- Six-speed automatic's clean shifts
- Four-cylinder's above-average economy
- Best-in-class in-car tech
- Lots of safety features
- Cabin feels unrefined
- Lots of body roll
- Ride can get choppy
- Not the roomiest back seat we've seen
The boxy, old-school appearance might turn you off, but the 2011 Ford Escape still delivers solid crossover and SUV bona fides.
First impressions can ring true, but if you're betting the 2011 Ford Escape is a trucky, cramped fuel hog, you're all wrong. The Escape may look the part of a 7/8-scale Ford Explorer, but its car-based running gear makes it a crossover at heart--an aging heart, but at heart nonetheless.
Blocky looks and a functional cockpit are an appealing counterpoint to the wave of jellybean crossovers that have washed over the market in the ten years since the Escape was brand-new. The upright stance gives the ute decent headroom, despite the relatively high floor. It could use a little more leg room so four adults can sit in real comfort. We'd also wish for a better sense of quality in the Escape's plastics and upholstery, if we didn't know the entire vehicle is up for replacement in 2012.
The Escape comes in a few varieties, more green in balance than not. The V-6 option is probably the best fit with its visuals--it's blessed with enough thrust to carry a full load of people and stuff. The four-cylinder versions aren't quite so lucky, but as commuter cars, they're capable enough, refined enough, and more miserly than expected. Handling isn't bad, but the tall Escape has more body roll and a bit more ride harshness as you push it aggressively.
The Escape Hybrid is the pick of the litter, thanks to a gas-electric powertrain that can cruise along at highway speeds, weaving battery and combustion power together while it trims consumption to 34/31 mpg in front-drive versions. Hybrids and gas Escape 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.
2011 Ford Escape
Bless its boxy heart, the 2011 Ford Escape still looks more like an SUV than it does like a crossover--a good thing, save for the hard surfaces inside.
It's among the last survivors of a dying breed, and the SUV-lookalike 2011 Ford Escape is about to give up on its sport-ute roots entirely. This year the carryover Escape still has the squared-off countenance, tall glass areas and boxy countenance that it's had for a few years--ever since Ford put the styling in the design microwave back in 2008. Is it obsolete or more desirable than all those rounded, smooth crossovers? We're still happy with the chunky stance, but even Ford sees the future of all-weather wagons--and it's planning an Escape replacement that's way softer and far more nuanced than this Explorer echo ever has been.
The Escape's interior redo--also a few years ago--brought its ergonomics up to date and lent some of the same SUV credo to the cabin, even though it went through a low-rent corner of plastic city to get there. 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.
2011 Ford Escape
The 2011 Ford Escape's full of mixed performance messages: Hybrid versus V-6, ground clearance versus low ride height, electric power steering versus rear drum brakes.
Ford upgraded and updated all the powertrains in the Escape back in 2009, and it's been more of the same ever since--not a bad thing in the case of the Hybrid model, and in truth just fine with the four- and six-cylinder models too.
Neither of the Escape's gas-only powertrains will win awards for smoothness or innovation, but they're serviceable pieces. The four-cylinder is plenty more smooth than Ford's last stab at a frugal Escape; the 3.0-liter V-6 saw output rise by some 40 hp, though it's quite a bit noisier than Ford's larger 3.5-liter six.
Both can be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, while the four-cylinder model comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. With the 171-horspower 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.
Upping the stakes considerably, the V-6 engine puts out 240 horsepower and sets about its task with a lot more enthusiasm. It's not particularly quiet or smooth, but the six-cylinder teams up well with the new six-speed automatic transmission and its quick, clean gear changes. The six-speed automatic also is an option with the four-cylinder engine.
Handling isn't the Escape's best feature. Steering has improved, since its hydraulics have been swapped out for electric motors, and the ride quality is decent on most highway surfaces, though it gets exponentially harsher and noisier as the road condition falters. Ride height and ground clearance make the Escape drive taller than newer competitors like the Hyundai Tucson, and significant doses of body roll interrupt any aggressive cornering moves. Since its running gear dates back to 2001, it's not difficult to see why the Escape isn't quite up to handling par, some ten model years later.
The Escape Hybrid's powertrain combines the four-cylinder engine, batteries and electric motors to deliver much higher fuel economy than any of the other models. It's a swell integration of electronics, electrics and software--just as in the Fusion Hybrid, the Escape Hybrid doesn't have as much of the digital feel in its steering, nor any lurching in its powertrain when the gas engine joins in with the battery power. 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.
2011 Ford Escape
Comfort & Quality
Cargo and passenger space are some of the 2011 Ford Escape's strengths; plasticky trim is a weakness.
It saw a near-complete renovation in the 2008 model year, and the Ford Escape still has good interior space compared to its rivals. The inexpensive-looking fit and finish are a step down from the best vehicles in the segment, though.
Four adults will find plenty of seating room inside the 2011 Escape. Even with an optional sunroof, the head room in the front seat and even in the back bench are at least adequate. The seats themselves were reshaped during the last rounds of improvements, and their cushions are a little more firm, and are arranged a bit better than the flat-backed seats you'd have found in earlier editions. 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.
The cargo hold delivers 29 cubic feet of storage space, which is more than many more expensive crossovers--think Acura RDX, Land Rover LR2 and the like.
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.
2011 Ford Escape
The 2011 Ford Escape has an aging body underneath, but you'd never know it from safety scores and equipment.
With major changes this model year to crash-test scoring, the 2011 Ford Escape will have to wait on an official "star" rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agency has changed its criteria this year, and as of yet, it hasn't awarded a rating to the Escape. In the past, the crossover has earned five-star ratings for front and side impact protection, though.
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.
The 2011 Escape has standard dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control with rollover protection. Now available is Ford's MyKey system, which gives parents control over the vehicle's top speed, volume levels and other features.
Also available is a new rearview camera, and Active Park Assist (which we'll discuss on the Features page).
Visibility is good in the Escape, since its glass areas are tall, and its rear headrests don't sit too high. The rearview side mirrors have blind-spot corners for a wide-angle view, and the squared-off styling helps make it clear where the corners of the vehicle begin and end.
2011 Ford Escape
MyFord Touch isn't available, but the 2011 Ford Escape has SYNC, Bluetooth, GPS, Sirius and a few other high-tech hotkeys in its pocket.
Ford's new corporate calling card is in-car technology--anything it can wire up to make your drive more entertaining, less distracting, and even more safe.
The 2011 Escape gets some, if not all, of Ford's latest inventions, innovations and off-the-shelf purchases. The 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.
Moving up the trim lines, Ford installs features like SYNC, the Bluetooth-driven system that uses your own voice commands to operate some of the climate, audio and navigation functions of the car. The most current version of SYNC has a much broader vocabulary than in the past, and it's become much easier to use as a result--though there's still a learning curve in swapping out hand gestures for audibles.
Sirius satellite radio is available, and on more expensive Escapes, it comes with Travel Link, the equivalent of a location-based RSS feed going through the car's LCD screen. Travel Link updates you on the local weather, sports scores, even fills you in on movie times--and can help you find low gas prices at nearby stations.
Other infotainment features include a USB port for audio players; a DVD drive that allows you to watch videos on the optional navigation system's big LCD screen when the Escape sits parked. The new MyFord Touch system, which replaces many buttons with touchscreen commands, isn't offered on the Escape.
HD Radio is a new option for the 2011 model year, and 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.
2011 Ford Escape
Four-cylinder models have very good fuel economy, but green buyers will look no further than the 34/31 mpg rating on the 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid.
The 2011 Ford Escape gives shoppers a choice of three engines, three transmissions, and front- or all-wheel drive, which plays out across the lineup in the form of fuel-economy lows and highs.
Starting with the base Escape, the EPA rates the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, manual-transmission crossover at 23/28 mpg. Add on the automatic transmission and the numbers drop in the city cycle to 21/28 mpg. Then couple it to an all-wheel-drive system, and the Escape checks in at 20/26 mpg.
Six-cylinder Escapes kick off at 19/25 mpg for the front-drive model; all-wheel-drive versions are rated at 18/23 mpg. The six-cylinder comes only with Ford's six-speed automatic, by the way.
Step into the Escape Hybrid and figures rise markedly. The front-drive Hybrid is rated tops at 34/31 mpg; adding in all-wheel drive lowers that to 30/27 mpg. Both versions direct their power to the wheels via an electronic continuously variable transmission, though the AWD edition has a mechanical, not a hybrid-derived electronic, traction system.
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