CALGARY, Alberta – The Escape was the best-selling SUV in Canada in 2015. And in 2014. In 2013 and 2012, too. This compact utility largely contributed to the growth of this type of vehicle in North America, to the detriment of passenger cars.
It’s still too early to determine if its reign will continue in 2016. However, the king of the hill is seeing its adversaries approaching the summit, and they’re climbing up from all directions. When you’re at the top, the only place you can go is, well, you know.
To avoid getting pushed down the hill by the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Jeep Cherokee and Toyota RAV4, among others, the 2017 Ford Escape receives more ammo and more resistant armour.
Two new engines
The turbocharged, 1.6-litre four-cylinder has been replaced by a 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine. Despite its slightly smaller displacement, the latter develops 179 horsepower using regular gasoline, while the old 1.6 produced 178 hp with super unleaded.
Performance with the 1.5L EcoBoost engine is adequate for city driving and life in the suburbs. However, our drive through the mountains between Calgary and Jasper was somewhat laborious for the little turbo four, although we didn’t have much trouble doubling traffic that was travelling below the speed limit. Nothing major, but above 3000 rpm, the engine gets noisy.
There’s also a new 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder that replaces the old… 2.0L engine. Their spec sheets are virtually identical, but the new one gets a twin-scroll turbocharger to produce 245 hp and 275 lb.-ft of torque, both up by five compared to the previous generation of the engine.
On the road, the 2.0L EcoBoost was much more at ease driving up the hilly roads, even if we can’t really feel the extra hundred lb.-ft. of torque over the 1.5L engine.
Looking at the specifications of the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Ford Escape, we realize that the fuel economy of the new engines hasn’t really improved. In both cases, their average is a little lower around town and a little higher on the open road.
The only transmission offered is a six-speed automatic. In general, these two new powertrains don’t improve performance or fuel economy of the Escape. However, we must point out that during our test, the two engines delivered an average below 10 L/100 km, according to the trip computer. Ironically, the 2.0L engine actually consumed less fuel than the 1.5L unit.
A third engine is available in the 2017 Ford Escape, as was the case last year. The forgotten, unloved naturally aspirated, 2.5L four-cylinder mill that develops 168 hp is only offered in the base, front-drive S trim level. According to Ford, only 3% of Canadian customers choose this one.
In order to make the 2017 Ford Escape safer, the manufacturer added optional features such as lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, automatic high beams as well as a driver drowsiness detection and alert system. Blind spot monitoring is still available, too.
We can now equip the Escape with a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control with brake assist as well as SYNC Connect. The latter allows the owner to remotely connect to the vehicle with an iPhone or an Android device, and the application can start or stop the engine, lock or unlock the doors and find the vehicle if we forgot where we parked it.
The cockpit has changed very little compared to last year, but the centre console has been revised to offer more storage space. The SYNC 3 infotainment system, added for 2016, works extremely well and its touchscreen is much more responsive than the one included with the old MyFord Touch interface.
Otherwise, the drive is virtually identical, and although the folks at Ford flaunted the improved cabin quietness of the Escape, we still noticed wind and suspension noise.
The 2017 Ford Escape also received a new look. In order to give a stronger family resemblance with other of the brand’s products—especially the Ford Edge—the headlight clusters are larger and a hexagonal grille has been added. The taillights are narrower.
Although it does look more like newer Ford cars and trucks, we think it lost a little uniqueness. Its styling reminds of Hyundai SUVs, while the rear end seems like a cross between a Subaru Forester and a Nissan Rogue. Truthfully, it’s a question of taste above anything else.
On the other hand, a sport appearance package is now available on SE and Titanium grades. It adds blacked-out headlight and taillight clusters, glossy black trim, black roof rails and black 19-inch alloy wheels. Its interior is also upgraded with seat upholstery that features leather inserts and contrast stitching as well as a leather-wrapped wheel. The package is sober, yet tasteful.
A challenge awaits
Since the beginning of the 2016 calendar year, the Escape and its rivals are nose to nose on the sales charts, and the changes for 2017 certainly won’t hurt the Ford’s popularity. However, the new powertrains don’t bring anything really new to the fight, the improvements inside the cabin are minimal and the styling revisions don’t make the SUV stand out.
Despite all that, drastic changes weren’t necessary, and the Escape is still enjoyable to drive, spacious, well-equipped and versatile. In addition, it’s now safer. The most interesting version is the SE AWD, which retails for just under $30,000 before freight and delivery charges.
We’ll see if the Escape’s rivals will succeed in pushing the king down the hill, but it won’t be easy.