SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide
Unless, like Austin Powers, you've been frozen in time, chances are you know who 'Mini-me' is. Well, thankfully, this reduced version of the Explorer is a lot nicer than Dr. Evil and is unlikely to try and conquer the planet, although it might have a shot at cornering the market on mini-SUVs, given its excellent performance, powerful V6 and un-mini-like feel.
Given my enthusiasm after driving the Explorer Sport, I was interested to see if the reduction in size meant for a reduction in performance, but getting behind the wheel of the Escape proved to be all-too familiar. The Escape drives like a full-sized SUV, and is in fact of remarkably similar proportions to the Explorer Sport, both in wheelbase and interior capacities, but with the advantage of 5, rather than 3, doors.
The 3.0 liter Duratec V6 with fuel injection, which is an optional extra for just under $1,500, really does perform well, offering great acceleration and sustained power through the gears and at speed (producing 200 hp @ 5750 revs and 200 lb-ft @ 4000 revs of torque), whilst the 4-speed automatic transmission, with overdrive, provides smooth, quiet transitions. The 4-wheel ABS brakes could do with a little more punch, but they did the job. Far more impressive is the Escape's handling. With an all-new platform, developed in conjunction with Mazda, the Unibody design gives the Escape a sturdy frame, resulting in none of this lolling-around-corners rubbish, just a good, firm grip on the road and reliable cornering; always good for a quick getaway, and ably aided and abetted by Independent Macpherson strut front suspension and independent rear with double lateral link and trailing arms. The 4x4 system comes with a driver-determined switch to select 4-wheel drive automatic or '4x4 lock'.
The Escape retains Ford's recognizable SUV body-style and manages to look robust and solid as compared to some of the flimsier-looking minis. It's attractively packaged both inside and out, with power windows, locks and mirrors, distinctive white faced instruments, A/C, loads of cup holders and storage, solar tint glass and lift-gate with flip-up glass. Optional extras include: side step bars, leather steering wheel, leather sport bucket seats, and the ever-practical in-dash 6-CD changer, plus a huge moonroof, which only adds to the spacious feel inside.
Safety features include ABS, 2nd generation dual front airbags, with side air bags an optional extra, side-intrusion door beams and securilock immobilizer.
The Escape really is a fun, not-too-little drive, which will appeal to a broad consumer base; it's roomy, drives beautifully, offers all the advantages of an SUV, but is more affordable, even with optional extras added. As Mr. Powers might say, "Groovy, Baby!"
Facts & Figures Base Price $20,820 Model as tested $25,750 Engine 3.0 liter Duratec V6 SEFI Transmission 4-speed automatic w/ O/D HP 200 @ 5750 revs Torque 200 lb-ft @ 4000 revs Brakes Front disc/rear drum w/ ABS Suspension Independent Macpherson strut (front) Rear Independent rear with double lateral link and trailing arms Extras: 3.0 liter Duratec $1,480 Side Step Bars $ 275 Power Moonroof $ 585 In-dash 6CD $ 585 Side Air Bags $ 345 Comfort Group $ 870 Includes: Leather steering wheel, sport leather bucket seats, power 6-way driver seat, 16" polished aluminum wheels Destination $ 515
For additional information about the Ford Escape XLT 4x4: www.ford.com