Look and Feel

7/ 10

The old Escape may have looked ready to tackle the wilderness when it arrived in 2001, but the blue oval has clearly decided to double down with its 2008 refresh. The squared-off shoulders, rear, and face give the Escape a more truck-like design, making it feel more like the miniature version of a Ford Explorer or Expedition.

Inside, the center stack has lost its rounded edges in favor of a slab of rectangular plastic, inset with the necessary buttons and dials to handle your temperature requirements and auditory needs. The extensive swaths of plastic are two-toned, giving the Escape’s interior a new-school visual style, and one that will likely age well. Add in optional leather seats, and the 2008 Escape feels well-appointed, if not entirely special.

Performance

6/ 10

Although the Escape has a new face and wears new clothes, its heart remains the same as it ever was. The base 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine makes 153 horsepower—a number which felt adequate just a few years ago but is undeniably lackluster today. Move up from the XLS to the XLT or Limited trims’ available 3.0-liter V6 engine. With 200 hp and 193 pound-feet of torque, it still won’t peel the paint back, but you’ll feel much more prepared to tackle highway on-ramps.

The XLT, and Limited trims pair with a 4-speed automatic regardless of the engine (the Limited is available with the V6, only), and each trim is available with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). If you want a manual transmission, settle for the most basic XLS FWD, which receives a 5-speed stick shift, and the 4-speed auto as an option. The 5-speed Escape enjoys the best fuel economy, at 22 mpg city, 28 highway, 24 combined, while the V6-equipped, AWD Escape sees the worst, at 17/22/19.

Form and Function

6/ 10

Compared to its primary rivals, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Escape comes up uncomfortably short on cargo space. Despite managing to look and feel more like a true SUV than the Japanese leaders, the Escape offers a scant 29.2 cubic feet behind its rear seat, while the CR-V and RAV4 offer 35.7 and 36.4, respectively. However, when fitted with the V6 engine, the Escape manages to tow with the best of its class, at 3,500 pounds. The Escape may also be the better choice for city dwellers forced into small parallel parking spots, considering its total length comes in more than 3 inches less than the CR-V and more than 6 inches less than the RAV4.

Further, the capacity of the center console storage is impressive - it can hold a laptop computer. It features three levels of storage with two removable bins, which further expand storage capacity.

Tech Level

7/ 10

Ford has made an across-the-line brand change with the switch to Ice Blue interior lighting. A new information display features exterior temperature, radio functions, and climate-control readouts on the top section of the dashboard.

If you’re interested in seat heaters and dual-zone climate control, be prepared to pay up for the Limited Luxury package. You can also upgrade to a 320-watt stereo with a DVD-based navigation system.

Safety

6/ 10

With bones dating back to 2001, it’s no surprise that the Escape loses some ground to the competition in safety tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) afforded the Escape its best score of Good for only side crashworthiness; the moderate overlap front and head restraints & seats both managed an Acceptable, and roof strength rated as the second-from-worse Marginal.

Somewhat inexplicably, Ford chose to replace the rear disc brakes on the last generation Escape with rear drums on the 2008 model. This will almost certainly worsen braking performance (but save Ford’s bean-counters some critical dollars).

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

At first glance, the XLS FWD’s $18,580 starting price looks exceptionally attractive. Consider the bare-bones spec, however, with its 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission, and it’s quickly revealed as a “you get what you pay for” scenario.

However, even the top-tier Limited AWD trim undercuts the competition, with an MSRP of $25,330. To put that into context, the RAV4’s top level starts at $26,670, and the CR-V starts as high as $28,400, although the newer underpinnings of those cars likely mean that they will retain their value better than the older Escape over time. Still, if you’re interested in a capable SUV at the lowest possible price, the Escape may be the right choice.

Updated by Matt Smith

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2008 Ford Escape Top Comparisons

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