Fords first car-based sport utility vehicle debuted for the 2001 model year and is derived from the Mazda 626 platform. The Escape is a result of Fords controlling interest in Mazda, which produces the similar Tribute SUV. The Escape and Tribute were developed in tandem and compete against other car-based SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4. All are considerably smaller than traditional truck-based SUVs and promise carlike ride and handling and the security of optional four-wheel drive.
A new Limited model joins the existing XLS and XLT trim levels of Fords smallest SUV for 2004. The Limited features a monochromatic body and leather seating. A new Limited Luxury Comfort Package includes premium leather seats, heated front seats, Mach audio and a reverse-sensing system. This years XLT No Boundaries Package includes a rack system.
A hybrid-powered Escape HEV that operates with a small gasoline engine and an electric motor is scheduled to appear during 2004. This should make Ford the third automaker, along with Honda and Toyota, to offer a hybrid powertrain in the U.S. market.
The unibodied four-door Escape rides a 103.1-inch wheelbase, measures 173 inches long overall and stands 69.1 inches tall. Traditional-type styling resembles some of Fords full-fledged trucks. The rear liftgate has a flip-up window that opens separately. The Escape has a four-wheel-independent suspension. Standard tires measure 15 inches in diameter, but 16-inchers are available.
The Escape seats five people on two front bucket seats and a three-place folding rear bench, which is split on the XLT model. Cargo volume behind the rear seat measures 33.1 cubic feet; by folding that seat, that space grows to 69.2 cubic feet. Despite the compact exterior, theres room inside for two mountain bikes. Standard equipment includes a CD player, a tilt steering column, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Under the Hood
The Escapes base 127-horsepower, 2.0-liter Zetec four-cylinder engine teams only with a five-speed-manual gearbox. Most Escape models are equipped with the optional Duratec 201-hp, 3.0-liter V-6. The V-6 engine drives a four-speed-automatic transmission, which has its gear selector on the steering column. Escapes can have either front-wheel drive or ControlTrac II four-wheel drive, which engages automatically to maintain traction. An optional towing package for the V-6-equipped Escape allows it to haul 3,500 pounds.
Antilock brakes are optional. Side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional in the XLS and XLT and standard in the new Limited model.
The Escape is easy to drive and quite stable on the highway. It steers with a very light touch, which imparts a sufficient level of confidence. Frisky performance emanates from the V-6 engine as the Escape pulls out from a standstill with spirit. The automatic transmission shifts capably, without lumpiness in fact, its quite smooth for a truck.
Even at highway speeds, driveline noise is more noticeable than expected. Ride comfort is quite satisfying around town. Extremely short front-seat bottoms can impair comfort, but back support is fine. On the negative side, the Escapes doors and overall construction feel a little tinnier than those on some rival SUVs.