By Jon Rosner, Wed, 5 Jan 2005 08:00:00 PDT
The clean, simple exterior lines of the Ford Escape are definitely from the form follows function school of design, quite practical for a small SUV. The lines between panels are uniform, the paint well-done and the hard-plastic cladding not quite up to Toyota standards, but not too far either. The interior of the car was clad with tan leather, good stitching, nice feel, with well-built and supportive but not very adjustable cushioning.
The instrument panel sports speedometer and tachometer gauges with large easy to read numbers, but it takes a long look to see just where the needle is on the speedometer as the increments are tough to tell at a glance. In a time when some car manufacturers are building center consoles that even engineers have problems understanding the Escapes are simple, easy to use and intuitive. In fact the MACH radio is not only well laid out it offers some of the best sound reproduction this author has heard outside of the digital clarity of satellite radio.
And it may seem odd but there was more usable space available in the Escape that in most of the middle sized SUVs we have had in the last few months. Yes, this is a Ford, yes, there are places in the interior where the plastics are not stellar in feel, and show one to two millimeter gaps at the edge, but this puppy was growing on us very quickly.
This was a V6 model with front wheel drive, and that was fine with us since most small and mid-sized SUVS with four are front-wheel drive for 99% of their driving, with four-wheel drive coming on only when slippage is detected. Speaking of which the V6 moved the Escape with authority and we were never at a lack for power in spite of the over 3,600 pound weight of the vehicle. And that's where the surprises came.
Nimble is not a word to be taken lightly, but the Escape felt that way. The early models of the Escape had a wretchedly soft suspension and felt top heavy, swaying with every lane change. This was something we found to true to a degree for many SUVs to the point where we were quite cautious of shifting lanes when we had the Honda Pilot. The Escape however not only handling undulating roads, poor pothole repairs and like, it felt almost eager in decreasing radius on ramps. Someone did something right because the Escape has no fragile electronic nannies to keep it stable and under control, it does it with old-fashioned shocks and springs. And the Escape earned bonus points for making 20 miles per gallon, its EPA city rating, in a combination of slow day-care traffic and pushing it weekend travel.
Ford really seems to be taking quality control seriously with the Escape, the space utility of the vehicle was actually better than a number of the Japanese and European mid-size SUVs which are in truth built more for style than functionality.
If memory serves correctly the Escape V6 Is 20 city and 25 highway, while the Escape Hybrid is 37 city and 29 highway, and with the rest of world is heavily discounting the U.S. Dollar because of our huge deficit spending/ huge imports two dollar per gallon gas is here to stay.
The number of Escape Hybrids is really limited by the fact that Sanyo and the other battery suppliers can not meet demand right now, but that will change pretty rapidly. And when That happens then the Hybrid version of the Escape is going to be right up in the top group of vehicles on our list.