2012 Ford Escape Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
October 25, 2011

The 2012 Ford Escape still antes up solid crossover bona fides, but its sluggish handling and plasticky interior are ready for retirement

It's been around the block, for sure, but the 2012 Ford Escape isn't your average 11-year-old crossover vehicle. It's one of the best-selling of its kind, despite its age, thanks probably due to a trucklike appearance, a reasonable base price, an available Hybrid edition, and a good track record for safety and reliability.

It doesn't hurt that the Escape looks like a 7/8ths-scale Explorer--first-generation, of course. While the other compact crossovers whizzing around the car world range from truly cute utes to avant-garde pieces of sculpture, the Escape still looks like a utility vehicle, with tall windows, bluff corners, and a chromey grille that's pure vintage Nineties, if such a thing can exist. The blocky looks, in context, are an appealing counterpoint to all the jellybean-shaped crossovers introduced in the decade since it was new. The truckishness carries over inside, in a less great way: all the shapes read cleanly and simply, but they're clad in plastics that put durability over a quality look and feel. It's downright grainy in there, and looks especially low-rent in lighter colors.

Some Escapes are greener than others. For those who want to live up the promise of the SUV body, there's a V-6 with enough thrust to carry a full load of people and stuff. That's not so much the case with the base four-cylinder; they're fine as solo commuter cars, and capable and refined enough for that kind of use. In either version, the six-speed automatic's up to the task, with very smooth shifting extracting better fuel economy from these engines than they've produced in the past. The Escape Hybrid is our choice above all, thanks to a gas-electric drivetrain that can cruise along quietly at highway speeds, weaving together battery and combustion power, trimming fuel consumption to 34/31 mpg in front-drive versions.

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On any version, the Escape's handling isn't bad, but it shows how much automakers have learned about softening up ride and sharpening up handling in crossovers in the 11 years since the Escape took its first bow. The Escape feels tall, and body roll is a big part of its M.O. It also has more ride harshness than some more suave crossovers; we'd pass on four-wheel-drive versions for their comparatively stiff ride as a result.

The Escape's upright body grants it decent headroom, even though it has a relatively high floor. It could use a little more leg room so four adults can sit in real comfort, but the cargo area's pretty sizable, and the rear seats fold down almost all the way to boost storage capacity.

The Escape is no longer the safety standout it had been, at an earlier time when robust, car-based crossovers weren't the norm. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2011 Escape "good" ratings for front and side impact protection, but calls it "marginal" in its new roof-crush test. And in the new federal tests, the Escape gets an iffy three stars out of five in all tests. The Escape has standard dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control with rollover protection. It also offers Ford's MyKey system, which gives parents control over the vehicle's top speed, volume levels and other features, but lacks features like a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors. Active park assist uses the Escape's electric power steering and sensors to guide the vehicle into a parallel parking spot, with the driver controlling braking.

Hybrids and gas Escape models alike can be fitted with the most up-to-date infotainment features in the class, which ends up being the Escape's saving grace: you can control the audio system and your phone through the SYNC system, plug in your iPod via USB to access your personal music library, or dial up some Sirius satellite radio for beamed-in radio--or traffic information, sports scores and weather reports. Leather seats, a sunroof, remote start, navigation, HD Radio and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system are major options.

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2012 Ford Escape

Styling

The 2012 Ford Escape lives up to its name, offering an old-style SUV silhouette that's a departure from smoother modern designs.

Stylistically, the 2012 Ford Escape looks and feels like one of the last survivors of a dying breed; in shape and even design details, the Escape still looks like a 7/8th-scale, 1990s-era Explorer, and its appearance has been dated for so long that it almost looks fashionable again (too bad, as this body style is to be replaced this year).

The squared-off countenance, tall glass areas, and somewhat rounded details that the Escape has had in different ways for many years have it looking like a utility vehicle, with its blocky looks an appealing counterpoint to all the jellybean-shaped crossovers of recent years.

The truckishness carries over inside, in a less great way: all the shapes read cleanly and simply, but they're clad in plastics that put durability over a quality look and feel. It's downright grainy in there, and looks especially low-rent in lighter colors. The center stack is taller and more upright, a metaphor for the rest of the vehicle, and on vehicles with the navigation system it harbors a big, bright LCD screen that contrasts heavily with the rest of the cockpit, even before you crank up the bright lights on its Settings panel.

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2012 Ford Escape

Performance

The 2012 Ford Escape doesn't handle as well as more modern crossover models, but its powertrains are respectable and the Hybrid remains a tech leader.

The Escape come in three different powertrain flavors--four-cylinder, V-6, and Hybrid--and for those who want to live up the promise of the SUV body, the 240-hp V-6 is the pick as it has enough thrust to carry a full load of people and stuff. That's not so much the case with the base four-cylinder; they're fine as solo commuter cars, and capable and refined enough for that kind of use.

With the 171-horsepower four-cylinder on board, the Escape struggles to hit 60 mph in about nine seconds, if we're splitting the difference between Ford's conservative estimates and those from the enthusiast mags. The manual transmission isn't particularly pleasing to row, according to some reviewers; we've been unable to track down a test vehicle in this configuration. But in either version, the six-speed automatic's up to the task, with very smooth shifting extracting better fuel economy from these engines than they've produced in the past.

The Escape Hybrid is our choice above all, thanks to a gas-electric drivetrain that can cruise along quietly at highway speeds, weaving together battery and combustion power, trimming fuel consumption to 34/31 mpg in front-drive versions. It feels more refined and somewhat more responsive than base four-cylinder versions as well. It can run only on electric power up to about 25 mph, and with that in mind and the energy-consumption screen dialed up on its dash, getting the Escape into its highest state of efficiency can become an interesting driving game, for the true geeks among us.

On any version, the Escape's handling isn't bad, but it shows how much automakers have learned about softening up ride and sharpening up handling in crossovers in the dozen years since the Escape took its first bow. The Escape feels tall, and body roll is a big part of its M.O. It also has more ride harshness than some more suave crossovers; we'd pass on four-wheel-drive versions for their comparatively stiff ride as a result.

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2012 Ford Escape

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Ford Escape has more space inside than most other crossovers its size, but there are plenty of reminders that this is an aging design.

While the overall package of the Ford Escape hasn't changed in nearly a dozen years, it saw a near-complete renovation for the 2008 model year--getting all-new materials and trims inside--so its interior stands as competitive. Fit and finish are a step down from the best vehicles in this class, but the boxy body affords a roomier, more versatile interior than you might guess.

Four adults will find plenty of seating room inside the Escape, and the upright configuration grants it decent headroom, even though it has a relatively high floor. Even with an optional sunroof, the head room in the front seat and even in the back bench are at least adequate. Seat comfort is good, too; the perches were reshaped, with firmer cushions, during the last rounds of improvements. Longer seat tracks for the front passenger chairs would be welcome, but that would probably mean a little less leg room for the rear seat--and it's not overwhelming in its space, though it's not bad.

Cargo space is impressive--again mainly due to the boxy shape. At 29 cubic feet of storage space, there's more than some mid-sizers.

The glaring issue inside the Escape's cabin isn't room, it's fit and finish, and even then, more on the finish side. The interior styling itself looks fine: the plastics used almost everywhere that give this ute a slight downmarket feel. It's partly an age factor at work, but given the extreme makeover we've seen inside the Dodge Journey, the Escape's cabin is disappointing.

Ride quality also shows the age of the Ford Escape design; there's a lot more nosedive under hard braking, as well as fore-and-aft motions on bumpy roads, than you'll find elsewhere in crossovers its size.
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2012 Ford Escape

Safety

Although the 2012 Escape offers some reassuring safety features, it shows its age in some worrisome occupant protection scores.

The Escape is no longer the safety standout it had been, at an earlier time when robust, car-based crossovers weren't the norm.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the 2011 Escape offers "good" protection against front and side impacts; in its roof crush rating, the Escape earned a "marginal" rating, which keeps it off the Top Safety Pick list it once belonged to. And in the new federal tests, the Escape gets an iffy three stars out of five in all tests. The Escape has standard dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control with rollover protection.

Ford's MyKey system, which gives parents control over the vehicle's top speed, volume levels and other features, is available in the 2012 Escape, but it a rearview camera or blind-spot monitors. Active park assist uses the Escape's electric power steering and sensors to guide the vehicle into a parallel parking spot, with the driver controlling braking.

Visibility remains a bright spot, as glass areas are tall and headrests don't get all that much in the way. The Escape's squared-off styling is also an asset for maneuverability and visibility, and the rearview side mirrors have blind-spot corners for a wide-angle view.
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2012 Ford Escape

Features

There's nothing dated about the 2012 Ford Escape's feature set; several of its options are tech standouts in its class.

Hybrids and gas Escape models alike can be fitted with the most up-to-date infotainment features in the class, which ends up being the Escape's saving grace: you can control the audio system and your phone through the SYNC system, plug in your iPod via USB to access your personal music library, or dial up some Sirius satellite radio for beamed-in radio--or traffic information, sports scores and weather reports.

Base versions can be quite lean in their standard equipment, but all include the usual power features, cruise control, and an AM/FM/CD player. Additionally, leather seats, a sunroof, remote start, navigation, HD Radio and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system are major options on higher trim levels, but the new MyFord Touch system, which replaces many buttons with touchscreen commands, isn't offered on the Escape.

The Escape also can be fitted with an Active Park Assist function that uses cameras, sensors and the electronic power steering system to steer into a parallel parking spot by itself, while the driver rides the brake pedal as a precaution.

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2012 Ford Escape

Fuel Economy

V-6 models of the 2012 Ford Escape are among the thirstier picks, but the Escape Hybrid is one of the greenest crossovers at any price.

With three engines, three transmissions, and front- or all-wheel drive, the 2012 Ford Escape runs the gamut between very green and somewhat thirstier than typical.

The EPA rates the base Escape four-cylinder, with front-wheel-drive and a manual transmission, at 23/28 mpg. But by the time you add all-wheel drive, and the V-6, ratings drop to 18/23 mpg--making it one of the thirstier vehicles in this class.

The Hybrid does much, much better. It's rated at 34/31 mpg, but adding in all-wheel drive, with its mechanical traction system, lowers that to 30/27 mpg.

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April 26, 2015
2012 Ford Escape FWD 4-Door XLT

A solid reliable vehicle.

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I am quite happy with my 2012 Ford Escape in all respects except one. The Gas Mileage is atrocious. I am a self employed rural mail carrier contractor so I stop at every box along my route. This has resulted... + More »
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March 21, 2015
For 2012 Ford Escape

perfect fit for our active lifestyle.

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Plenty of room, easy maintenance, great visibility, sits high. ..
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Styling 8.0
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