Ford already has the best-selling and largest sport utility vehicles, the Explorer and the Excursion, and for 2001 it adds another SUV, the Escape, to its lineup. The Escape is Fords first car-based SUV, derived from the Mazda 626 platform. Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, and the Japanese brand gets its own version of this vehicle, the Tribute.
Escape will compete with other car-based SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and the new Hyundai Santa Fe. All are smaller than traditional truck-based SUVs and offer the security of four-wheel drive with carlike ride and handling.
For now, Escape comes with gasoline engines. By 2003, Ford will introduce a hybrid version powered by a small gas engine and an electric motor.
Escape comes only as a four-door wagon, and the rear liftgate has a flip-up window that opens separately, as it does on Fords larger SUVs. The 103-inch wheelbase matches that of the Honda CR-V, and its overall length of 173 is 4 inches shorter than the CR-V and 17 inches shorter than the Explorer.
With unibody construction and four-wheel-independent suspension, the Escape has carlike qualities, but it comes wrapped in traditional SUV styling that resembles some of Fords trucks.
Escape seats five in the usual fashion two front buckets and a three-place folding rear bench (split on the XLT model). Cargo volume is 35 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 68 with the rear seat folded forward, creating a flat load floor. Ford says there is room for two mountain bikes with the liftgate closed, and mounting points are standard. Air conditioning; a CD player; power windows, locks and mirrors; a tilt-steering column; and remote keyless entry also are standard.
Under the Hood
Most Escapes will come with an optional 3.0-liter V-6 engine that generates 200 horsepower (the same engine used in the Taurus) and teams with a four-speed automatic transmission mounted on the steering-wheel column. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 130 hp is the base engine and comes only with a five-speed manual.
Both engines are available with front-wheel drive or Control Trac II four-wheel drive, which engages automatically as needed to maintain traction. An optional towing package for V-6 models allows towing trailers up to 3,500 pounds. Antilock brakes are standard on the XLT and optional on the XLS, and side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional on both.
Escape has ample cargo space, room for five people and enough offroad capability to qualify as a bona fide SUV. Smaller engines and less weight than midsize SUVs like the Explorer will mean better fuel economy, and its trimmer size makes it easier to handle in traffic. Better still, a fully loaded 4WD XLT model with the V-6 will cost around $25,000, thousands less than an Explorer.