- Sleek, hatchback-on-steroids look
- Useful cargo space
- Firm yet compliant ride
- Excellent handling
- No shortage of tech options
- Dash robs front knee room
- Seats too firm for some
- MyFord Touch needs more real buttons
The 2016 Ford Escape gives up a little comfort and utility in its quest to be the most exciting crossover SUV to drive.
The 2016 Ford Escape is essentially a tall wagon—not unlike most compact crossover SUVs. It's a sporty one, at that, and that informs everything from the way it drives to the way it doesn't quite coddle its passengers. It's rakish, sporty, and contemporary, and it stands as quite an about-face from what it was a few model years ago, when it made the transition from a much more boxy shape.
The Escape carries over to 2016 with only a few minor changes, and versus rivals that include the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Toyota RAV4 and others, it continues to look (and drive) in a sportier, more car-like way, with crisp handling, strong, responsive powertrains, and reasonably good passenger space.
The only things keeping the Escape from being at the top of our list in its class is its real-world gas mileage (we've seen figures below the fed's combined ratings in every test drive, even in gentle conditions), and some of the styling and suspension choices. 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 it's too good in that respect not to keep on the shortlist.
Overtly sporty inside and out, the Ford Escape has ditched the boxy look of its ancestor. Ford gave the Escape a daring redesign three years ago, nudging—OK, shoving—it out of the traditional SUV styling doldrums and into its more exciting new shape. On the outside, the 2015 Escape has an aggressive stance and broadly arched profile; inside, it's sporty, almost cockpit-like, with a rakish and complex set of controls. Stylistically, not everyone will warm to the swoopy, plasticky interior treatment, which tends to rob the interior of space (for those in the front seats).
That look fits the decidedly sporty road manners of the 2016 Ford Escape. Although the Mazda CX-5 is a worthy rival, we can't think of any other compact crossover that comes close in offering such crisp, responsive steering, responsive handling, and great body control. The Escape definitely rides firmly, but it's not over-the-top harsh.
Add to that plenty of choices for what's under the hood. At the base level you can get a well-proven 2.5-liter inline-4 that's meant for fleets but actually smooth and well-suited for around-town duty. The mainstream choice of the lineup is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers straight-line acceleration about on par with the 2.5-liter (or those Honda and Toyota rivals) but its confident, torquey character thanks to the turbo setup mean that it doesn't need to downshift as frequently on the highway, from our experience.
Those who want the most performance should head to the 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter EcoBoost version, which can get to 60 mph in less than eight seconds and has the powertrain punch to really make the most of the Escape's handling. A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission for the lineup, and it works just fine. There's even a manual toggle on the shift knob, if you must.
Considering the sleek exterior, the Escape allows a generous amount of interior space. Front seats are slim and rather firm, and there's just enough space for adults—just two of them, realistically, due to width—in back. The tall body and flat cargo floor open up to loads of cargo space, and the rear seatback flips its own headrests down for simple, one-motion folding. And with a clever power-hatch option, you can simply swing your foot under the bumper to open it.
The 2016 Ford Escape includes a standard rearview camera system, which aids visibility when parking; otherwise its safety feature set is pretty typical for the class. It's earned mostly top-tier scores from the IIHS, although it earned an embarrassing (and perhaps worrisome) "Poor" result in the small overlap frontal test. And in federal crash tests, it's earned four-star overall ratings (with five stars for side impact).
Across the lineup you'll find interior appointments that are on par with the best in this class, and better than most other models in this price range. Noteworthy features offered in the Escape include Sync 3 infotainment, which replaces the complex and reviled MyFord Touch; a navigation system; HD and satellite radio; Bluetooth with audio streaming; push-button start; leather seating; all-wheel drive, with or without a 3,500-pound-rated towing package; and a panoramic sunroof. The top Escape Titanium remains the top model in the lineup and, while it offers a lot of features, can approach the $40,000 mark, fully loaded—which is too close for comfort to the related Lincoln MKC.
The 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4 engine that's most common in the lineup returns 23/32/26 mpg in front-drive form. The most powerful model, the 2.0-liter turbo four, is listed at 22/30/25 mpg, which is far better than what the old V-6 Escape returned. Where it's offered, all-wheel drive lowers the EPA combined fuel economy by 1 mpg.
2016 Ford Escape
Overtly sporty inside and out, the Ford Escape has ditched the boxy look of its ancestor.
Ford gave the Escape a daring redesign three years ago, nudging—OK, shoving—it out of the traditional SUV styling doldrums and into its rakish, exciting new shape.
With the new look came a dynamic, sometimes puzzling cockpit. The modern look the driver encounters inside the Escape is less familiar, more bold than ever before, contoured and heavily styled. It wraps around the front occupants in a swoopy, finely detailed way that makes other compact crossover interiors feel boring. In turn, it loses the open, airy feel of the first-generation Escape, and the rakish look has some trade-offs, like compromised visibility and thicker roof pillars and less knee and legroom. Such is the price of modernity.
Some of the details are ready for a rework, and luckily the Escape is near its mid-life refresh. At center, a wide ribbon of high-gloss gray plastic, with some climate and audio functions, loops around these a set of center-stack controls, with a piano-like layout of buttons and tall, skinny air vents. At the top of this Matterhorn of modernity, ironically, is a CD slot—the one relic of the past decade we can spot inside the new Escape from a dozen feet away. Time for it to go. Oddly, there's another horizontal air vent beneath the LCD screen that seems to exist to cool the climate controls and knee caps. There's a good deal of visual complexity in here that could use a calm hand, and a stylistic "delete" button.
The pert Escape's sheet metal is much more direct, but no less modern. It obviously takes its inspiration from hatchbacks, running shoes, and outdoor gear. Is it an especially tall hot hatch, or a tall-roof wagon, or is it a utility vehicle, dropped and made more aggressive? With its longer nose, we see hints of a good sport wagon (or sport sedan), as well as enough of the familiar upturned rear pillar to see that some of the influences from the Ford Focus (on which it's based) made it through here intact. From the side it's kicky and dynamic, but in front the mail-slot-sized grille still looks like an odd, cut-and-paste cue to us. The top Titanium model gets a little more visual differentiation on the outside, with 18-inch machined aluminum wheels, grill radiator shutters, and silver roof rails.
2016 Ford Escape
The Ford Escape has sharp handling and strong turbocharged power.
The Ford Escape's swoopy styling telegraphs what it's set up to do: to drive almost nothing like any SUV or even crossover you can imagine. Instead, it handles and accelerates like a sharp, engaging liftback that just happens to sit a bit higher and offer a touch more cargo space. On the crossover-SUV spectrum, it sits side by side with Mazda's CX-5 in totally diverting off the winding, off-road trail.
Ford offers a trio of powerplants in the Escape to underpin that mission. The base one won't leave anyone wanting more: it's a smooth, competent, boring 2.5-liter four-cylinder that's primarily aimed at fleet buyers. It's inexpensive, but really doesn't feel that way once it's built a head of steam.
The most popular Escape powertrain, in this generation, has been the mid-range turbo four. The 1.6-liter engine delivers straight-line acceleration roughly on par with the 2.5-liter engine—not to mention with the RAV4 or CR-V—but tops those with a torquey, confident feel that doesn't lead to as much downshifting on the interstates, in our experience.
For the top performer, the 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 pushes the Escape to 60 mph in less than eight seconds. It's the powerplant we'd choose—it has the punch to separate the Escape from almost every other crossover SUV in its class.
A six-speed automatic is the only transmission for the lineup, and it works just fine. It's mated well to the turbo engines, and the shift points strike a good balance between straight-line acceleration and gas mileage. Shift paddles are one thing that's sorely lacking; instead you get a rocker switch on the shift lever and a sport-shift mode that doesn't quite live up to its name.
The Escape comes with front-wheel drive in nearly all of its forms, but if you're not in the Snow Belt you shouldn't think of all-wheel drive (AWD) as necessary. With all-wheel drive you get some 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.
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. Even without it, we think the Escape's polished road manners would still shine. With crisp steering, responsive handling, and great body control, the Escape lives up to the hatchback profile. You won't find trucky motions; instead there's a tightly damped ride, and weighty, fast steering that's not too overly blessed with feedback.
On the down side: the Escape can feel too tautly strung at times. The seats are no longer thickly padded, the Titanium's wheels and tires are big 19-inchers, and there's very little body flex to absorb ride impacts in the way the old Escape's doddering body structure used to soak up those things.
2016 Ford Escape
Comfort & Quality
It has a small footprint compared to its rivals, but the Ford Escape puts its space to good use.
Compared to other vehicles in the class, the Ford Escape feels roughly the same size as the Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5, although it's definitely smaller than the Subaru Forester or Toyota RAV4.
By the numbers, it's only slightly less effective at carving out passenger and cargo space when compared to its top rival, the Honda CR-V. With an overall length of about 178 inches, and a 106-inch wheelbase, the Escape is a few inches shorter than the Honda CR-V, but its wheelbase is nearly three inches longer, which hints at how its cabin feels nearly as spacious. 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.
In everyday use, the Honda has the Escape nailed, for a few reasons. One, we've noticed that in front, the Escape's dash structure nibbles 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. It's less comfortable than the Honda, too—the Escape's front seats are slim and rather firm, and while the driver can option up to 10-way passenger seats, the front passenger seat is manual-adjust only, even on Titanium models.
Honestly, the front buckets wouldn't feel out of place in a sport sedan, and that's mostly true for the rear bench as well. From the side, the Escape's seats 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.
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 is relatively tall and square, and can hold 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 the old Escape.
The tall body and flat cargo floor open up to loads of cargo space, and the rear seatback flips its own headrests down for simple, one-motion folding. 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. The power-hatch option is clever, the rear hatch opens simply by swinging your foot under the bumper to open it.
The Escape definitely rides firmly, but it's not over-the-top harsh. Across the lineup you'll find interior appointments that are on par with the best in this class, and better than most other models in this price range. Stylistically, not everyone will warm to the swoopy, plasticky interior treatment, which tends to rob the interior of space.
2016 Ford Escape
A poor score in one crash test forces us to downgrade the Escape's safety score.
The Ford Escape's safety equipment is typical for its class, but its crash-test scores have at least one disappointing blemish.
The NHTSA gives the Escape a four-star overall rating, with a five-star rating for side-impact protection. That's average for the class. While the Escape has earned mostly top-tier scores from the IIHS, it received an embarrassing "Poor" score in the new, tough small-overlap front-impact test.
Escape safety equipment includes dual front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; and Ford's MyKey system, which lets drivers place limits on speed, volume, and other functions, for younger drivers.
Ford also has made a rearview camera standard on the Escape. Front and rear parking sensors are offered as options, while rear sensors are standard on the Titanium trim level. Blind-spot monitors are optional.
The Escape's electric power steering also makes active park assist possible. As on some other Fords, this system judges parallel-parking spots, and steers the Escape into them when it will fit, with the driver operating the pedals.
All-wheel drive is optional throughout the lineup. And with the towing package, it comes with HID headlights and trailer-sway control, which uses stability control to compensate for the rocking motion induced by a trailer.
2016 Ford Escape
The Escape has the features we want in a basic crosssover SUV; there's much more, but prices wander uncomfortably close to $40,000.
Most versions of the Ford Escape come with the features we'd want in a basic crossover SUV—but if you aren't careful, the price tag can press close to $40,000.
If you want to keep it simple, the base Escape S is no stripped-down miser. It includes air conditioning; an AM/FM/CD player with six speakers; an auxiliary jack; power windows; cloth seats; and the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and the 6-speed automatic for around $24,000.
A step up from that is the Escape SE, which adds on standard satellite radio; a 10-way power driver's seat; 17-inch wheels; keypad entry on the door frame; and Ford's Bluetooth-driven SYNC controller, which uses voice commands to run phone and audio systems, with information displayed on a 4.0-inch color screen.
The temptation's there, however, to choose liberally from the list of major options, which include a panoramic sunroof; keyless ignition; navigation system; Sony sound system; HD radio; remote start; hands-free liftgate; active park assist; 18-inch wheels; and a towing package.
That top Escape Titanium includes the feature list of a luxury vehicle, with leather seats, heated front seats, ambient lighting, a power converter, and dual-zone climate control, along with a media hub with two USB ports, RCA jacks, and an SD slot. In addition to the top 240-hp inline-4, the Titanium also steps up to heated mirrors, 19-inch wheels, keyless ignition, and fog lamps. You'll also get a hands-free tailgate, which lets you wave a foot under the bumper to open or close the tailgate automatically, and a passenger-side power front seat.
HID headlights, blind-spot monitors, park assist, and rain-sensing wipers are grouped together into a Titanium Technology Package.
A fully loaded, top-of-the-line Ford Escape Titanium can come perilously close to the $40,000 mark. At that price, we're not sure why you wouldn't opt for a luxury-brand crossover like Ford's own Lincoln MKC.
MyFord Touch, the touchscreen-and-voice system that takes over operation of audio, media, and other features, is finally consigned to the history books. This year it's been replaced by a new system dubbed Sync 3, which shares a lot of functionality with the excellent Chrysler infotainment systems (down to the programming level). The interface is much cleaner and much quicker to respond—a welcome improvement over the woeful outgoing setup.
2016 Ford Escape
With EPA ratings of up to 30 mpg, the Escape is one of Ford's more frugal vehicles.
With its range of 4-cylinder engines, the Ford Escape is one of the more fuel-efficient choices in its class, if not the most frugal.
If you opt for the 2.5-liter inline-4—which is mostly a base offering for fleets—you get a rating of 22 mpg city, 31 highway, 25 combined. These models are front-wheel-drive only.
That compares with the Honda CR-V, which in base form turns in 26/33/29 mpg, according to the EPA.
The 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that's most common in the lineup returns 23/32/26 mpg in front-drive form. The most powerful model, the 2.0-liter turbo-4, is listed at 22/30/25 mpg, which is far better than what the old V-6 Escape returned.
Where it's offered, all-wheel drive lowers the EPA combined fuel economy by 1 mpg.
Both the 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter engines are part of Ford's EcoBoost family, incorporating turbocharging and direct injection, as well as active grille shutters on 2.0-liter models that help hasten engine warmup and improve highway mileage in cold weather.
One note, however: We haven't quite managed to meet the EPA ratings in any of the 1.6- and 2.0-liter EcoBoost models, but with tall gearing and promise of the engine tech we'll venture that if gently driven, it'll return some impressive numbers on long trips.