2004 New Car Review: Ford Escape

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MODEL: Ford Escape XLT
ENGINE: 3.0-liter Duratec V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 201 hp @ 5,900 rpm/196 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 103.1 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 173.0 x 70.1 x 69.1 in.

Ford's Escape SUV fits in the class of compact SUVs. IN fact, it's a good size. Goldilocks would like it; it's not too big, it's not too small, it's just right.

But since Goldilocks was more into taking walks in the woods, not driving in the woods (although it would have been easier), we'll have to examine the Escape from more traditional aspects.

Since the Escape is a Ford, one would expect it to have a family resemblance to the Explorer. This resemblance isn't there, especially on the inside, showing the Escape's Mazda roots, rather than its Ford roots. Mazda's Tribute SUV is built on the same platform and is nearly identical to the Escape, so there should be that resemblance. The larger Ford SUVs have more of a similarity with the Explorer, though. Styling is traditional SUV main stream through and through. It isn't going to scare anyone.

Still, the Escape has under the hood the old reliable 3.0-liter Duratec V6 that you can find in the Taurus. This is a good, solid engine that delivers 201 horsepower and drives the front wheels (when not in 4WD mode) through a 4-speed automatic transmission. Our tester was not equipped with 4WD, so it was more of an SUV wannabe. It handles well enough in mild off-road conditions, but I wouldn't want to try it on a serious off-road trail.

The Duratec V6 offers good power for the Escape. The Escape only weighs 3,181 pounds (base), so 201 horses should be enough to pull it along. It was relatively quiet in urban driving and only really made serious noise when we hit the accelerator and asked it to work a little harder. We didn't have to listen to teenage music to compensate for engine noise. Fuel economy is rated at 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway. On our long highway trip we averaged around 22 mpg, so the numbers are accurate.

Under the hood, the dipsticks and filler locations are clearly marked.

There's a "dead pedal" for the driver's left foot. Usually you see these in manual transmission-equipped vehicles. It's also a nice touch with an automatic.

I liked the instrumentation. The four dials are black-on-white and very easy to read, both in daylight and at night. Gauges include speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and water temperature. Cruise control switches were located on the steering wheel. Our tester had power windows and door locks (standard). I liked the clearly marked door lock switches on the front doors. All too often there's a search for the door locks in some cars.

In addition, the sound system was very good with a 6CD in-dash changer ($565 option).

The HVAC system offered cooling in the early-spring warmth and heat when t he evenings turned cooler.

Rear-seat legroom is excellent, and I wouldn't be embarrassed to put my best friend back there for a long trip. In addition, the rear seat backs fold flat to offer a huge rear cargo area. However, unlike Ford's new minivans, folding the seatback flat and the seat bottom into the footwell requires two hands and several moves. But it works.

Cargo area with the seats up is 33.1 cubic feet. With the rear seat down, this increases to 69.2 cubic feet, which is huge.

Interior cargo area is useful. There are cubbys in the dash, console, arm rest and doors, with a nice change holder in the left part of the dash. In addition, there are two cupholders in front and two more in the rear. There's an ash tray insert of the front cupholder if you need one. If you don't, then there are two front power outlets, which makes more sense than smoking anyway.

One minor problem we encountered was with the ignition key, of all things. It is possible to accidentally put the key into the "brushes" beneath the shift lever if you aren't careful. You won't get electrocuted if you make this mistake, but it does generate self-inflicted "duhs" when it happens.

I like the Escape, especially for its size. It's priced about right and offers decent performance. With a base price of $22,655, and a bottom line of $26,340, there are some options that I don't feel are necessary, so a buyer could choose personal options to make the Escape what he or she wants at a price that's just about right. Just like Goldilocks.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate

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