SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- Running up the 101 freeway from San Francisco, we're snug in the driver's seat of a 2014 Escape Titanium, Ford's smooth-riding and easy-driving 5-door crossover utility vehicle for the compact class.
Escape earned a major make-over for 2013 models -- a new structure with fresh body styling and three eco-friendly powertrain choices -- and the 2014 issues show tweaks in trims, features and equipment.
Styling of the body appears aerodynamic and different from Escape's boxy predecessors with a roly-poly format but sharply creased planes and a steeply raked windshield.
The tapered body is distinguished by a high beltline with the roof floating above a ring of dark privacy glass. Escape's blunt face forward of a stubby notched hood provides a flat-bar grille and narrow corner clusters of clear-lens headlamps.
Muscular flanks show chiseled wheelwells housing large alloy rollers -- base 17-inch aluminum wheels capped by P235/55R17 all-season tires or up-level 19-inch premium painted aluminum wheels with P235/45R19 all-season tires.
Escape's tail bows down from the roof with a spoiler on the top edge of the big liftgate and large taillamp clusters pinned on rear corners as two round tailpipes protrude below thick dark fascia.
Escape foregoes the conventional sport utility vehicle's body-on-frame structure in favor of a monocoque platform to unite chassis and body in a cohesive unit that's extremely rigid when set in motion. The front-wheel-drive (FWD) chassis comes from Ford's Focus compact car.
A generous wheelbase length of 105.9 inches and a wide wheel track (61.5-inch front/61.6-inch rear) set up a long and broad foundation that contributes to Escape's stability when maneuvering on a curvy road.
Steering is made easy due to EPAS -- electric power assist steering -- through a direct rack and pinion system.
All issues of Escape tote independent suspension components -- MacPherson struts up front and a trailing blade design in back with stabilizer bar -- to deliver more control over the vehicle for a driver and car-smooth ride sensations for passengers.
Escape 2014 trims out in three equipment tiers labeled S, SE and Titanium, the latter with luxury touches like leather seat upholstery.
The price-leading base edition Escape S stocks an economical 4-cylinder engine. With aluminum block and heads plus dual overhead cams (DOHC), the plant displaces 2.5 liters and produces 168 hp at 6000 rpm and a torque rating of 170 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.
The 2.5-liter 4-pack when tied to a 6-speed electronic automatic transaxle with SelectShift manual controller achieves EPA fuel economy scores of 22 mpg for city driving and 31 mpg on the highway.
Escape SE and Titanium editions carry the lead-foot power surge of Ford's 4-cylinder EcoBoost engines.
The standard version for SE and Titanium trims is an aluminum DOHC 1.6-liter in-line-4 with twin-independent variable cam timing (Ti-VCT) featuring high-pressure direct injection and low-inertia turbocharging with special tuning to decrease the response time and increase power through the rev range.
Ford's 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine produces 178 hp at 5700 rpm plus torque of 184 lb-ft at 2500 rpm.
The optional EcoBoost engine for SE and Titanium trims is a 2.0-liter variation that soars with 240 hp at 5500 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm.
Both EcoBoost engines tie to Ford's 6-speed electronic automatic with SelectShift.
The highly efficient EcoBoost plants not only deliver fast off-the-line thrust but also high fuel economy figures. The 1.6-liter plant nets 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, and the 2.0-liter EcoBoost scores 22/30 mpg (city/highway).
With the EcoBoost engines, Ford adds the option of all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction using a smart traction system which distributes the engine's power between front and rear wheels selectively via an electromagnetic clutch -- the intent is to maintain a firm tire grip no matter what happens on pavement or dirt.
Escape's 2014 issues get MyFord Touch and the Microsoft-powered Sync system, plus optional driver aids such as Blind Spot Information System (alert icons in side mirrors), Active Park Assist (automatic parallel parking), Curve Control (automatic braking in a curve) and Torque Vectoring Control (automatic accelerating).
Ford's MSRP figures for the 2014 Escape start at $22,700 for Escape S/FWD.