Wearing the blue oval centered in its wide, narrow grille to say it's a Ford, the Escape's nose is more like that of the little Ford Focus rather than the big Ford Explorer. Aero and almost stubby, the front end looks like it's meant for the business of efficient hauling. Character lines on the hood suggest a cowl. The headlights are sharply angled under sheetmetal speed lines like eyebrows, sweeping back and up into the muscular wheelwells.
The bottom two-thirds of the face is a gaping black mouth in a split fascia. It conceals a Ford innovation: sensor-controlled active shutters behind the grille that regulate air into the engine, for optimum efficiency and maximum fuel mileage.
The rear end doesn't keep up with the Ford Escape's slick front. It looks big and bulky for the size of the car, with lines going in three directions. It's as if the sheetmetal were shaped to match the taillights, including the indent for the license plate, like an upside-down triangle with the point at the bottom chopped off. The standard dual exhaust is visually cool with the twin pipes protruding, but the gray cladding looks like a big silver lump hanging out the back.
Actually, there's something hiding under that cladding that's great. It's an option that opens or closes the wide liftgate (low liftover height) with a small kick of your foot under the rear bumper, using a seeing-eye like the one that flushes toilets in public rest rooms. With an Escape that's so equipped, you'll never have to set down your grocery bags to put them in the back.
We also like the fact that on all three models, there's lots of black eggcrate and not so much chrome. Don't like so much the gray or black plastic cladding that adorns every model.
The rugged fabric seats in the Ford Escape are the best. And since the available MyFord Touch remains problematic, those excellent seats make the Escape S a compelling choice. If you have good standard seats, you can live without options that just cost money and complicate operation of the car.
The driver's seat is good, with a high seating position, excellent visibility all around with that short hood, big back glass, and no over-the-shoulder blind spots. Speaking of blind spots, the small convex mirrors in the upper corners of the sideview mirrors catch nearly everything in the lanes at your rear quarter panels, more accurately than any electronic blind-spot warning system that constantly sends false alarms (which they all tend to do). But if your eyes just can't learn to read a convex mirror, Ford's BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) is an option. The best thing about BLIS is that it includes Cross-Traffic Alert, which spots cars passing by your tailgate as you back out of a parking space and alerts you to that so you don't back into them.
The driver gets a nice dead-pedal footrest, comfortable armrests on both sides, and a helpful grab handle. Gauges are clean and attractive with pretty blue needles. Unlike the expensive Jaguar, Ford's rich sibling of the past, there are actual fuel and temperature gauges. There's a small rectangular window for information, scrolled through using arrows and a dial on the steering wheel.
The turn-signal sound is a classy, Jaguar-like "dink dink dink." You can hear the soft sound because the Escape is exceptionally quiet. Great job, there.
A small shift lever is dropped down, out of the way, while a SelectShift button on the side of the lever controls manual operation of the automatic transmission. We've complained about this same button on the Mustang, only because paddles are needed on the Mustang for fast shifting; but on the Escape, this thumb-button is just fine.
Steering wheels are often a disappointment in base-level cars, but not here. The four-spoke urethane wheel is okay, with places for your entire palms at 2 and 10 o'clock, and the full array of controls. Overall, the interior materials are soft, and the plastic around the centerstack is high quality.
The best thing about the rear seats is how easily they fold flat, with one lever. There's an available two-position load floor, allowing a flat floor or maximum luggage volume.
MyFord Touch gives you 27 touch-screen buttons to choose from when you're trying to adjust climate control, which is resistant to adjustment. From the subliminal brain's standpoint, that's 27 decisions to make. We could not get it to maintain a comfortable temperature. Set at Auto 71 degrees, it blew cold air with too much fan. We increased the setting to 74, and the temp remained the same, but the fan got stronger. We tried and tried, different ways, but it would not cooperate. All those buttons, each one requiring a decision and translation or interpretation. We gave up, not knowing if the problem was with the setting or with the HVAC itself.
Next we wanted to tune the radio. At least there were only 18 touch-screen buttons to choose from. We tried many of them, to no avail, while we continued to be distracted from our driving. All we wanted to do was change the station. Exasperating.
We found the buttons difficult to operate. The radio buttons are small enough that you have to really look, and use eye/hand coordination. Unlike vehicles that use an old-school tuning knob, there's no keeping your eyes on the road and grabbing the dial and turning it. With MyFord Touch (and other touch-screen systems like it), you have to look down and carefully aim your finger into a little rectangle. If the road is bumpy, the car will bounce and your finger will quite possibly miss. There are redundant audio controls on the steering wheel, and we found them to work better once we figured them out.
We did not like the design of the screen. Forty percent of the screen is taken up by black space, wasted. Two-thirds of the rest is taken up by nothing more than the logo for the radio station; then, twice, it displays the name of the program. The Back button is a tiny little button on the top of the screen. It should be on every page but it's not, so you can't keep going back and trying again to find something that works.
We struggled with voice commands. "Air condition on," we said, at 65 mph. Apparently it doesn't speak our language, only Ford's, because it replied, "Please say a command." It immediately referred us to an 800 number and a URL. Like we're supposed to write them down. But we cooperated and tried again, saying, "Temperature 69 degrees." It responded by giving us a bunch of advice, and reminding us we could get the phone to work and other things we didn't write down. "Please say a device," it said. We said, "Climate?" It said, "A list of valid voice commands is now on the screen." We took our eyes off the road and studied the list. "Sixty-nine degrees," we said, so clear and slow you could hear the condescension in our voice. "Eighty-nine degrees is not a valid command," it said. We tried three more times, and got nothing but backtalk from our Ford. We asked in exasperation, "What can we say?" and the screen responded with a list of all the nearby gas stations with their prices for fuel. Cool. Except what we wanted was to listen to the radio station of our choice at the temperature of our choice.
The good news is that if you get the entry-level Escape S model, you won't get MyFord Touch, and you won't ever be verbally abused by Voice Command unless you ask for it. Or you can just avoid using Voice Command.