2008 Ford Escape Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
One of Ford's best gets better.
The Ford Escape has been thoroughly updated for 2008, reinforcing the character and appeal that have made it America's perennial best-selling small sport-utility vehicle. The improvements nearly cover the spectrum, and inject a new level of refinement. The Escape's standard safety features are upgraded significantly for 2008.
We'd call the Escape a little truck among small SUVs. Its new styling deliberately invokes Ford's larger, truck-based Expedition and Explorer sport-utilities. Escape's ride height and seating position are a bit higher than competitors such as the Honda CR-V, and it can tow up to 3,500 pounds, which is substantially more than most other vehicles in the class.
Yet the Ford Escape still delivers the advantages of unit-body, car-based competitors such as the Honda CR-V. Its smooth ride and agile handling make for enjoyable driving, and its compact dimensions make the Escape easy to park.
The base four-cylinder is adequate for all-purpose driving while the V6 offers quicker acceleration performance. All variants, including the V6 and Escape Hybrid, deliver some of best EPA mileage ratings in the class. All, including the gas-electric Hybrid, are offered with either front- or all-wheel drive. For the most part, the Hybrid drives just like a conventional gas-only Escape. It's a well-executed package. It offers better fuel economy and lower emissions but demands little additional effort or knowledge from the driver.
The new 2008 Ford Escape still provides comfortable seating for four, or five in a pinch, but with noticeably more headroom than in pre-2008 models. Folding the rear seats opens a good sized cargo area with a flat floor, and space behind the seat surpasses that in the trunk of the typical sedan. Interior storage options have improved considerably. The finish is more upscale and pleasing, and feature function and switches are among the best.
Safety features that were extra-cost options on lower-trim models are now standard across the board, including Ford's Roll Stability Control system. Escape now sets the class benchmark for safety features.
There's a Ford Escape model for most tastes and needs. They range from a decently equipped, four-cylinder Escape XLS 2WD for under $19,000 to the leather-upholstered Escape V6 Limited 4WD, with premium audio, navigation, dual-zone auto climate control and reverse sensing for about $30,000. Dollar for feature, Ford Escape prices have dropped considerably the past few years. The premium for the Escape Hybrid has also decreased. It's now less than $2,000 more than a comparably equipped Limited.
The Ford Escape remains one of the more appealing vehicles in its class, regardless of price, and certainly one of the better values. Those shopping for a small SUV should put it on their short list, especially those who appreciate its big-truck styling.
The five-passenger Ford Escape is offered with front-wheel drive or fulltime all-wheel drive, and either a four-cylinder, V6, or gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. The four trim levels are distinguished by engine and standard features.
The Escape XLS ($18,580) and XLS 4WD ($21,320) are powered by a 153-horsepower 2.3-liter inline four that generates 152 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, a four-speed automatic ($1,000) is optional. The XLS comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks, an AM/FM stereo with CD and auxiliary jack, rear window defroster and 16-inch steel wheels.
The Escape XLT ($20,880) and XLT 4WD ($22,360) add more standard features, including upgraded cloth upholstery, a power driver's seat, cruise control, privacy glass and 16-inch alloy wheels. A 200-hp, dual overhead cam 3.0-liter V6 ($1,000) is optional on the XLT, and includes the four-speed automatic.
The Escape Limited ($23,580) and Limited 4WD ($25,330) come standard with the V6 and automatic, plus leather seating, a 6CD changer and automatic headlights.
The Escape Hybrid ($25,075) and Hybrid 4WD ($26,825) are equipped similarly to the Limited models, but add the hybrid powertrain. This so-called full hybrid features a more fuel efficient, 133-hp Atkinson Cycle version of the four-cylinder engine and a 70 kilowatt electric motor. Unlike some mild hybrid SUVs, the Escape Hybrid can run on 100 percent electric power up to about 25 mph.
The Escape offers more option choices than many small sport-utilities, starting with some popular packages. The Cargo Convenience Group ($395) includes a retractable cargo area cover and a compartmentalized rear storage bin. The Audiophile Package ($695) includes a high-power stereo with seven speakers, subwoofer and the in-dash CD changer. The Limited Luxury Package ($795) adds dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats and a back-up warning system. The Audiophile and Navigation Package ($2,695) includes the stereo upgrade and Ford's touch-screen navigation system; in the Hybrid, it also adds a meter that graphically and immediately demonstrates the benefits of hybrid drive, and helps the driver maximize fuel economy. Other options include cruise control ($225), CD changer ($295), a power moonroof ($795), floor mats ($55), 16-inch alloy wheels ($375), 17-inch chromed wheels ($695), and a Class II towing package ($345).
Safety features have been upgraded substantially for 2008, making equipment that was previously optional on lower trim levels standard across the board, and setting the class benchmark for small sport-utilities. Passive safety features include front- and side-impact airbags for front occupants and curtain-type head protection airbags for all outboard seats. The side curtains can remain inflated for several seconds in the event of a rollover, and are designed to slide between the side glass and occupants if the people are oddly seated or resting heads against a window. Active safety systems include four-channel antilock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control and Ford's Roll Stability Control system. RSC adds a second gyroscopic roll-rate sensor to the typical stability control package, measuring the Escape's roll angle and roll rate and applying countermeasures (such as braking one of the wheels or reducing power) to increase rollover resistance.
The 2008 Ford Escape has been re-styled more thoroughly than a quick glance might suggest. None of its major body panels are common to previous models, but the redesign is evolutionary and the most obvious changes are in the details, or jewelry, as designers call them. In an impressionistic way, the new Escape will look familiar to those who have owned previous Escapes, or those who pay attention to what others drive.
As such, the new Escape has the air of a conventional, truck-based SUV, with a more rugged look than many other small, sedan-platform sport-utilities such as the Honda CR-V. For starters, Escape sits a bit higher than many competitors (8.1 inches of ground clearance), and the high profile is enhanced by its design.
The new grille looks like it was designed for a truck. The headlights are essentially connected to the grille, and shaped to create a family resemblance with Ford's Edge crossover SUV. Yet the grille itself is tall and flat and stacked right on top of a skid plate-type fascia that flows under the bumper. Escape's beltline, or the crease that runs just under the windows, is high, too, and its roof pillars are blacked out. The taillights have a clear band that wraps around the rear corners. The lower bumpers and rocker panels are now painted to match the body on all models, rather than molded in a matte finish. In total, the effect is cleaner and more polished than previous models, and it's all quite handsome.
The trim levels are easy to distinguish from the front of the car. The base Escape XLS has a chrome grille and body-colored fascia from the bumper down. The XLT is identical, except for prominent fog lights in the front bumper. The Limited and Hybrid have grilles painted to match the body, unless you opt for the Chrome Appearance Package. This adds the chrome grille and more, with brightwork flowing down into the skid plate and bumper. It looks like a big, shiny T on the front of the vehicle.
Some changes to the new Escape are functional more than aesthetic. The side mirrors are larger than before, but Ford claims their shape generates less noise as air speeds over them. The roof, too, is designed to reduce interior noise. Recessed channels running its length are intended to move air more quietly over the surface. Horizontal ribs underneath the panel add structure, which limits flex in the metal and reduces booming noise inside at high speeds.
We're fond of a couple of features in back of the Escape. A new step pad on the bumper provides secure footing for anyone who steps up to put something on the roof rack, and the two-piece tailgate is handy. The rear glass can be popped open with the key fob, so dropping small items like a gym bag into the cargo area is much easier than it might be with some competitors, which require hefting the entire gate upward.
The 2008 Ford Escape interior is all new, and we like it. It's not significantly roomier or a leap forward in design, but it's well thought out and well executed. It's a definite improvement in ergonomic function and overall visual appeal, and it makes a nicer place to spend time.
This is one of Ford's best interiors in years in terms of the look and feel of materials used. The headliner is plush and molded to the contour of the roof. Our Escape Limited had thick, tautly tailored leather on the seats and hard, glossy black plastic where you might expect fake wood or metal. It looked like the lacquered finish on a fine piano. The satiny black or silver used in lower trim levels isn't bad, either. Yet the highlight is a woven-look, rubberized trim on the dash and console. It looks sporty and suited to a more expensive car. The lowlight is the grained plastic on the door panels, which feels hard and looks cheap. Fortunately, it's not enough to overwhelm the good stuff elsewhere.
The Escape features upholstery cloth made from 100-percent recycled material. You'd never know by its look or feel, and Ford claims that compared to upholstery made from virgin fiber, production will conserve about 600,000 gallons of water and 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 million pounds.
Escape's front seats have enough cush to prevent numbing and enough support to limit fatigue during longer drives. Overall, though, the seats are smaller than those in a larger sport utility. Drivers with big frames might find them small. There's not an abundance of side bolstering, but that makes it easier to slide into the seats, and there's enough to keep occupants solidly in place during the type of driving a typical Escape owner is likely to undertake.
The gauges are clustered in a shaded binnacle that can be absorbed in a glance: Tachometer left, speedometer right, with fuel and coolant temperature in the middle, along with an easy-to-read trip- and systems-info display. We absolutely loved this, because it includes a menu that allows the driver to easily cycle through and change features such as headlight-off delay and auto-locking.
The gauges and switches feature Ford's new signature backlighting style, which the company calls Ice Blue. No gripe here, as the bluish white is crisper and brighter than conventional green-yellow or orange lighting. The problem is the script on the gauges, and particularly the speedometer. It's muddled and lacks differentiation beyond the big even numbers, so it's hard to tell quickly what speed you're driving unless you are traveling precisely at 20, 40, or 60 mph.
The dashboard is tall and squarish, but it's attractive and fits Escape's little-truck theme nicely. The big vents at the ends move lots of air, and there are two more in the middle near the top of the center stack. These can be aimed to avoid blasting the drivers hands or face with a rush of air. At the very top sits a neat TFT display that shows compass direction, date and time, exterior temperature and, on models so equipped, the two interior temp settings.
When it comes to placement and function of switches, the Escape is first rate, and examples are easy to find. When the driver rests his or her left forearm on the door rest, the window buttons sit almost perfectly at the fingertips. With elbows on the door rest and center console, arms are even and hands rest nicely at 9 and 3 o'clock on the steering wheel. The mirror adjustor sits on the door pillar, and it's easy to reach when the driver's head is in driving position. One easy-to-use stalk controls the blinkers and all wiper/washer functions. The steering wheel controls for cruise and audio work without moving hands from the driving position.
Audio and climate controls work just as well. The volume and station-selector knobs are good sized, but more importa.
The 2008 Ford Escape is truckish as the current crop of small sport utility vehicles go, but not in a bad way. Its ride height and seating position are higher than a lot of unit-body (sedan style) utilities, though lower than many traditional truck-based SUVs.
The Escape is quite pleasant to drive. It handles well and has a firm, comfortable ride, without the roly-poly mush quality or the jarring suspension clanks that can characterize conventional truck-based SUVs with tall, off-road tires and long-travel suspensions. Several improvements for 2008, including an electric power steering system and changes in suspension tuning, raise the level of refinement above earlier Escapes.
Engines in the new 2008 model are carryover from the previous generation, but all are solid performers. Both the four- and six-cylinder engine deliver good response and decent acceleration. The Escape Hybrid delivers essentially the same performance, with very little to give away its hybrid powertrain except improved mileage. Indeed, all Escape models, from front-wheel-drive four-cylinders to all-wheel-drive V6s to the Hybrid, have some of the best EPA mileage ratings in the class (Be sure to compare mileage ratings according to the same model year. The EPA changed its calculation formula for 2008 to reflect something closer to real-world results, which lowered the ratings for 2008 models).
The base 2.3-liter four-cylinder delivers good power at high revs for those who like to wind it up and decent torque for acceleration when you need it at any speed. With a balance shaft to offset vibration, it's also smoother than some of Ford's previous four-cylinder engines. We prefer the 153-hp four-cylinder with the five-speed manual transmission; indeed, a front-drive, manual Escape XLS 2WD might be the most engaging and enjoyable model to drive. At an EPA-estimated 22/28 mpg City/Highway, it has one of the highest EPA mileage ratings of any non-hybrid SUV. With the four-cylinder, maximum towing capacity is 1,500 pounds, sufficient for dirt bikes or a snowmobile.
The 3.0-liter V6 engine offers 200 horsepower for stronger acceleration. It has about as much torque as any small SUV is likely to need. It's available only with the four-speed automatic, but its power band is broad. In day-to-day driving, it never lugs, strains or feels as if it's out of breath. And with the optional Class II towing package, the V6 AWD models can pull a substantial 3,500 pounds, which surpasses most vehicles in this class. Neither the four-cylinder nor V6 powertrain is the smoothest in small SUVs, but neither is course enough to seriously detract from Escape's appeal.
Our gripe in the driveline is the four-speed automatic, and it's not because some competitors now offer five-speeds. While the Escape automatic shifts smoothly, it sometimes shifts slowly, in that it seems to take its time deciding what gear it wants to be in. In particular, it's very reluctant to shift itself down into first gear, which would provide the most immediate acceleration. When rolling out of a parking lot onto a busy road, for example, the transmission will stay in second gear when you hit the gas, even when first is better for the traffic conditions. That's our biggest complaint about Escape's overall performance, and its importance will depend on how you drive.
The Escape handles well, and improvements for 2008 give it a more refined feel. One of those is the electric power-assisted steering system (EPS), which operates with an electric motor rather than a belt turned by the engine. One of the advantages is increased efficiency, because a conventional, belt-driven steering pump takes a bit of the engine's power just to operate. That's power that's not being used to move the vehicle. Another advantage, at least in the Escape's case, is improved steering feel. With the electric steering, there's a nice balance between steering assist at.
The 2008 Ford Escape remains one of the best vehicles in Ford's lineup, and competitive in a crowded field of small sport-utilities, regardless of price. Yet model for model and feature for feature, Escape prices are very good. Considerable improvements for 2008 add safety features, refinement, comfort and more style. The Escape offers front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, competitive four- or six-cylinder engines and the Hybrid package, which works essentially as the conventional models do. Fuel mileage for all models, and towing capacity, rank with the best. For all-purpose, reasonably efficient daily transport on the road, the Escape rates among the best smaller SUVs.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent J.P. Vettraino test drove the 2008 Ford Escape in Detroit.
Ford Escape XLS ($18,580); XLS 4WD ($21,320); XLT ($20,880); XLT 4WD ($22,360); Limited ($23, 580); Limited 4WD ($25,330); Hybrid ($25,075); Hybrid 4WD ($26,825).
Kansas City, Missouri; Avon Lake, Ohio.
Options As Tested
Navigation system with seven-speaker Audiophile stereo and subwoofer ($2,395); Sirius Satellite Radio receiver ($195); Limited Luxury Package ($795) includes dual-zone automatic temperature control, heated side mirrors, heated front seats and reverse sensing system; Cargo Convenience Group ($295) includes cargo cover and compartmentalized storage bin; Chrome Appearance Package ($195) includes chrome roof rack; 17-inch chromed allow wheels ($695); Trailer Tow Package ($345) includes Class II receiver hitch, wiring harness with four-pin connector, oil cooler.
Ford Escape Limited 4WD ($25,330).
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