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QUALITY | 7 out of 10
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The Car Connection
With last year's redesign, the Escape grew in overall length, wheelbase, in cargo space, and the interior feels much more carlike, too. The Ford Escape doesn't net much more usable room for passengers, though, which leaves it quite comfortable, if a bit less open and airy, than the benchmark Honda CR-V.
With an overall length of about 178 inches, with a 106-inch wheelbase, the current Escape is up 3.4 inches in length and 2.8 inches in wheelbase versus the previous Escape. Against the just-refreshed CR-V, it's marginally shorter, but it has a wheelbase that's 2.8 inches longer. Versus some other new and noteworthy competitors, the new Escape's roughly the size of the upcoming 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and not much larger than Hyundai's Tucson.
Compared to the previous Escape, the longer wheelbase freed up some space for passengers, moving a little more than an inch of leg room from the front seats to the rear seats. Nevertheless, the Escape is smaller than some key rivals; its 40.4 inches of front leg room measure up against the CR-V's 41.3 inches, and in back, the Escape's 36.8 inches of space line up against the Honda's 38.3 inches.
That said, it's large enough to outdo the smaller side of the compact set, including the Tucson, Sportage and Rogue—more so in the back seats than in the front. We've noticed that in front the dash structure tends to nibble away at knee room in the front seats, and in the front passenger seat; the footwells taper narrowly between the dash and the wheel well. Hold back from opting for the panoramic sunroof and you'll find an overabundance of headroom, front and back.
In the top Titanium model you get firmer leather seats, of the sort that wouldn't feel out of place in a sport sedan. From the side, they have a very slim profile, and clearly were engineered to preserve as much passenger space as possible. Still, some passengers may just think they're too hard. While the driver can option up to 10-way passenger seats, the front passenger seat is manual-adjust only, even on Titanium models.
The rear bench seatbacks recline for a comfortable long-distance riding position. They also split and fold, with a clever mechanism that requires just a tug of a fabric loop to flip down the headrests and allow the seats to fold flat. The arrangement is clever, but not as clever as the Honda CR-V's trick one-touch folding system and its layout that makes best use of every cubic foot of its cargo hold.
As for the cargo space, we appreciate the optional two-position load floor that gives a choice between a flat floor and maximum storage space, as well as the enclosed cargo bin, which has grown taller and squarer—now fitting 34.3 cubic feet of unattended bags and goodies inside. But with tall sides and smaller glass areas, it's not nearly as pet-friendly as before.
In the balance, the new Escape's road manners are a huge departure--in precisely the right direction. Because of the longer wheelbase, and a tauter suspension calibration, there isn't nearly the amount of pitching fore and aft as there was in the past. It's more settled; less busy.
The Escape is small -- compared to other compact crossovers even -- but it makes good use of the space and has great front seats.