2014 Ford Escape SE 1.6: Quick Drive

April 2, 2014
Many American families are skipping over mid-size sedans in favor of compact crossovers. And while it only takes some crawling around the interior of these models—and some weekend errands—to ascertain why, there’s an inconvenient truth about them: Many of these smaller utility vehicles just aren’t very enjoyable to drive.

As we recently found in a weeklong drive, the front-wheel-drive version of the 2014 Ford Escape SE not only looks a bit more like a tall, sporty hatchback but lives up to that spirit from the driver’s seat.

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It’s different than the rest of the Ford Escape lineup, too. We’ve driven several versions of the latest Escape with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and all-wheel drive, but there was something very different about how this front-wheel-drive 2014 Ford Escape SE rode, drove, and maneuvered.

Feels perky, nimble…and a lot lighter than it is

First off, the FWD Escape SE has a curb weight of about 3,500 pounds, but it somehow feels a lot lighter. The ratios work very well to convey that perky feeling, too, with a low first gear making this model very sprightly from a standing start, nice evenly spaced intermediate gears that the transmission seems to make great sense of at partial throttle, and a nice tall sixth gear for relaxed cruising.

The smooth-idling, smooth-revving 1.6-liter EcoBoost four makes 178 hp, but its peak 184 pound-feet arrive at just 2,500 rpm; it runs on regular-grade gas, and there’s really no lag to speak of provided you’re above the 2,000-rpm mark. Steering is nice and confidence-inspiring—it and feels as nicely weighted as that in the lighter, lower Focus.

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Thirstier than we anticipated

Unfortunately, the powertrain just didn’t deliver what we expected at the pump. Our Escape SE carried EPA fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg city, 32 highway; but over a week of driving and about 130 miles, we didn’t see anything close to it. Our trip-computer-indicated average of about 22 mpg fell well short of the 30-ish mpg we saw in a comparable week of driving in a base-engine Mazda CX-5 last year. Granted, the Escape does feel perkier.

There was a lot to like about our Escape SE—including the ‘natural’ seating height, roomy back seat, and low cargo floor you can read more about in our full review of the 2014 Ford Escape. The price is also impressively low. For a bottom-line sticker number of $29,325, our test Escape included an SE Convenience Package, bringing dual-zone automatic climate control, a reverse sensing system, a a 110V power outlet, black side roof rails, and MyFord Touch with the larger eight-inch touch screen and nine speakers. Separately, our Escape was optioned with navigation ($795), a power liftgate ($495), and special Ruby Red Clearcoat Metallic paint that we liked enough to think that its $395 price might actually be worth it.

And that’s all on top of what comes standard on the SE—including keyless entry, a rearview camera, power locks, windows, and mirrors, a ten-way power driver’s seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, and fog lamps.

Tighter inside, but a tighter drive

The only thing that keeps the Escape from being at the top of our list here is the gas mileage, and the overly complex infotainment interface. The Escape might not feel quite as roomy as some models in this class, like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, either. But many parents will find these things trivial after zipping around town in the Escape. It’s a versatile crossover that handles like a small car—and possibly even better than that mid-size sedan; and for that, the Escape should be right up near the top of your list.

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