Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2017 Ford Escape

Jasper, Alberta – “Be Unstoppable.” That was the slogan Ford Canada’s Marketing Plans Manager for SUVs, Greg Watkins, used to open his presentation on the 2017 Ford Escape. It’s a great Rah-Rah battle cry for his Ford colleagues to embrace, but it’s also an apt one for the runaway success of the company’s compact SUV.

The 2017 Escape is a prime example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Originally on sale 16 years ago as a 2001 model, the Escape has become an unmitigated sales success for Ford. Last year, 47,000 new Escapes found homes in Canadian garages, making the compact ute the best-selling vehicle Ford offers behind only the F-150 pickup truck. It’s no wonder they seem to be everywhere – they are!

There’s good reason for all those sales, too. Not only is the Escape available across a wide spectrum of drivetrain and trim levels, it’s also well-built, having earned a JD Power and Associates #1 spot last year in the segment for initial quality.

Plus, the Escape is a handsome little devil, which never hurts on the showroom floor either.

With Ford’s research predicting a continued upward trajectory on SUV sales (by 2020, it’s expected that 40% of all new vehicle sales will be SUVs), they’re taking the refresh of their most popular SUV very seriously.

On our drive from the Calgary airport to Jasper National Park and back again (just over 900 km in 24 hours), my driving partner and I often had a hard time spotting the differences between the numerous examples we encountered of last year’s Escape and the new model we were driving. A keen eye is required, to be sure. From the front, the Escape has been made to resemble its bigger brother Edge, while the rest of the body has been nipped, tucked and generally given some cosmetic updates.

Inside, Ford has listened to consumers and relocated the shifter to open up some much needed cabin storage, nooks and crannies. The glove box now opens in a way that creates a little bin whether opened or closed, preventing the collection of detritus most of us accumulate from spilling all over the passenger footwell.

Aside from that, and a new look for the steering wheel, if you liked the aesthetic of the Escape’s interior last year, you’ll still like it this year – virtually nothing else has changed. There are a few niceties added, mind you, like a heated steering wheel on Titanium and SE trims, and improved active safety features like lane keeping assist, but the 2017 Escape is a prime example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

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Considerable attention has been paid to further arrest noise and vibration levels in the Escape, with increased insulation, better seals and new acoustic glass. These elements combine to create what Ford estimates to be the quietest cabin in the segment. Our drive reaffirms that both wind and tire noise are surprisingly quelled, and engine noise is reasonable for this class of vehicle.

For 2016, Ford introduced the latest version of the infotainment system, SYNC 3, in the outgoing Escape. It carries over here, but with the upcoming addition of SYNC Connect technology that gives the new FordPass members the ability to lock, unlock and locate their Escape via their smartphones, as well as schedule remote start date and time and check fuel levels. Additional “apps” for FordPass will be implemented as the program rolls out. Ford figures consumers don’t care to have their vehicles be a mobile WiFi hotspot the way some of their competitors do, so WiFi isn’t offered here.

The new SYNC 3 system also incorporates Apple CarPlay; however, since it overrides the vehicle navigation system with Apple Maps, we were instructed not to try it for fear of Ford losing a few dozen geographically-challenged auto journalists in the mountainous wilderness for not following the prescribed route.

Both passenger and cargo space are unchanged for the new Escape, and remain competitive, if not class-leading in volume.

The biggest news is found under the hood of the new Escape. For 2017 the engine offerings include two new EcoBoost engines (and a carry over 2.5L normally aspirated engine for the base S model trim).  The first is a 1.5L turbo 4-cylinder that delivers 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. This engine was first introduced in the midsize Fusion sedan. Next step up, Ford puts the 2.0L twin-scroll turbo 4-cylinder that serves as the middle-child offering in the mid-size Edge crossover. With 245 hp and a very impressive 275 lb-ft of torque, it’s leading the charge in the power department amongst all 4-banger competitors.

Our test vehicles – a Titanium trim (grey) and an SE with the all-new Sport Appearance Package (brown) – both rocked the bigger EcoBoost. Pulling away from a stop and launching the Escape up to highway speeds is effortless – fun, even – with this engine. Cruising along the Trans-Canada Highway at a considerable pace, the 2-litre EcoBoost is smooth and still had adequate power to move the Escape up and down the mountainous terrain without losing steam.

Ford rates the 2.0 L at an impressive 3,500 pounds of towing capability when equipped with a Class II Two Package option, and offers trailer sway control in case the tail tries to wag the dog.

All Escapes direct the power through a six-speed automatic that seems well-matched to the 2 L. Paddle shifters are available for SE and Titanium trim. At highway speeds, the gearing keeps the engine turning at modest revs, helping to keep noise and vibration down, as well as fuel consumption. We observed an average consumption rate through the mountains (and with a heavy foot) of 9.6 L / 100 km.

Both EcoBoost engines are fitted with standard Auto Start-Stop functionality for fuel savings as well. Ford looked at some of the best stop-start systems from Mercedes, Audi and Porsche to ensure theirs operated at least as smoothly and vibration-free as any of the best of them – and it does.  Restarts are virtually imperceptible.

The Sport Appearance Package is an option on each SE and Titanium trim. It adds partial-leather seats and mostly black trim all over the Escape, as well as 19-inch black-painted wheels. Those wheels look great, but the low-profile tires have stiff sidewalls and contributed to a noticeably firm ride that my driving partner and I didn’t notice when driving the Titanium trim with 18” wheels.

The upside to the 19” wheels and accompanying stiff ride is a slightly more playful handling character in the Sport package Escape. That said, it is still a utility vehicle and rolls considerably in the corners. The all-season Continental tires are quiet and provided decent grip even as we saw three seasons’ worth of weather in less than 10 hours of driving.

The Escape is a tremendously important vehicle for Ford and thanks to what are mostly subtle updates, there is no reason to believe the new 2017 model will be anything but a continued success. It’s with vehicles like this that Ford may just Be Unstoppable in the sales race.

The 2017 Ford Escape is available now at dealerships.