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2020 Ford Escape Test Drive Review
The 2020 Ford Escape raises the bar for the small SUV with impressive tech, performance, and cabin quality.
In case you didn’t hear, Ford came out with an electric crossover, calling it the Mustang Mach-E. Ford could have called it something else, but the marketing department decided to leverage the famous Mustang name to capture headlines and, hopefully, shoppers. What should not be overlooked is the fact Ford chose to make its first-ever standalone electric vehicle a crossover.
This choice is a testament to how far the sport utility vehicle has come. Paired with Ford's decision to phase out sedans and hatchbacks, it's clear the company is putting all of its eggs into its trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. Suffice it to say, there is just a bit of pressure on the redesigned 2020 Ford Escape.
While the Escape has been around since 2000, it came into its own in 2013 when the “One Ford” philosophy was adopted, meaning that vehicles would be sold in multiple markets around the globe. As a result, the U.S. got Europe’s Ford Kuga, rebranded as the Escape—a high-tech, handsome, and surprisingly athletic small SUV.
So, with all this mind, the new Escape needs to not only be an improvement over the previous generation to compete against the rest of the compact crossover segment, it also needs to win over would-be sedan and hatchback customers. Can the 2020 Escape rise to the occasion?
Look and Feel
The new Escape is a very attractive compact crossover. It shares its large grille with the outgoing Fiesta and Focus hatchbacks, and the headlights are undoubtedly inspired by the Ford GT supercar. The previous Escape had a more upright rear end, and as we’ll explain later, the more curvaceous design of the new Escape certainly comes at a cost. Yet the Escape is still one of the best-looking small SUVs on the market, perhaps behind the Mazda CX-5 and Jeep Cherokee.
Moving inside reveals a fantastic, modern cabin, but one that is not too futuristic for its own good. The design is forward-looking, but it keeps the basic controls where they belong. Our test model came with a fully digital instrument panel, floating infotainment screen, and an overall smooth, modern design.
The Escape is available in S, SE, SE Sport, SEL, and range-topping Titanium trims. The base S comes with 17-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, a 4.2-inch instrument-panel screen, three 12-volt power outlets, manually adjustable front seats, and Sync infotainment with a 4.2-inch screen in the center console. The S also comes with FordPass Connect with WiFi for up to ten devices and the ability to remotely lock, unlock, and start your vehicle from your mobile device. The S also has a full suite of driver-assistance features.
Moving up to the SE adds 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, tinted side- and rear windows, a chrome grille surround, and body-color door handles. Inside, the SE adds automatic climate control, heated front seats, satellite radio, a 10-way power driver's seat, and a fold-down center armrest for the backseat. The SE also swaps out the 4.2-inch infotainment screen for the 8-inch Sync 3 infotainment system. This adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The SE Sport trim swaps out the painted aluminum wheels for black-painted wheels, which also measure 17 inches. These are complemented by other sporty touches, including a black surround grille, black window trim, and black mirror caps. Inside, the SE Sport gets a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument panel and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Bucking conventional wisdom, the SE Sport receives a hybrid drivetrain.
Moving up to the SEL adds fog lamps, black roof racks, 18-inch machined aluminum wheels, and a hands-free, foot-activated power liftgate. Inside, the SEL adds memory to the power driver’s seat, synthetic upholstery, sport bucket seats up front, a heated steering wheel, and one-touch up/down windows all around.
Our Titanium test model came with unique 19-inch wheels, LED fog lamps, and acoustic-laminated glass for a quieter cabin. It also came with a massive dual-panel moonroof, handsome wood paneling, and a very nice two-tone leather interior. We enjoyed the premium B&O audio system, leather seating, and 6-way power front passenger seat.
CarGurus recommends the SE trim, as it includes an 8-inch Sync 3 screen, automatic climate control, heated front seats, and a power driver’s seat. These features make the SE a tremendous value.
Among small SUVs, engine choices are typically limited to one or two powertrain options. Rivals like the Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, and Subaru Forester all offer a base engine and a high-feature engine. The Ford Escape bucks that trend by offering four engine options, including a new 3-cylinder engine that makes 180 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, standard in the S, SE, and SEL trims.
Among the remaining three engines are a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and two hybrid setups. The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is available on the SEL and standard on our Titanium test vehicle. It makes 250 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, and it provides brisk acceleration.
The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is part of the hybrid drivetrain equation that includes a battery pack and electric power and makes 198 horsepower. This setup is standard on the SE Sport and available on the Titanium.
There is also a plug-in hybrid variant of this powertrain, which is optional on the SE, SEL, and Titanium. (You can get the Titanium with every engine but the base 3-cylinder). The conventional engines send power through an 8-speed automatic, while the hybrids route power through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The 3-cylinder engine and the non-plug-in hybrid setup are available with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), while the turbo engine and the plug-in come standard with AWD.
Our Escape Titanium comes with the most powerful engine, and while the transmission takes a moment to react and downshift, this setup has plenty of power around town. This engine truly shines on the highway—it will kick down as it gets up to speed and when you press the throttle to overtake.
Steering is direct and taut, and the Escape actually has an athletic feel to it. Strong, responsive brakes drive home this borderline sporty personality, raising the bar from the previous Escape. “Sporty” isn’t a necessary attribute for small SUVs, but as evidenced by vehicles like the Mazda CX-5, buyers do seek it out. Just because you have to sit in traffic every day doesn’t mean you have to like it. You can take a vehicle like the Escape off the next exit to an open back road for a more rewarding drive.
The most efficient version of the Escape is the non-Sport hybrid. It returns fuel economy of 44 mpg city, 37 highway, 41 combined. The SE Sport returns fuel economy of 43/37/40. The 1.5-liter turbo engine returns 27/33/30 combined. With AWD, that same engine returns 26/31/26. The 2.0-liter turbo with AWD on our test model returns 23/31/26.
Form and Function
As mentioned, the Escape has a sleeker design than its predecessor, but it pays for that versatility by losing cargo space. Behind the second row, the Escape has 37.5 cubic feet of cargo space. But in the hybrid models, rear cargo space drops to 34.4 cubic feet.
Fold the backseat down, and the Escape offers 65.4 cubic feet of cargo space or just 60.8 cubic feet in upper-level trims. That’s fine enough, but consider that the outgoing 2019 Escape had 68 cubic feet, and other rivals like the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Volkswagen Tiguan all offer about 75 cubic feet of space. It would seem Ford is going in the wrong direction. But consider that the Mazda CX-5 is a very similar competitor, putting style and performance as high a priority as function, and it has 59.6 cubic feet of cargo space, so Ford just might be settling into its niche.
Rather than cargo capacity, Ford’s emphasis appears to be on passenger space. Second-row passengers have plenty of headroom and a decent amount of legroom. The front passenger and driver have commanding seating positions. They instill confidence and provide good visibility all around. There are also plenty of spots for your gear, including deep water-bottle holders and multiple trays and compartments. The Escape might not have the most cargo space, but it certainly puts an emphasis on real-world storage solutions.
In-car tech is no longer a luxury. Heck, even a base-trim Toyota Corolla comes with a large infotainment screen. But this is not so for the base Escape, which gets a small 4.2-inch audio control screen. In the past, this small screen would have simply been embedded into the dash, but the new “floating screen” design for the Escape (like many other new cars) makes these low-tier trim features stand out as eyesores.
The SE trim that CarGurus recommends moves right up to the 8-inch Sync screen, and the latest version of Sync is fantastic. It comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. If you already have a car with Apple CarPlay, you may have noticed its new look. The mobile operating system's car interface recently received an over-the-air update, and it’s far more than just a new design. It now allows for multi-tasking. In this example, you—or better yet, your passenger—can operate your phone while it’s projecting on the car’s display. No more closing the CarPlay app screen when you need to use a different app on your phone.
The Titanium trim also has a head-up display (HUD), but it’s a small flip-up screen, rather than a display projected onto the windshield. Making glass specifically for HUD reflection costs a bit more, and having two different types of windshields on an assembly line is inefficient, so the flip-up screen makes adding an HUD more affordable. Still, it seriously limits the experience. For one, as a taller driver, it almost always falls below my line of sight. Even with the screen all the way up and my seat all the way down, I have to set it where it’s projected on the hood of the car, rather than the road ahead. And at that point, I’d be looking at the instrument panel. It adds no value to taller drivers.
The Escape comes with a full array of front- and side-impact airbags, a reversing camera, traction control, and a tire-pressure-monitoring system (TPMS). The 2020 Ford Escape has not been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but it earned the best overall score of Good from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) in all phases of testing.
Impressively, the Escape also comes standard with Ford Co-Pilot360, a suite of advanced safety systems including forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. It also comes standard with features that are often optional, such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a driver drowsiness monitor.
Base MSRP for the 2020 Ford Escape comes in at $24,885 for the base S trim. Our recommended SE trim starts at $27,095, an SE Sport starts at $29,255, and the range-topping Titanium starts at $33,400. If you were to build out an Escape Titanium AWD like our test model, it would come in between $37- and $38,000.
That is certainly not cheap, especially when the Ford Explorer, which is larger and has been completely redesigned for 2020, starts under $33,000. But if you keep things modest and stick with the SE trim, the Escape will present itself as a greater value.
Not every Escape will be outfitted like our Titanium test model, but most will boast premium materials as well as the latest technology and infotainment features. These all help the Escape raise the bar for what an average commuter SUV can truly be. We’re also very pleased to see that Ford recognizes a commuter car doesn’t have to be a boring conveyance. The Escape delivers a level of quality and performance that elevates what the small SUV can be.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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