In a very competitive compact sport/utility category, the Ford Escape more than holds its own. It's brawnier than, say, Honda's CR-V; yet it's better mannered and more comfortable than Jeep's Liberty. For 2005, the Escape is gussied up with some styling changes and a new 2.3-liter twin-cam base motor. The changes are good if not dramatic, and Escape surely retains a competitive edge in its category. What's odd, though, is how little it now differs from its Ford Focus sibling in many important respects.
Keep in mind that Focus and Escape share much of the same platform engineering. Indeed, Escape's 2.3-liter inline-four is available in the sporty Focus ZX4 ST sport sedan. But despite nearly equal wheelbase lengths, Escape's exterior dimensions are generally larger than Focus. Moreover, equipped with an optional four-wheel-drive system, my tester was almost 650 lbs. heavier.
So it's only natural to expect the 4WD Escape to cost more ($23,235 as-tested) and to post lesser fuel-mileage ratings (19 mpg/City, 22 mpg/Highway). But why should the sport-and-utility-oriented Escape actually turn out to be smaller and less utilitarian inside?
The numbers are perplexing: Escape's trunk space behind the rear seat is just 29.3 cu. ft. With the second row folded, total cargo capacity is just 66 cu. ft. Those deficits, compared with the Focus wagon, represent 21 percent and 11 percent less hauling capacity, respectively. What's more, the Escape's roof rack is a $40 option.
You'd think, of course, that the taller, wider Escape would boast more interior space, so the compensation must be in passenger room; but you'd be wrong. Although the Escape provides marginally more room for front seat occupants, the wagon actually boasts better backseat leg- and hip-room than the Escape.
Antilock brakes are standard on the Escape, albeit with the same disc/drum layout; yet safety-curtain head airbags remain an option ($425). Aside from any special need for all-wheel-drive, however, it's becoming clearer to me that the distinctions between Ford's compact SUV and its compact wagon are anything but clear. All the more reason, I suggest, for consumers to focus on the matter of what's really worth paying for.
5-pass., 4-door; 4WD, 2.3-liter DOHC inline-4, 153 hp/152 ft.-lbs; 4-sp. auto; 19 mpg/City, 22 mpg/Hwy w/ regular; cargo: 29.3-66.3 cu. ft.; tow: 1,500 lbs.; as-tested, w/ 4-wheel ind. suspension & disc/drum brakes, HVAC, 15-in. wheels, AM/FM/in-dash single-CD audio, safety canopy, roof rack: $23,235