Escape. Evocative, isn't it? It also seems like a bit of a metaphor for Ford's mid-sized SUV, the artist formerly known as the Kuga. The Escape's first iteration gave way to the poorly-spelt replacement a few years back, with a weird looking bonce to go with the silly name.
The changes for 2017 are minor, but as we discovered at the top of the range with the Escape Titanium, they come together to improve a car that has struggled to break through into the consciousness of Australian buyers.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
The Escape name returns and brings with it a whopping grille with a big Ford badge. The mid-sizer really needed that because the old grille made it look like an EcoSport, which is much smaller.
Here in the cheap seats, the 17-inch steel rims somehow look small but the new lights front and rear, as well as restyled bumpers, make it look like a decent top and tail. It looks a bit tougher, the Kuga was weird-looking at best, and awkward from some angles.
The 17-inch steel rims somehow look small on the Escape. (image credit: Peter Anderson)
Inside is much improved. The old interior was mostly okay but the centre stack was a riot of buttons, a similar affliction to Focus and Fiesta. Life was difficult in the first weeks of ownership as you had to learn what they all did (not helped by the borderline unusable Sync system). Things are much cleaner now.
There is an ergonomic drama. If you're in first, third or fifth gear the switches and buttons in front of the shifter are unreachable without dislocating your wrist. The flip side is a short hop from wheel to shifter, so it's not all bad news.
The rest of the cabin is light and airy and a reasonably pleasant place to be. The cloth trim is broken up by a Tiguan-style two-tone effect which works really well.
The Escape has a large, friendly cabin built for real humans. The doors open wide front and rear and there's room for lanky people. I know this because we loaded up with four six-footers and everyone was happy.
Rear legroom is nothing short of amazing, seemingly pinched from an Everest and headroom is also expansive. A middle passenger would want to be skinny, but not absurdly so.
Rear legroom is nothing short of amazing. (image credit: Peter Anderson)
The boot starts on the small side at 406 litres but the loading lip is commendably low. (image credit: Peter Anderson)
The 60/40 split fold rear seats drop but leave a step in the floor (image credit: Peter Anderson)
The boot starts on the small side at 406 litres (even the CX-5's famously small boot is usefully bigger at 447 litres) but the loading lip is commendably low. The 60/40 split fold rear seats drop but leave a step in the floor, which is annoying if you've got a long, flat load.
The cabin also features four cupholders and a bottle holder in each door, while the console storage bin is now much bigger courtesy of the electric parking brake.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
Prices for the Escape Ambiente start at an entirely reasonable $28,490 for our 110kW six-speed manual. That means you can make your getaway (sorry) with a six-speaker stereo, 17-inch steel wheels, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, cruise control, sat nav, leather-trimmed steering wheel, power windows and mirrors and a space-saver spare.
The 8.0-inch screen isn't as sharp as the smaller screens in its competitors. It is also deeply recessed into the dashboard meaning you have to muck about to hit the targets along the base of the screen. JaguarLand Rover manages this better by pushing the targets to the middle of the screen, so it can be done. It is otherwise easy to use and comprehend.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 7/10
The Ambiente is available with Ford's perky 1.5-litre turbo four cylinder. It comes in two levels of tune - 110kW or 134kW, both with 240Nm. The power output is dependent on transmission, and in our case we had the six-speed manual, meaning 110kW.
The claimed combined cycle consumption figure for the 110kW 1.5-litre is 6.3L/100km. As with the Titanium, we had a fairly solid miss, ending up at 9.6L/100km, although with less enthusiastic driving.
What's it like to drive? 7/10
Despite 'only' 110kW (its main rivals have roughly the same power), the 1.5-litre engine is good fun thanks to its impressive torque. You have to work the gearbox to keep the turbo spinning, but the lag is manageable if you're not paying attention.
The gearshift could be slicker and the clutch less soft, but it's not a boy racer machine like the 178kW Titanium.
The Escape's ride is a standout, coming mighty close to matching the Australian-tuned suspension of the Hyundai Tucson. (image credit: Peter Anderson)
The weird steering assistance that affected my drive in the Titanium seems absent in the Ambiente. It's still light and not exactly open about what's going underneath - more sullen teenager than cheery eight-year old after a sugar-fuelled birthday party.
The ride is a standout, coming mighty close to matching the Australian-tuned suspension of the Hyundai Tucson, which is high praise indeed.
The Escape doesn't feel as nimble as that car, and has more body roll, but the overall passenger experience is a good one, important in a car that is likely to be the family truckster.
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / 100,000 km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 7/10
Despite being at the foot of the range, the Ambiente lands with seven airbags (including a driver's knee bag), stability and traction controls, plus rollover stability and trailer sway control. There are also three top-tether child seat anchors along with two ISOFIX points.
Altogether, this means a five star ANCAP safety rating.
Annoyingly, the $1300 'Technology Pack' (a safety uplift package) available on the Titanium is not applicable to the Ambiente. Cue finger wagging.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
The Escape comes with Ford's three year/100,000km warranty and a year's roadside assist. If you return to your Ford dealer at the appropriate juncture - every year or 15,000km, you get another year of roadside assist and while they've got the car, you get a loaner.
Ford says you won't pay more than $325 for each of the first three scheduled services, with a jump to $585 for the fourth, although you'll need to pay $130 for brake fluid every two years and there's a timing belt change at 10 years/150,000km for $590.
Minor ergonomic issues aside, the Escape is a real contender, even in row-your-own low power spec. Those who aren't bothered about being first across the intersection will need to look elsewhere.
The Escape is well-equipped, has a good safety rating and is extra spacious, particularly for rear seat passengers. The price is also sharp, although nobody buys manuals anymore, so expect to pay an easy 10 per cent more for automatic. But for the price of a mid-spec compact SUV, you're getting the space of a big one, with some of the features, too.
Does the refreshed Escape capture your imagination? Or does Hyundai, Mazda or Honda fulfill the dream? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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