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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
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The Car Connection
How can fuel economy be so close, and horsepower be so very far apart? Don't ask us--ask the 2013 Ford Escape, which puts almost a 75-hp spread between the base versions and the top turbo models, while both check in with similar EPA-estimated fuel economy.
The 2013 Escape initially will be offered in four trim levels. The base Escape S is the only model to offer the carryover 2.5-liter four-cylinder, coupled to the same six-speed automatic found in all other 2013 Escapes, and fitted only with front-wheel drive. In this configuration, the crossover nets 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, and an EPA-estimated 22/31 mpg. Even this base engine outsteams the 155-hp 2013 Mazda CX-5, and comes close to outpacing the current Honda CR-V. Only 10 percent of Escapes will come with this engine--primarily fleet vehicles--and Ford didn't provide a test vehicle outfitted with this drivetrain on its press event.
A 1.6-liter turbocharged "EcoBoost" four-cylinder with direct injection is standard in the Escape SE and SEL. It spools up 178 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. While performance is close to that of the base four, the turbo's gas mileage of 24/33 mpg trounces the non-turbo four, and matches that of the smaller Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, while outpacing the Honda CR-V's 22/30 mpg. The Mazda CX-5, at 26/35 mpg for front-drive versions, is a gas-mileage leader--but as we've seen, performance from its 155-hp four is lacking, which isn't so much the case with the Escape's 178-hp four, and its estimated 0-60 mph times of 8.5 seconds.
The Escape's top option is the 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four, which puts out 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Like Kia's Sportage SX, it's a quick, dartlike performer, with the clabbering noise of a turbo four a more distant roar here than it is than in, say, the Range Rover Evoque. It delivers 22/30 mpg and performance that's much stronger than the Honda CR-V--an estimated 8 seconds or less to 60 mph.
All Escapes shift power to the front or all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. It's mated well to the turbo engines, and the shift points strike a good balance between straight-line acceleration and gas mileage. They have to, since at 3,500 to 3,700 pounds, the Escape weighs a couple hundred pounds more than its Honda and Mazda competition. The one annoyance is the lack of shift paddles--instead, the Escape turbos get a +/- rocker switch on the shift lever and a sport-shift mode that, by their very location, do nothing to encourage sporty driving.
Front-wheel drive's the norm for the new Escape. A new layer of cornering sophistication comes with torque vectoring, which uses anti-lock braking to clamp an inside front wheel to tighten corners when slip is detected. We rarely recommend all-wheel drive (AWD) in the crossover class, since the benefits usually don't outweigh the added heft. In the Escape's case, the relatively simple AWD setup splits power between the front and rear wheels to shift power up to 100 percent to the end that still has a grip. Word to the wise: unless you live in the northern tier or at elevation, skip the extra hundreds of pounds and dollars and put them toward the payoff.
In chunky, almost fully optioned Titanium trim, our Escape took us on a 150-mile tour of the Marin Headlands that left us convinced of its complete break with the past. The ride and handling are proof enough that this Escape's almost worthy of a new nameplate. The trucky motions of the prior version are wiped clean. This really does feel like a Focus grown up and out, with a tightly damped ride, and weighty, fast steering that's not too overly blessed with feedback. It can feel too tautly strung at times, since the seats are no longer thickly padded, the Titanium's wheels and tires are big 19-inchers, and since there's almost no body flex to absorb ride impacts in the way the old Escape's doddering body structure used to soak up those things. In the balance, the new Escape's road manners are a huge departure--in precisely the right direction.
Taut handling and quick steering work well with the 240-hp turbo four; the Escape is one of the best-handling crossovers in its class.