Ford Escape is the best-selling of all the small, affordable sport-utilities, and it's a solid choice among these so-called cute utes. The Escape offers agile handling, a smooth ride, and comfortable seating for four average Americans. It also offers brisk acceleration when equipped with the optional V6 engine. It's compact but practical. Folding down the rear seats reveals a flat, moderately sized cargo area. Best of all, its prices are relatively low, up only an average of 1 percent over 2004 prices.
For 2005, Escape has a fresh new face, new headlamps, and a brightened interior. The new base 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is a big improvement over the old 2.0-liter, and it's available with an automatic transmission for the first time, a benefit of its increased power. The 2005 Escape offers a fully automatic four-wheel drive option that operates transparently in the background. The standard manual transmission is new, with lighter shifting efforts and shorter throws. And a revised suspension improves the ride.
But the biggest news is that the Escape Hybrid has finally arrived, using a special version of the 2.3-liter gas engine teamed with an electric motor. It's designed to deliver quick response while delivering excellent fuel economy.
Ford Escape comes in three trim levels, XLS, XLT, and Limited, all available with front-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). There's a choice of three powerplants and a choice of transmissions.
XLS ($19,265) is the base model and comes standard with air conditioning, illuminated remote entry, power windows and mirrors, tilt steering column, center console, 15-inch steel wheels and an AM/FM/CD/cassette audio system with clock. The new 2.3-liter four-cylinder Duratec 23 engine produces 153 horsepower and 152 pound-feet of torque, nearly 18 percent more power and 10 percent more torque than last year's engine. It has a balance shaft for smoothness, and it comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A 200-horsepower 3.0-liter Duratec V6 and four-speed automatic are also available: The XLS 4WD model ($21,015) comes standard with the V6 and automatic.
XLT ($22,780) and XLT 4WD ($24,530) come standard with the V6 and automatic transmission. XLT also gets four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), premium cloth upholstery, a power driver's seat, privacy glass, a power moonroof, cruise control, a cargo cover and convenience net, fog lights, an in-dash six-CD changer, and white-letter P235/70R16 tires on 16-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels. The XLT No Boundaries Package 47S on our test truck ($1,055) adds all-terrain tires, painted aluminum wheels, black painted step bars, Class II trailer towing, and wheel lips. New this year is XLT Sport ($23,690 FWD; $25,440 AWD) with all the XLT standard equipment plus 16-inch bright machined aluminum wheels, P235/70R16 tires, painted Dark Shadow gray fascias, bodyside cladding, wheel lip moldings and black step bars.
Limited ($24,615) and Limited 4WD ($26,365) come with premium leather seats, seat heaters, front side-impact air bags, dual front sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated exterior mirrors, a reverse sensing system, and a MACH Audio in-dash six-CD changer with automatic volume control. Limited sports a monochrome exterior with body-colored trim and bright machined 16-inch aluminum wheels.
Option packages are available for each trim level. XLT Premium Package ($1230) includes leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 60/40 split rear bench seat, front door map pockets, an overhead console with dual storage bins, a front passenger under-seat storage tray, and a power moonroof with sunshade. Also available for 2005 is the Limited Luxury Comfort Package, which includes the MACH audio system, heated side-view mirrors, reverse sensing system, front and rear premium leather-trimmed seats and heated front seats.
The Escape Hybrid is priced about $4,000 more than a V6, and is available in all trim levels.