Each class of automobile has a few default answers to the question "which model should I buy?' For many years those seeking a compact crossover have been steered time and again to the Ford Escape, and this vehicle's status as one of the safest picks in a highly competitive segment of the market was solidified after a complete redesign just two years ago. The 2014 Ford Escape - despite recall concerns associated with its 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine - has proven to be a worthy successor to its popular predecessor, and it takes the family-friendly high-utility concept in a new and welcome direction.
Not A Box
The 2014 Ford Escape has shed the box-like shape of the previous generation crossover and instead adopted a more fluid aesthetic. It's a handsome take on the small people mover trope, and while it's a bit easier to get lost in the crowd in the new Escape, it doesn't come across nearly as bland as alternatives like the venerable Toyota RAV4. Inside, the Escape shows a more fashion-forward face, with the sleek dashboard presentation in my Titanium trim tester designed around the MyFord Touch system. There's a lot of soft-touch materials to be found throughout the vehicle, an unexpected luxury in a small SUV like this one, although I didn't like the blocky buttons attached to the steering wheel as they felt cheaper than what the rest of the passenger compartment - or the Ford's sticker price - suggested.
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MyFord Touch Keeps Truckin'
Alternately praised and lamented since its introduction, the MyFord Touch system serves as the backbone of the 2014 Ford Escape Titanium's feature set, controlling everything from navigation to entertainment to climate control features. Of course, there are a few hard backup buttons and dials for the heating and cooling system mounted on the center stack, along with a rotary controller that can be used to adjust stereo volume, all of which mitigate some complaints about the touch panel. You still need to contort your fingers to select one of the home screen's four main controls, as they are placed at the very edge of the LCD display, and while I liked the fact that MyFord Touch could read my texts out loud to me while driving, I wasn’t so enamoured with it's habit of dredging up messages from months ago and presenting them as new.
The 2014 Ford Escape has remained a genuinely compact vehicle on the outside, resisting the temptation to push up against mid-size proportions. The cabin, however, is still quite roomy, with well-scalloped seatbacks giving second row riders more space to stretch their legs than one might expect. Cargo capacity is also generous, and the folding back seat almost doubles the carrying capacity of the crossover. The driver's position allows for an expansive view of the road ahead, and the full-length glass panel moon roof in the vehicle I drove poured an exceptional amount of light into the passenger compartment.
Plenty Of Go With The 2.0
The Ford Escape can be had with three engine options for 2014: a serviceable 2.5-litre four-cylinder that provides 168 horsepower, the previously-mentioned, recall-happy 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder (178 horses), and the larger 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder unit found under the hood of my tester. With 240 ponies and 270 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Escape Titanium felt lively under heavy acceleration. There is never a want for power with this motor, which Ford says will still deliver respectable fuel mileage in daily driving (which I found to be the case).
A six-speed automatic is standard with the Escape, while all-wheel drive is optional. The latter feature shouldn't be confused with an off-road ready system, as it's primarily a front-wheel puller until conditions get slippery, but that as-needed traction assist is exactly what most compact crossover buyers are looking for. Driving the crossover is very much like being behind the wheel of a small sedan, with the Escape offering easy manoeuvrability and a comfortable ride that never came across as harsh or disconnected.
The Price Isn't Always Right
The Escape starts at just over $26k for the entry-level S model, but in order to step up to the Titanium and its 2.0-litre EcoBoost mill you're looking at well over $34,000. Adding up all of the options that came with the version of the Ford crossover that I piloted for a week - leather seats, MyFord Touch, the panoramic sunroof, parking assistance, etc. - took me all the way past $38,000, a figure that varies from week to week depending on incentives and how much 2014 inventory is left in the pipeline. If this sounds like a lot of money to pay for a crossover, it's actually par for the course for these small haulers: the usual cast of characters from Toyota, Hyundai (the Santa Fe Sport), and Honda (the CR-V) can all be equipped to the point where they boast a similarly impressive window sticker (with a few thousand dollars in credit going to the CR-V, which enjoys a slight affordability edge).
Dropping that much coin on a compact crossover doesn't have to happen, as you can stick with a mid-level trim or pick up a base model for a more affordable sum. However, if you want to sample the latest in safety and entertainment technology in a vehicle like the 2014 Ford Escape - as well as the most powerful EcoBoost engine available - you're going to have to ante up.