2001 Ford Escape
2001 Ford Escape Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Best-in-class handling, performance and refinement.
If high cost, big size and poor handling have held you back from buying a sport-utility vehicle, then you may find the new Ford Escape appealing. At least that's Ford's thinking and we believe they are right on track.
A completely new vehicle, the Ford Escape offers agile handling on both paved and unpaved roads. It rides smoothly and gets strong acceleration performance from an optional V6. The Escape seats four people comfortably, and folding down the rear seats reveals a flat, moderately sized cargo area. Best of all, its price is relatively low. Ford Escape and the nearly identical Mazda Tribute may be the best small sport-utility vehicles sold today.
Two models are available, XLS ($17,645) and XLT ($19,195). Each offers a choice of front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive; four-wheel drive adds $1625 to the price. All come standard with Ford's four-cylinder Zetec engine. An additional $1400 buys the optional 3.0-liter V6.
Escape XLS comes with a high level of standard equipment, including air conditioning, power windows and an AM/FM/CD stereo. XLT adds ABS, cruise control, map lights, a cassette player, a rear auxiliary power outlet, better seats and aluminum wheels instead of steel ones. Four-wheel-drive XLT models also get Ford's fully automatic Control Trac II system with a lockable center differential. An Escape loaded with leather, V6 and six-disc in-dash CD goes for less than $25,000.
The Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute are the first two vehicle that the two companies developed jointly through the entire research and development phase.
Ford designers worked to achieve a balance between the SUV's image of confidence, ruggedness and versatility with an image of agility and fun. Its forward-poised stance, large wheel lips, wide body cladding and an integrated bumper guard give a functional look. The Escape is wider than other SUVs, which gives it an aggressive look. Short front and rear overhangs add more to the sports appeal. The Escape looks bolder and more aggressive than the Honda CR-V, which looks dainty and dated by comparison. Styling makes the Escape look like it came from the same family as the Ford Explorer and Expedition.
Being able to see the leading edge of the hood from the driver's seat makes the Escape easier to maneuver in tight places, whether you're deep in the woods or (more likely) in a tight big-city garage. If you are deep in the woods, its 8.5 inches of ground clearance may help clear obstacles. Outside door handles are easy to grab and feel like they're going to last.
Accessories from Ford Outfitters include a snap-in pet barrier and a system to haul two mountain bikes in the cargo area. Bike racks can also be mounted on the roof; the standard roof rack with crossbars holds up to 100 pounds. We don't like the idea of getting vehicles with tall ground clearances then bolting running boards on them. Ford says it designed the running boards on the Escape so that they do not lower the ground clearance. They are expected to be popular on the Escape and are designed to make it easier to install kayaks, snowboards and other toys on the roof rack. Likewise, the rear bumper was designed to aid roof access.
Ford claims the Escape is the most spacious of the small SUVs (at 133.9 cubic feet). The rear cargo area offers 63.3 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, making it just the thing for a day of antiquing. With the split 60/40 rear seats folded up to accommodate up to five passengers it provides 33.0 cubic feet. Entering and exiting the vehicle is aided by a low doorsill height and wide door openings.
Front-seat roominess is similar to that of the Explorer. Rear seats offer more knee room that what is found in the Honda CR-V. White-faced instruments, in vogue these days, are in a straightforward instrument panel. Side airbags are optional.
The audio system and heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls in the center stack are angled slightly toward the driver to ease reach while driving. Ford engineers say they tested the placement of the controls by using blindfolded occupants. In-dash single CD player is standard; a 300-watt, six-disc, in-dash CD player is available.
Sport-utility vehicles are not sports cars. In spite of that, California's twisting Highway 1 is an enjoyable drive in the Escape. Handling response is relatively taut without that mushiness that characterizes SUVs with big off-road tires and long-travel suspensions. On muddy fire roads pocked with puddles and potholes, the Escape is a blast.
Steering is responsive. It feels direct and accurate without a big dead spot in the center. There's enough feeling in the steering to impart a sense of control. Though this is not a sports car, the tires provide respectable grip in paved corners. When pushed beyond their limits, the front tires start slipping before the rear tires. just like most front-wheel-drive sedans. Called understeer, this means the Escape will describe a wider and wider arc through a corner as it is driven harder into a turn. So it's expected and predictable. Simply back off the throttle and it tightens its line. The Escape provides surprisingly good transient response in a series of left-right-left corners. This permits quick, yet smooth, driving. Two passengers never paused in an in-depth marketing discussion despite the fact that we were escaping at a brisk pace down Highway 1.
The optional V6 engine delivers good acceleration performance. While there's no such thing as too much power, I never felt lacking in the Escape. The engine and four-speed automatic communicate work well together. The transmission shifts smoothly up and down appropriately for the situation and the engine's broad power band never lugs or strains. It isn't the smoothest V6 on the market, nor is it the roughest. But it is smoother and more satisfying than the four-cylinder engines found on most small sport-utilities. (We have not yet had the opportunity to test drive a four-cylinder model.)
The brakes are smooth and responsive. The optional anti-lock brakes (ABS) come into play just when expected and are detectable by the familiar pulsating sensation. ABS lengthens braking distances on wet, slimy clay, however, so I found it difficult to slow the vehicle in time for tight switchbacks on the unpaved roads. (This is no different than any other SUV with ABS.).
With the optional V6 engine, the Ford Escape offers the most power in its category. A four-wheel independent suspension and unitbody construction makes it handle almost as well as a car. A car-like ride makes it easy to live with. Overall, we feel the Escape is the best SUV in its class.
XLS ($17,645); XLS 4WD ($19,270); XLT ($19,195); XLT 4WD ($20,820).
Kansas City, Missouri.
Options As Tested
Leather Comfort Group ($870) includes leather seating surfaces, six-way power driver's seat, black leather-wrapped steering wheel, deluxe overhead console, door pockets, storage bin under front passenger seat; side-impact airbags ($345); ABS ($575); 3.0-liter Duratec V6 ($1,480) includes engine, automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, wheel opening moldings, Trailer Towing Group; privacy glass ($275); Mach Audio System ($505).
XLT 4WD ($20,820).
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