Vehicle Overview
Ford’s first car-based sport utility vehicle debuted for the 2001 model year and is derived from the Mazda 626 platform — a result of Ford’s controlling interest in Mazda, which produces the similar Tribute. Developed in tandem, both 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, as well as the security of optional four-wheel drive.

Except for a newly optional six-CD changer, little is new for Ford’s smallest SUV. A Sport Package that includes a special cargo rack and 16-inch aluminum wheels was introduced in spring 2001.

During 2002, a hybrid version of the Escape is supposed to go on sale as a 2003 model. The hybrid will have a small gasoline engine and an electric motor to yield frugal fuel economy. This will make Ford the third automaker — behind Honda and Toyota — to offer a hybrid powertrain in the U.S. market and the first to have one in a truck-type vehicle.

Riding a 103-inch wheelbase, the unibody four-door Escape measures 173 inches long overall. Traditional-type SUV styling resembles some of Ford’s full-fledged trucks. The rear liftgate has a flip-up window that opens separately, as it does on larger Ford SUVs. The Escape has four-wheel-independent suspension.

Seating five occupants, the Escape is fitted with two front bucket seats and a three-place folding rear bench that is split on the XLT model. Cargo volume behind the rear seat is 35 cubic feet and grows to 68 cubic feet when the rear seat is folded forward, which creates a flat load floor. Despite the compact exterior, there’s space inside with the liftgate closed for two mountain bikes that can be secured by standard mounting points. Standard equipment includes a CD player, tilt steering column, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors.

Under the Hood
The base 130-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine teams only with a five-speed-manual shift. Most Escapes come with the optional 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6, which is also used in the Taurus sedan. This engine drives a four-speed-automatic transmission with the gear selector on the steering column. The Escape can have either front-wheel drive or Control Trac II four-wheel drive, which engages automatically as needed to maintain traction. An optional towing package for the V-6 Escape allows a cargo-towing capacity of up to 3,500 pounds.

Antilock brakes are standard on the XLT and optional on the XLS. Side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional on both models.

Driving Impressions
Easy to drive and quite stable on the highway, the Escape 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 — it’s quite smooth, in fact, for a truck.

Driveline noise is more noticeable than expected, even at highway speeds, and ride comfort is quite satisfying around town. Extremely short front-seat bottoms can impair comfort, but back support is fine. Occupants enjoy plenty of space in the front and rear. The backseat actually feels more comfortable than the front. On the negative side, the doors and overall construction feel a little more “tinny” than on some rivals.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2002 Buying Guide