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The Ford Escape keeps a familiar nameplate, but it's a completely different vehicle for the 2013 model year—powering away from its boxy SUV-influenced past with potent engines sleek crossover looks, and more interior space than before.
Completely new, derived from the family of components that brought you TheCarConnection's Best Car To Buy 2012, the Ford Focus, the new Escape delivers something very nearly unimaginable, given its heritage--an athletic look that's authenticated by deft road manners.
In escaping its own past, Ford's compact crossover turns first to a trio of four-cylinders to replace its former four- and six-cylinder engines and the much-loved but discontinued Ford Escape Hybrid. The base engine's a carryover 2.5-liter four meant for fleets, while the mainstream choice is a 178-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbo four with straight-line acceleration competitive with its chief rivals, the Honda CR-V and four-cylinder Toyota RAV4. At the peak of power is a 2.0-liter turbo four with 240 hp, estimated at 0-60 mph in under 8.0 seconds. All versions come with a six-speed automatic; all are estimated at more than 30 mpg in highway fuel economy. On the Escape Titanium we drove, ride and handling were the ideal counterparts for the turbo's dartlike power; we can't think of a single compact crossover that steers with more precision or tamps down ride motions as smartly as the Escape, except maybe the 155-hp Mazda CX-5.
The performance pairs well with the Escape's new track suit. The running-shoe styling only wears thin at the front, where the skinny grille and gaping air inlets need to find some common ground and call a truce. The cockpit has its fair share of grey glossy plastic and tangential styling themes; on the balance, it's exciting, not chaotic.
The Escape's larger than before, but passenger space isn't changed much. An inch of room in front is now granted to the folks in back. The seats are slimmed down and firmed up, which may not be everyone's taste; we're in their camp, fans of the long-distance support they offer. The cargo hold's larger, and the back seat folds and flips down its own headrests for better storage space--and the new hands-free tailgate option opens and closes the hatch at the swing of a foot.
Other available features include an improved but still complex MyFord Touch; a navigation system; HD and satellite radio; Bluetooth with audio streaming; pushbutton start; leather seating; all-wheel drive, with or without a 3,500-pound-rated towing package; and a panoramic sunroof.
With Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as well as four-star overall ratings (with five stars for side impact) from the federal government, the 2013 Escape has impressive safety--although it's not quite class-leading, if you read directly from test results. Although the Escape's 'poor' rating in the IIHS small overlap frontal test is a sore point. The Honda CR-V, for instance, manages Top Safety Pick status plus five-star federal results and better IIHS small overlap results.
Prices range from $23,295 for the Escape S to $31,195 for the Escape Titanium. In that respect, the 2013 Ford Escape isn't all that different from the model that came before it. In every other way, it's an Escape in name only--for all the right reasons.