Executive wheels: I want some more of it

The 2017 Ford Escape SE proves surprisingly impressive

For whatever reason, in a world full of cars, trucks, crossovers and minivans, and dozens of car makers actively competing to get the public into their dealer showrooms and vehicles, I don’t often get to drive Ford vehicles.

Indeed, it’s been years since I was behind the wheel of a Ford Escape – the smaller SUV from the historical automaker – and I remember that when I did last drive one it was a hybrid that Ford developed using Toyota Prius technology in a patent-sharing deal between the two companies that got Toyota some Ford diesel and direct-injection technology.

That vehicle from long ago was smaller than the modern version and very boxy.

With this new Escape, Ford had rounded the body style, making it look very much like a Lexus – incidentally a Toyota company.

And that’s not the only Lexus similarity. Since I haven’t driven a Ford, and especially an Escape, in several years, I had no idea what a wonderful vehicle this is. I was impressed the moment I got in, the nanosecond I started it up, and remained impressed every minute of the ride.

I resisted the attempts of the press pool people to come and retrieve the Escape at the end of my week-long (and too short) review/test drive, as I can honestly say this is a vehicle I would covet to own.

My wife felt exactly the same way – and, of course, that is unusual.

I loved the size – not too small, not too large. I loved the cabin – one of the most quiet vehicles I have been in for years. I loved the look – both the outside and inside are styled beautifully. I loved the operation – all of the on-board technology systems were quite intuitive, easy to use, and (relatively) non-distracting.

And I especially loved the drive – it handled well in both the city and on the highway, it corners at speed without the slightest lean, and the 2.0-liter EcoBoost Ford engine, coupled with a 6-speed automatic transmission, is both smooth and very quick. I’m gushing because – really – I haven’t felt this positive about a vehicle in some time.

Even the usually annoying Start/Stop technology, where the engine shuts off at a dead stop and then starts up when you release the brake, was seamless and smooth, as if it wasn’t there. I recently drove a much-more-expensive Volvo with Start/Stop, and it always shuttered back into engagement which, pun intended, gave me quite a start. On the Escape, I can live with Start/Stop.

The engine here is important. All too many vehicles which feature turbos have an annoying turbo lag and pop – meaning that when you first hit the gas pedal there is a pause before the engine/turbo figures out what to do, and then when it does kick in, it does so in a burst that momentarily makes you feel as if you are not in control.

Twin turbos – an attraction that is gaining adherents – mitigate some of the lag, but I have never experienced mitigation that is this smooth, even on vehicles costing twice as much. This engine is smooth at slow speeds, and with a rated 245 horsepower, very powerful, a fact that you really notice on the highway when a burst of smooth speed is required for passing.

I would say that this Escape passes with flying colors.

And the EPA gas mileage estimates are impressive with an engine of this muscle: 20 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined (with all-wheel-drive).

What surprised me most, however, was how the Escape handled. It was simply a pleasure to drive. There was plenty of “driver’s feel,” meaning it wasn’t cushy but rather offered the driver an experience. I always felt in control – on the highway at speed, turning corners, even at a quick pace, and its excellent mirrors and views left me feeling that I could conquer anything.

You match this with an excellent interior, and the package is impressive. They added on the SE Leather Seating package, for $1,595, and the seats were comfortable in that European way – not mushy, but firm and supple, so riding around town or taking a cruise, the seats felt great and had the staying power to keep you comfortable and awake on the long drive. I didn‘t expect the Escape to be a road vehicle, but its size, comfort, power and solitude made me want to keep going.

Some other things from my notes that impressed me:

  • I drove this Escape on a very cold week, and the heater came on in a flash always, which is a big plus in the cold. The heater – and I like a warm car – was easy to use and direct, and warmed like no other car.

  • As I mentioned, I didn’t expect a vehicle in this class to be so quiet. Very little road noise, and with the excellent and easy-to-use sound system, listening to music or news on the radio was a pleasure.

  • The instrument panel really impressed me, with handsome blue needles (digital, of course), for RPM, MPH, fuel gauge and temperature readout.

The Escape comes in a couple models: the Entry-level S, starting at $23,750, and featuring a 1.50-liter EcoBoost engine with some 179 hp, and the Titanium, starting at $29,250, and featuring a normally aspirated 2.5-liter engine rated at 168 hp and a variable cam timing system (iVCT), that is purported to improve performance.

I’ll take the SE – please! Of course, all of the modern technology is here – Bluetooth, app hookups, blind spot monitoring, rear view camera, etc. – some standard and some in options. But this 4WD model carries a base price of $26,850 on the sticker, and they added in some $7,000 in options and dealer handling fees, and the bottom line is $33,915.

The price surprised me. If it was a blind test and I had to guess, I would have pegged this vehicle at over $40k, maybe more. It’s easily as nice as some so-called luxury SUVs from the Germans, Japanese and Koreans I have driven that go for $15k to $20k more.

While I was driving it one day, a country tune came on the radio and, to paraphrase, it made me think of my Ford Escape SE experience: I don’t know what it is about that little vehicle’s lovin’, but I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.  


RATING: 4 WHEELS PLUS THE SPARE (OUT OF FOUR).

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation