2009 Ford Escape

7.4
2009 Ford Escape

The Basics:

The SUV experts at TheCarConnection.com drove the 2009 Ford Escape for this hands-on Bottom Line road test. Editors also read reviews of the 2009 Escape and compiled this conclusive profile of the big Ford sedan from that research. TheCarConnection.com adds comparison information where it helps you make a better buying decision.

The 2009 Ford Escape is an attractive and capable compact SUV, now with vastly improved performance. Headlining the list of upgrades to the 2009 Escape models is a new powertrain lineup.

The 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid is a viable and sturdy contender in the family crossover arena. Gas mileage is excellent for a compact SUV, and optional mechanical all-wheel drive sets it apart from softer competitors.

A new 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine replaces last year’s 2.3-liter and features Ford’s intake Variable Cam Timing (I-VCT). The new powerplant boasts an 11 percent increase in horsepower, outputting 171 hp, while also getting 1 mpg better efficiency.

Last year’s four-speed automatic transmission has also been replaced with a standard five-speed transmission or an optional six-speed transmission. The wider range of gear ratios and taller top gear of the six-speed help deliver better fuel economy yet maintain good acceleration. If you're looking for more force, the significantly enhanced 3.0-liter V-6 makes 240 horsepower, up 40 hp from 2008. It's easy to feel this 20 percent power increase. A responsive and fuel-efficient six-speed automatic is newly offered with either engine (standard with the V-6). Ford estimates that both the four- and six-cylinder Escape models are each at least one second quicker to 60 mph than 2008 models.

Fuel economy for the four-cylinder engine coupled with the five-speed manual transmission is 22 mpg city, 28 highway, while the V-6 gets a respectable 18 mpg city, 26 highway with the six-speed automatic. TheCarConnection.com’s editors have also driven the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, covered separately with its own review, and recommend it for anyone searching for maximum efficiency.

The Escape does have on-demand four-wheel-drive capability, but the SUV is not suitable for real off-road performance, so don’t let the 4WD badge fool you. It will, however, tackle big-pebbled gravel roads with aplomb. Its on-road handling manners are superb, thanks to a completely retuned suspension featuring new struts, shock absorbers, and sway bars.

The carlike 2009 Ford Escape still retains dimensions befitting a normal-size SUV compared to its growth-hormone-injected competitors. Unlike some SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, the Escape looks the SUV part from every angle. Inside there’s ample room for four adults. The front seats are comfortable, and the view out the little SUV is well above sedan-roof height. The rear seats are livable, but the bottom cushions are hard and a bit short for adults. Total passenger volume is 99.4 cubic feet, smaller than some other compact SUVs such as the Honda CR-V.

Cabin materials were upgraded for 2008, including matte-metallic accents and a two-tiered instrument panel. The blue-green instrument lighting is extremely easy to read. There is, however, room for improvement. TheCarConnection.com's editors don't like the operation of the folding rear seats. The process includes removing the three headrests, folding the seat cushions forward, then unlatching each seatback. The result is a flat load floor offering 66.3 cubic feet of cargo area. However, it requires you pull out the headrests—but then what do you do with them?

An area where the 2009 Ford Escape excels is the variety of features offered and the vehicle's ability to connect to most any device. The SYNC interface system that Ford developed with Microsoft allows users to control most MP3 players and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones with hands-free voice commands. Sirius Travel Link, another option, provides navigation, plus real-time traffic, weather, and fuel prices among other features, and can be easily controlled by voice commands. Some Escape trim levels include LED-powered ambient lighting. The only feature Escape lacks is a factory-fitted rear-seat DVD player.

The 2009 Ford Escape is not only a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the SUV also earns five stars for front and side impacts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Escape comes equipped with Ford’s Personal Safety System—a combination of seven safety technologies, including new dual-stage front air bags, side air bags, and a front passenger sensor system. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability control are also standard.

If you want a small SUV with full-fledged SUV styling, then the 2009 Ford Escape is one of the last remaining options. Ford changed a lot about the Escape compared to last year's model, but styling wasn’t one of them.

“Exterior changes are subtle, and include a front spoiler for slicker aerodynamics and new low rolling resistance Michelin tires for improved fuel economy,” says Popular Mechanics. Upgrades to the Escape’s exterior are minor due to last year’s restyle. “Not even a thorough interior and exterior refresh could save the 2008 iteration from a seventh-place finish out of nine in our latest small-ute roundup,” remarks Car and Driver.

This year’s exterior improvements do serve a purpose. “Small aerodynamic modifications also contribute to fuel efficiency and reduce interior noise levels,” says Automobile.com. They add, “A deeper front spoiler and small spoilers in front of the rear wheels improve under-body airflow for decreased drag to slightly improve mileage.”

For 2009, the Escape's interior receives some minor modifications that help improve its ergonomics. “The 2009 Escape also receives a redesigned center stack, featuring an updated version of Ford's excellent navigation and infotainment system-and, of course, SYNC. The new high-resolution screen is extraordinarily clear, and the menu structures are easy to use,” says Automobile Magazine.

A host of performance upgrades boosts the 2009 Ford Escape's appeal to the discerning driver.

A new 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine replaces last year’s 2.3-liter and features Ford’s intake Variable Cam Timing (I-VCT). The new powerplant boasts an 11 percent increase in horsepower, outputting 171 hp, while also getting 1 mpg better efficiency. “The company claims a front-drive four-banger Escape chops 1.7 seconds from its 0-to-60 time, bringing it down to 10.4 seconds. We handily beat that estimate in our testing, making it to 60 mph in a much-improved 8.9 seconds,” reports Car and Driver.

If you're looking for more oomph, the significantly enhanced 3.0-liter V-6 makes 240 horsepower, up 40 hp from 2008. “The V6 is a significant improvement over last year's version, though a tall first gear sacrifices a bit of off-the-line grunt in favor of fuel economy,” says Popular Mechanics.

According ConsumerGuide, “The 240-hp V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission make for a more responsive compact SUV compared to the old 200-hp V6/4-speed automatic combo. The transmission is the highlight of this powertrain, providing smooth upshifts and snappy downshifts when needed.”

Popular Mechanics says that when the smaller engine is “equipped with the 6-speed automatic, the four-cylinder produces reasonably strong acceleration—certainly enough to satisfy most daily driving conditions.” They also note, “On the road, all three Escape variants accelerate with more authority than before, but they feel more refined, too.” Automobile Magazine asserts the transmission’s “short off-the-line gear ratios are complemented by very long, widely spaced upper gears. Sixth gear is very long—great for highway fuel economy and quiet cruising.”

Fuel economy is as important to the new Escape’s engines as improved horsepower. According to ConsumerGuide, “an AWD V6 Escape averaged 20.0 mpg in driving slightly biased towards highway use. Similar Mercury Mariner AWD 4-cylinder averaged 23.2 mpg in mostly highway driving over the course of its 4802-mile extended-use evaluation.”

Automobile.com sums up the 2009 Ford Escape’s performance, saying “the Escape strikes a good balance between a small exterior size, easily manageable in parking lots and narrow streets, and interior space. Add the recent drivetrain, suspension, and safety upgrades, and an improved interior, and it has stayed competitive in a tough environment.”

With all the improvements made for the 2009 Ford Escape, it's disappointing that Ford doesn't see fit to upgrade the materials. However, the Ford Escape manages to redeem itself somewhat in the area of passenger comfort.

The carlike Ford Escape still retains dimensions befitting a normal-size SUV compared to its growth-hormone-injected competitors. Inside there’s ample room for four adults. ConsumerGuide says that “while the optional sunroof cuts into headroom a bit, most adults should find more than adequate headroom. Legroom is good for most adults, though taller riders would benefit from longer seat tracks.”

The front seats are comfortable, and according to Automobile.com, the “step-in height is reasonable with seat cushion height close enough to hip level for most people to achieve comfortable access. Once in the seats, the firmer new foam is an improvement over earlier seats in support and comfort.” Rear seating, however, seems to fall a little short. “The rear bench seat is lightly contoured for two, but a center passenger is more than an afterthought, and a nearly-flat floor helps,” says Automobile.com. Total passenger volume is 99.4 cubic feet, smaller than some other compact SUVs such as the Honda CR-V.

When traveling, “ride quality is impressive in all models, and the suspension's compliance soaks up big potholes and surface irregularities surprisingly well,” says Popular Mechanics. ConsumerGuide concurs, contending the Escape’s ride is “pleasant, given the age of its basic design. Bumps are heard more than they're felt. Some float is noticeable at highway speeds, but it's not bothersome.”

Where the Escape gets into trouble is with its cabin materials that were just upgraded last year. "Disappointing overall,” comments ConsumerGuide. “Escape's interior imparts a low-buck atmosphere with lots of hard plastic trim and odd panel textures.”

TheCarConnection.com's editors don't like the operation of the folding rear seats. The process is complicated, though; it includes removing the three headrests, folding the seat cushions forward, then unlatching each seatback.

In terms of safety, the 2009 Ford Escape is not only a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the SUV also earns five stars for front and side impacts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The 2009 Escape does, however, have a few drawbacks: drum brakes in the rear and a lower-than-typical rollover rating.

The Escape comes equipped with Ford’s Personal Safety System: a combination of seven safety technologies, including new dual-stage front air bags, side air bags, and a front passenger sensor system. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability control are also standard.

Edmunds notes that "a rollover sensor" for the curtain airbags is standard, but on the downside, they point out that the Ford Escape's "rear brakes were downgraded to inferior drums in 2009, and the '09 Escape continues to bear this badge of shame." TheCarConnection.com’s editors remark that drum brakes bring added weight and inferior high-speed braking ability, but they cost less.

Some SUVs are notorious for their poor visibility, but the compact Ford Escape doesn't suffer from this common SUV criticism. In fact, ConsumerGuide proclaims that the Ford Escape offers "fine all-around visibility," thanks to its commanding driving position and large windows.

The 2009 Ford Escape offers some cool, cutting-edge technological features, but unfortunately most are available only as expensive options.

Popular Mechanics says, “Sync comes standard on Escape Limited and Escape Hybrid Limited models, and is optional on all other models." They add that the voice-activated navigation system “uses Sirius Travel Link, which includes such goodies as weather maps, movie listings and a fuel-finder system that locates and sorts nearby gas stations by price, location and brand.”

ConsumerGuide warns that while the navigation system absorbs most audio controls, “it complicates some functions by requiring multiple button and/or touch-screen presses for some simple tasks. Redundant steering-wheel buttons and voice programming via Ford's Sync system help.”

Car and Driver points out that “Travel Link also does a whole bunch of other cool stuff such as locating the cheapest and closest gas stations and linking with the nav system to get you there, or hooking up with your cell phone to make restaurant reservations. The system will let you watch a DVD (while parked, of course), rip MP3s to the 10-gig hard drive, and upload family photos to use as wallpaper.” And Popular Mechanics adds a dose of reality, advising, “Expect to pay a bigger monthly premium for this level of on-the-road connectivity.”

About the ergonomics of the Escape features, Automobile.com says “the instruments are shielded from glare and easy to see while the audio and climate system controls on the center stack are within easy reach. As has been typical of Ford for years, buttons and knobs are large and well-marked.”

Buying Tips:


With only some minor appearance and equipment differences, the 2009 Mercury Mariner is almost identical to the 2009 Ford Escape. You might be able to get a better deal and better dealership service at the Lincoln-Mercury dealership.

Other Choices:

  • 2009 Saturn VUE
  • 2008 Nissan Rogue
  • 2008 Hyundai Tucson
  • 2008 Honda CR-V
  • 2009 Dodge Journey

Reason Why:

If you color within the lines, only a few measure up to the same narrow definition of a compact SUV as the 2009 Ford Escape. Many people admire the styling of the Saturn Vue. Like the Escape, the Vue offers a hybrid option (a second hybrid choice is on the way for the Vue). The Hyundai Tucson drives more like the pre-2009 Escapes, but does so with a low price and an especially long warranty. In terms of driving dynamics, the Honda CR-V is one of our all-time favorites, but some people have a hard time getting past the SUV's styling and the lack of optional V-6 power. However, the SUV that comes closest to the Escape is the Dodge Journey. In terms of styling, the Journey has strong looks that turn heads and plenty of features inside, such as multiple cubbies and rich infotainment options. However, the Journey's interior design isn't pleasing to the eye, and the materials feel subpar for the category—not just in comparison to the Escape.

The Bottom Line:

Though it looks decidedly old-school, the Ford Escape is a solid and stylish five-passenger, compact SUV that has been kept up-to-date.

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