SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide
With the introduction of it's smallest SUV, the Escape, Ford has a sport-utility for every size need. The all-new Escape is built on a completely new chassis platform but utilizes existing engines. Like many modern small SUVs, it has a unibody chassis, like a car, and is basically a front-wheel drive vehicle, also like most sedans made today. "Truck" is nowhere in its ancestry, except in styling.
Many years ago, utility vehicles were little more than pickup trucks with enclosed bodywork and seats in place of a cargo bed. If anyone still thinks this is still the recipe for a contemporary sport- utility vehicle, well, how was your nap, Mr. Van Winkle? The vast majority of today's SUV buyers use their vehicles as cars, for commuting, shopping, taking kids to school, and taking vacations. "Off-road" use is more likely to be a muddy stadium parking lot than the Rubicon Trail, so front- or all-wheel drive works fine for their needs, and familiar, car-like ride and handling are bonuses. Vehicles that combine car construction and SUV styling are becoming increasingly common, especially in the small and medium-size classes. Call them "crossover" vehicles.
The Escape is a good example of a crossover. Available in two well-equipped trim levels, with a choice of Ford's 2.0-liter "Zetec" four-cylinder or 3.0-liter "Duratec" V6 engines and front- or all-wheel drive, it combines the comforts of a compact sedan or wagon with the popular style of a sport-utility. I've been driving a top of the front-drive line Escape XLT for the past week. It's a stylish, roomy small 21st-Century wagon, really, but even in an urban environment with runaway shopping carts, potholes, speed bumps, and littered roadways, good ground clearance, body cladding, and short overhang styling have advantages.
APPEARANCE: The Escape's conservatively rugged-looking styling is in many ways a preview of its upcoming larger sibling, the 2002 Explorer, especially in the front. In profile, or from the rear, it is very similar to the current Explorer in proportion, but smaller. Chrome trim is minimal, limited to the lower part of the XLT's grille. Built-in fender flares, with plastic-clad extensions, give a sporty look, and the prominent character line on the side that joins the wheel arches removes any chance of slab-sidedness. The dropped hood center gives the Escape a more sports car-like than truck-like character. Its styling is generally understated, not overly aggressive or macho like some other SUVs. The Escape is not going into combat...but the textured plastic bumper fascias and side cladding should protect from common minor parking lot combat damage. Running boards are available, but are hardly necessary because of the low step-in height.
COMFORT: No doubt that this is a Ford inside, thanks to the familiar large, easy-to-use controls. Tiny buttons, a curse of the small SUV class, are not found here, thank you. Although noticeably smaller than an Explorer, the Escape is a touch larger than most small SUVs and crossovers, which benefits interior space. My test car was equipped with the "Comfort Group" option package, which adds a touch of luxury with leather upholstery and steering wheel covering, comfortable, supportive front "sport" bucket seats, with the driver's side power-adjustable, an overhead console, and a storage tray under the front passenger seat. The XLT's rear bench is split 60/40, with cushions that flip up so the backs can fold flat. Rear passengers are treated well, with reclining seatbacks, good head room, and reasonable knee room. Visibility from the driver's seat is good, the instruments are easy to see, and the controls are logically-placed and easy to use. The "Integrated Control Panel" may be gone from the Taurus, but its legacy lives to good effect in the center of the Escape's dashboard. Interior storage is very good, with door pockets, a medium locking glove box, open storage at the front of the center console, and a huge covered console box. The XLT's standard cargo area cover and net add security and convenience.
SAFETY: The Escape's unibody chassis has front and rear crush zones with a central safety cage. Front side airbags and antilock brakes are available.
ROADABILITY: On the road, the Escape rides and handles like a slightly tall car, not at all like a truck. The fully-independent suspension is similar to that of most modern cars, with MacPherson struts in the front and a multi-link design in the rear. It is tuned for the ride and handling characteristics of a midsized sedan, not a truck. The Escape's unibody design lessens weight and gives it a lower center of gravity than it would have with traditional truck body-on- frame construction, improving handling and reducing body motion. Think of the Escape as a Taurus wagon's tall cousin. Front-wheel (or optional all-wheel) drive traction, short overhangs, and 7.8 inches of ground clearance keep the Escape out of trouble in situations where a car could have problems.
PERFORMANCE: The Escape's standard 2.0-liter, 130-horsepower four-cylinder engine is competitive with those in other small SUVs and crossover vehicles, but its optional 3.0-liter V6 goes far beyond the competition with 200 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. That gives it good acceleration for passing and merging, and keeps hills from being a problem. The only transmission with the V6 is a four- speed automatic, which is well-suited to the engine's abilities. In front-wheel drive form, the V6 Escape can tow up to 2000 lbs, enough for a small boat, motorcycle, or snowmobile trailer.
CONCLUSIONS: The Ford Escape combines the best features of a compact wagon and small SUV.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Ford Escape XLT Base Price $ 19,195 Price As Tested $ 23,635 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 32-valve V6 Engine Size 3.0 liters / 181 cu. in. Horsepower 200 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 200 @ 4750rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 103.1 in. / 173.0 in. Curb Weight 3247 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.2 Fuel Capacity 16.4 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular gasoline, 87 octane Tires P235/70 R16 Firestone Wilderness HT Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Ground Clearance 7.8 inches Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive optional) PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 24 / 20 0 to 60 mph 8.8 sec Towing capacity 2000 lbs. OPTIONS AND CHARGES 3.0 liter Duratec V6 $ 1,755 Side step bars $ 275 AM/FM/cassette/CD sound system $ 505 Comfort group - includes: overhead console, leather steering wheel, sport buckets with leather surfaces, power 6-way driver's seat $ 870 16-inch polished aluminum wheels $ 175 Side air bags $ 345 Destination and delivery $ 515