Driving Impressions

By August 14, 2013

How the Escape drives is affected by the drivetrain you choose. Choosing between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive affects how the Escape drives as does choosing among the three available engines.

The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers decent torque for acceleration when you need it at any speed, and good power at high revs for those who like to wind it up. It's equipped with a balance shaft to offset vibration, and it's smooth. It delivers 10 fewer horsepower than the 1.6-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost, 14 fewer foot-pounds of torque, and 2 fewer miles per gallon. The 2.5-liter engine is about keeping the purchase price down. After that, you have an engine that's a little more expensive to operate while offering less power and poorer fuel economy compared with the newer Ecoboost engines.

When we first drove a front-wheel-drive 1.6-liter EcoBoost, we were impressed by its quickness. With 178 horsepower performing this well, who needs 240 hp? we asked aloud, thinking of the 2.0-liter EcoBoost we would drive next. The word that came to mind to describe the way the 1.6 gets around is scoots, and it scoots all the way up to redline.

Ride quality in the 1.6-liter front-wheel-drive Escape was smooth, while at the same time it felt like it wanted to dance. It darts but doesn't jerk, and you get used to it. There was a bouncy motion to the suspension, but it wasn't harsh or disturbing. It's very nimble, and we love how it handles on two-lanes.

That's probably Torque Vectoring Control at work, an impressive feature for a compact SUV. It uses the stability-control module to monitor the dynamics 100 times per second. When the front inside wheel starts to slip in a corner, braking is applied to that wheel, balancing the grip with the left front wheel and reducing understeer.

Torque Vectoring works with Curve Control, which is like electronic stability control, only quicker; it senses when a vehicle is entering a curve too fast, and cuts power and/or applies braking to individual wheels to reduce speed by up to 10 mph in one second. Think freeway on-ramps or off-ramps, especially in the wet.

The brakes are quite aggressive, or rather we should say the sensors that control the brakes are aggressive, because the mechanical feel to the pedal is just right: nicely progressive. But as we dabbed the brakes before corners on the twisty road, it felt like they were surging and biting. Once we felt the stability control come on, and it actually made a tire chirp when it braked just one wheel.

In some challenging choppy switchbacks, the suspension did a good job of smoothing it all out. We assume that Torque Vectoring Control was at work, but we didn't feel it.

The automatic 6-speed transmission kicks down into fifth gear on the freeway quite a bit, unnecessarily we think; but they all tend to do that, even those in way more powerful cars. The more gears there are, the more the transmission tries to get out of top gear. We tried to keep it in sixth by shifting to Sport/Manual mode, to no avail. We tested its tolerance by slowing down to 40 mph in sixth gear and flooring it; the transmission downshifted to fourth gear, while indicating in the digital window that it was in fifth. It makes us realize that Sport/Manual mode is a paradox. In a true sport mode, a driver would want the transmission to downshift aggressively; in a true manual mode, the driver would not want the transmission to downshift until the lower gear was manually selected.

Our run in the 1.6-liter Ecoboost included a lot of relaxed driving, so for much of the time our throttle foot was light, but we only averaged 22.7 miles per gallon. It's EPA-rated at 23/32 miles per gallon City/Highway.

The Escape 2.0-liter EcoBoost felt like a totally different car: heavier, more solid, less visceral. The handling is slower and the suspension steadier than the 1.6. Most buyers will probably be more comfortable with the 2.0. The 2.0 Escape feels substantial, for a compact SUV.

However, we should point out that our 2.0 was all-wheel drive, and the 1.6 was front-wheel drive; maybe that explains more about the feel of the car than the engine. Tires and wheels were different, also, with 17-inch wheels on the 1.6, 19-inch wheels on the 2.0.

The all-wheel drive system contains sensors that analyze data from 25 signals. Ford claims it operates 20 times faster than the blink of an eye, delivering torque to the wheels as needed, through a torque converter and electromagnetic clutch.

The 2.0-liter engine is not just a bigger version of the 1.6-liter. Although both are turbocharged, direct-injected, 16-valve, aluminum four-cylinders, they're from different engine families; the 1.6 is the older Sigma design, the 2.0 comes from the Duratec family. The 2.0 feels like a V6, compared to the 1.6. Using different turbochargers, the 1.6 has a steeper torque curve, further adding to its quickness and visceral feel. The 1.6 makes 184 pound-feet or torque at 2500 rpm, while the 2.0 makes 270 pound-feet at 3000. We can't say we felt that big a difference. The bigger engine would be better if you tow anything. Properly equipped, the 2.0 Escape can tow 3500 pounds, which is a lot for a four-cylinder compact SUV.

Even having 62 more horsepower, 240 hp vs. 178 hp, the 2.0-liter Escape doesn't feel much faster in a straight line; and maybe ours wasn't, because of a taller rear axle ratio. The 1.6 FWD came with a 3.21 final drive, the 2.0 AWD with a long-legged 3.07, which didn't help fuel mileage much; we got 19.7 mpg with the 2.0. It's EPA-rated at 21/28 mpg City/Highway with all-wheel drive.

Transmissions are the same on the 1.6 and 2.0, but programmed differently, the 2.0 sportier. This 6-speed automatic has rev-matching downshifting. That means you'll hear a little blip from the engine as it goes into gear smoothly, when you manually downshift it hard.