2021 Ford Escape

Consumer Reviews
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2020
The Car Connection
2020
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
September 18, 2020

Buying tip

The smart money is on the Escape SE Sport with a hybrid powertrain. It’s all we could ask for.

The 2021 Ford Escape is the softer side of the Blue Oval’s small crossover 1-2 combo.

What kind of crossover is the 2021 Ford Escape? What does it compare to?

Ford’s small crossover question for 2021 is the same as peanut butter: Smooth or chunky?

The 2021 Ford Escape is the smoother, spreadable side of that answer. The Escape competes against an army of smooth small crossover SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Chevy Equinox. Want chunky? Head over to the related Bronco Sport that prioritizes off-road performance.

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Is the 2021 Ford Escape a good SUV?

It’s 7.0 TCC Rating indicates that it’s very good for a new car that costs about $30,000 in our recommended SE or SE Sport trim. Among the highlights: a perfect safety score and exceptional value in lower trims. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Ford Escape?

The Escape takes a year off after its initial splash last year. A hybrid powertrain is now available on more trims and a plug-in hybrid launched late last year returns again this year.

The 2021 Escape is available in S, SE, SE Sport, SEL, and Titanium trim levels.

Under the hood is a smorgasbord of powertrain possibilities, beginning with a small 180-horsepower turbo-3 that pairs to an 8-speed automatic transmission. It drives the front wheels as standard but can shuttle power toward the rears for all-weather traction.

A meatier 250-hp turbo-4 is on the menu that powers all four wheels via the same 8-speed automatic. Its performance metric is measured more in confidence: there’s more passing speed and more power to tap for mountain-state buyers.

A 2.5-liter inline-4 pairs to a small battery in Escape Hybrid models and drives the front or all four wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It returns up to 41 mpg combined, according to the EPA, and in the Escape SE Sport, it becomes a stone-cold steal for crossover shoppers looking for efficiency who don’t want to wear green on their sleeves.

The Escape Plug-in Hybrid pairs the same 2.5-liter inline-4 with a much bigger 14.4-kwh lithium-ion battery that can power the crossover on electricity alone for up to 37 miles. It's rated the same as the hybrid, about 41 mpg combined, but only drives the front wheels via the CVT. It’s available on more trim levels this year and eligible for a federal tax credit or local incentives, where applicable.

Every Escape is comfortable and easy to drive, and equipped with automatic emergency braking and active lane control along with a stellar crash-test scorecard.

How much does the 2021 Ford Escape cost?

Base versions cost about $26,000 and are roomy—but also leave plenty of room for improvement. We’d opt for an SE or SE Sport at close to $30,000 for the best value. The Escape Titanium clocks in close to $40,000, where its value falls down.

Where is the Ford Escape made?

The Ford Escape is assembled in Louisville, Kentucky.

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2021 Ford Escape

Styling

The Escape’s great curb appeal is unexpected but also very welcome.

Is the Ford Escape a good-looking car?

The 2021 Escape looks best where it counts the most, and by that we mean the outside. The inside is a little plainer, less expressive, and more restrained. It’s a 7 on our style scale the old-fashioned way: on exterior appearances alone.

The Escape’s clean shape has worn well since it was new last year. It’s softer and more car-like, a right turn away from contemporaries such as the Toyota RAV4 that have gone blocky like old Atari. Ford offers a pixelated, trucky crossover on the Escape’s bones, but calls it a Bronco Sport instead.

We see a little Tesla Model 3 in the Escape’s nose, which steers away from the typical 1,000-yard stare into something that’s a little friendlier. There are more than a few similarities shared with Mazda too, especially in the rear quarters and in profile. (Ford and Mazda were once cozy, but not like this.)

Less busy than before, the Escape’s interior is perilously close to inattentive. The inside is dressed in mostly black, like a chic coffee shop with just about the same somber personality, too. Digital screens and lighter shades can liven up the interior a little, but cost-cutting plastics are hard, black, shiny, and prolific.

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2021 Ford Escape

Performance

There’s a long list of powertrain possibilities here, none of them are bad.

The menu for the 2021 Ford Escape’s powertrain is nearly as long as the Cheesecake Factory’s but nowhere near as calorific.

Our rating of 6 applies to the most popular Escape, which will be the base, 180-hp turbo-3 engine and front-wheel drive. Other engines would net an additional point if rated separately.

Is the Ford Escape AWD?

At every stop, Ford offers all-wheel drive in the Escape that can give the soft-roader good all-wheel traction. If getting lost is your priority, we’d suggest shopping the mechanically related Bronco Sport, which offers more off-road hardware than the Escape.

How fast is the Ford Escape?

Escapes fitted with the 1.5-liter turbo-3 won’t win many drag races, but they’re confident around town in a point-and-shoot way with reasonable passing power for the highway—as long as you’re not running up a mountain. Ford doesn’t quote 0-60 mph times for the turbo-3 and we don’t expect they’ll start anytime soon; they’re not likely impressive.

The turbo-3 is paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission and can be equipped with an all-wheel drive system that sends power to the rear wheels if the fronts slip.

If speed is your priority, Ford offers a 250-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-4 in SEL and Titanium trims that’s equipped with all-wheel drive and the same 8-speed automatic. It scoots to 60 mph in about seven seconds, and it’s more engaging to drive than it has any rights to be. The turbo-4 sounds grainy in SEL models, Titanium trims get acoustic glass that quells some of those nasty noises.

Regardless of engine, the Escape rides better than it steers, which is something we haven’t said about previous versions of the crossover. Even with 19-inch wheels, the Escape is comfortable and poised on the road. It’s now more muted that previous Escapes, but it’s more in line with the small crossover’s mission.

Ford Escape Hybrid performance

Two hybrid Escapes are offered, with or without a plug.

The Escape SE Sport and Titanium are hybrids from the word “go” and pair a 2.5-liter inline-4 with a small lithium-ion battery pack and CVT. (A 2.0-liter turbo-4 is optional in the Titanium but not available on the SE Sport.) The combo produces 200 hp and it shuttles power to the front or all four wheels.

There isn’t enough sound-deadening to strangle the sometimes-strained noises of the hybrid powertrain, but the 41-mpg combined figure from the EPA is better music to our ears. The hybrid drives with some of the powertrain machinations happening in the background without driver interaction. It’s disconnected but not dispiriting, riding and steering almost like the non-hybrid version.

A plug-in hybrid powertrain is available on every trim except base and SE Sport and plugs in a 14.4-kwh lithium-ion battery rated for up to 37 miles of all-electric range. It can be fully charged on a Level 2 charger for about 3.5 hours, but it's available only with front-wheel drive. It checks in at a meaty 3,889 pounds and feels every ounce of that heavy from behind the wheel.

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2021 Ford Escape

Comfort & Quality

The Escape is comfortable and spacious, but perhaps not for big bodies.

Right angles went away with the new Ford Escape—not passenger space. There’s good room for adults in there—just the right kind of adults. The back seat is good and the cargo space is better. It’s a 7 for comfort.

The Escape measures 180.5 inches from stem to stern, which is a few inches longer than the outgoing model but it’s interior is much smarter.

The front seats are spacious and mostly comfortable, with more knee room than before. Small-item storage abounds, but that’s not the only “small” here. The seats are shaped better for small- to medium-size adults with short, rounded bottom cushions and narrow side bolsters. Heated seats are standard on SE and higher trims, but no Escape offers cooled seats. Darn.

The second row gets better accommodations this time around with more leg room (38.8 inches in non-hybrid versions, or 37 inches on hybrid models) and seat backs that recline. The outboard seats are comfy and pushed in farther from the doors, which means three abreast for adults may be a challenge. We say the cloth seats are comfier than the leather seats in the back, your mileage may vary.

The second row slides fore and aft several inches to max comfort or cargo, and behind the second row there are 37.5 cubic feet of cargo room possible—about 4 cubic feet less with the seats slid back, and another 3 cubic feet lost in hybrid models for the battery pack.

The Escape’s interior is mostly pleasing, although cost-cutting materials can be found in lower dash pieces and the door caps. Upper trims dress up a little with wood and leather, but the Escape isn’t a convincing luxury-lite ‘ute. For that, it’s best to turn to the related Lincoln Corsair, which is more convincing and more expensive.

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2021 Ford Escape

Safety

Nailed it.

How safe is the Ford Escape?

It’s hard to do better than perfect. The 2021 Ford Escape has a mostly spotless crash-test scorecard and is equipped with standard automatic emergency braking. Coupled with good outward vision and spend-up extras, the Escape aces our safety scale. It’s a 10.

Federal testers gave the Escape a five-star overall score but noted four stars for rollover crash protection, which is common among tall-riding cars.

The IIHS called it a Top Safety Pick and gave it top “Good” scores on all its crash tests and noted that its automatic emergency braking systems were “Superior” at avoiding forward crashes with other vehicles or pedestrians. (Oddly, the optional system earned a slightly lower “Advanced” rating for pedestrian safety, but the base system earned a “Superior” rating.) Escape Titanium models are the only versions equipped with headlights rated by the IIHS as “Acceptable”; the rest are rated “Marginal.”

Every Escape is equipped with automatic emergency braking and active lane control. On the options list, or standard on top trims, are adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, a surround-view camera system, and automatic parking aids.

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2021 Ford Escape

Features

Skip the base trim and every Escape gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen and good gear.

The 2021 Escape makes a compelling case as an efficient crossover to buy for just under $30,000. Less expensive base versions are mostly well-equipped but lack a few features that rivals offer even on their cheapest models. Good value and better options net the Escape a 7 for features on our scale.

The 2021 Escape is available in S, SE, SE Sport, SEL, and Titanium trim levels. The base price for an Escape S is about $26,000 and that includes active safety features (covered above), cloth upholstery, 17-inch wheels with painted caps, two USB ports, and a tiny 4.2-inch screen for infotainment.

Which Ford Escape should I buy?

We recommend shoppers step up to an Escape SE or SE Sport hybrid for about $28,500 to $30,000. There, shoppers get heated front seats, keyless start, a power-adjustable driver seat, alloy wheels, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The SE Sport Hybrid is a better deal for just under $30,000 and includes a very efficient powertrain and a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. More options are available too, including navigation, a panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, and adaptive cruise control. The Escape SE can be fitted with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, but not the SE Sport.

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Ford Escape?

At the top end, Escape Titanium models add in leather upholstery, big wheels, parking assistance, B&O sound, navigation, and acoustic glass. The Escape SEL and Titanium can swap in a bigger 2.0-liter turbo-4 and all-wheel drive, or a plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Fully loaded, the Escape Titanium can cost more than $40,000, where common sense left the showroom about $10,000 ago.

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2021 Ford Escape

Fuel Economy

The Escape is good on gas, but hybrids are much better.

Is the Ford Escape good on gas?

Among cars on the road, crossovers like the 2021 Ford Escape lead the charge for fuel-efficiency because they’re so popular. The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive Escape with a turbo-3 at 27 mpg city, 33 highway, 30 combined. That’s a 5 on our fuel-economy scale—nearly a 6.

With all-wheel drive, those ratings drop to 26/31/28 mpg, which for most drivers is a few dollars a month more for gas.

With a turbo-4 and standard all-wheel drive, the EPA rates the Escape at 23/31/26 mpg—not bad.

From there, the Escape’s efficiency ratings soar. The Escape hybrid nets 44/37/41 mpg or 43/37/40 mpg with front- or all-wheel drive, respectively. The plug-in hybrid Escape is rated at 41 mpg combined when operating as a hybrid and has 37 miles of all-electric range with a full battery.

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7.0
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 10
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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