The last-gen Ford Escape was born with the cringey Kuga nameplate but neither badge set made it much of a hit. That was a bit of a shame, because it was a very appealing proposition and the closest thing to a performance SUV you were going to get from a mainstream car maker. The ST-Line was by far the pick of the bunch and each time I had it, I wondered why more folks didn't beat a path to its five doors and roomy interior.
This new Escape is a bit more obviously a member of Ford's new SUV family. Hot on the heels of the funky Puma compact SUV, it's got a lovely muscular look, a big steer away from the previous car's anonymous angles.
The range is simple: Escape, Escape ST-Line and Escape Vignale. One engine, one gearbox and a choice of all-wheel drive. You can start in the mid-thirties for the base model or way up at $49,590 for the Vignale AWD. Is that extra cash worth it for the bits and pieces in the top-end Escape?
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✅ What does it look like?
To my eyes, the Escape is a fine-looking thing, taking the muscular cues of the Puma which themselves are a throwback to a 1990s-era sports coupe. See? You can go back to go forward.
The Vignale's less aggressive visage compared to the mid-spec ST-Line still fails to render it anonymous, which is nice, and the 19-inch alloys fill the arches well. I like the subtly pumped arches, the undulating lines and the fact that the Escape is a bit of a low-rider as SUVs go.
The Escape is a fine-looking thing.
The Escape Vignale wears 19-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, it's strongly reminiscent of the excellent Focus interior, which should come as no surprise because the Focus and Escape share Ford's C2 platform. While it's not an avant-garde masterpiece, it's a nice place to be with good materials throughout and a mostly leather trim (there's some fake stuff, but not so you'd notice).
The digital dash is very cool and I noticed that in normal mode, the indicator for how far you're travelling from the car in front seems to be a Mondeo but when you switch to Sport mode it's a Mustang. Cute.
Within a few hundred metres, you'll notice that the Escape is quite different from the rest of the mid-size SUV pack. The Vignale's old-man chrome vibe might fool you into thinking it's going to be calmer than the ST-Line, but suspension aside, it's still a rocket with a steering tune seemingly lifted from the Focus ST hot hatch.
Why Ford has included a sport mode is anyone's guess (it's one of those "just hold a lower gear" sort of sports modes) because the light steering is already very sharp and quick, and the throttle pretty keen to sling you at the horizon. The transmission is always best left to its own devices because it's quite good, save for the occasional baulk in traffic. It's still better than a twin-clutch, although the rotary selector is annoyingly slow when you're in a three-point-turn situation.
What I will say is that the all-wheel drive Vignale is less of a fighter than the front-wheel drive ST-Line I've driven. With excess torque heading rearward it's a more relaxed machine when you've got a bit of throttle on and it's also less prone to scrubbing the front tyres if you're going around a corner quickly. And if you're wanting to get out of a corner quickly, it won't spin away as much power - it just feels a bit more tied down.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder makes 183kW/387Nm.
The quick steering also takes a little bit of getting used to. It's great at slow speeds with far less arm-twirling to get the Escape parked, but it's on the move where you need to be mindful of how little input the steering needs.
Suburban driving is a comfortable and easy job in the Escape. All that torque from the 2.0-litre means you just need to breathe on the throttle as you move about, almost wafting along on the turbo. There is hardly any turbo lag, so you're never waiting for the power with anything clenched.
The freeway is a bit less relaxed - there's a bit of tyre noise coming up from anything but the nicest surface and anyone who has had a go at Sydney's various motorways will know none of them have a consistent surface and even fewer of them are anything but cacophonous. It's not unusual - a number of mid-size SUVs aren't exactly silent - but worth knowing. The trade-off is that the tyres are very good.
Front-seat passengers enjoy a lot of headroom as the seats are down in the car rather than on it, to add to the sporty feel. A good view out also helps.
Front-seat passengers enjoy a lot of headroom.
The rear seat is broad and flat but will take three across, although the transmission tunnel is predictably intrusive. There is tons of legroom with the sliding back seats all the way rearward, almost limo-like, as our very tall son can attest.
The rear seat is broad and flat but will take three across.
The Escape ships with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, as well as high- and low-speed forward AEB with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, evasive steering assist, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, driver impairment monitor and auto 000-dialling after a big enough crash (if your phone is connected).
Ford buys you a motoring association membership (NRMA, RACV etc.) which also includes roadside assist and you get a loan car when you’re in for a service.
For the Ecoboost, Ford reckons the FWD and AWD will drink 95 RON fuel at 8.6L/100km on the combined cycle. My week with the Escape, which included a quick...er...escape from Sydney – I should be deeply sorry about that, but it's 2020, give me a break – delivered an indicated result of 11.2L/100km. That's a bit on the thirsty side, but 183kW in an SUV is hard to resist and I am a weak-willed man. As the nameplate pun suggests.
I'm a little conflicted about the Vignale. I think my preference would be to either save the money and drop down to an ST-Line AWD with the Technology pack on it. Or, if I was more interested in saving fuel and/or the planet, wait a while and go for the ST-Line plug-in hybrid with its commuter-friendly EV range of a claimed 50km and a further $3000 impost.
Otherwise, you're not making a courageous decision to go with the Vignale. It looks classy, has a good interior and is loaded with technology for fun and safety. The strong performance from the turbo four-cylinder is excellent and will leave most other SUVs in the dust.
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