2013 Ford Escape Titanium – new contender for king of the CUVs

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The compact utility vehicle market is big in Canada, so the all-new-for 2013 Escape is an important new product for Ford.  The so-called ‘cute-utes’ or ‘soft-roaders’ are popular for good reason.  Their compact dimensions make them easy to drive and easy to park.  Whether you have an active family with kids or you’re single and want to haul a mountain bike or snowboard, CUVs have the ability to haul ‘stuff’.  Toss in good fuel economy and the desirability of all-wheel-drive for our sever winters, and it’s clear why compact CUVs may be the perfect all ‘round vehicle for many Canadians.

The Escape arrives for 2013 with a ground-up all-new design based on the superb Ford Focus platform.  The Focus we tested when it was launched last year impressed to the degree that I proclaimed it the new King of Class, so our expectations for the Escape were very high.  And we weren’t disappointed.

The 2013 Escape’s slick new sheetmetal is a giant leap over the stodgy styling of the outgoing model.  A large, trapezoidal grille carries on the family resemblance from the Focus and grey plastic runs along the rocker panels and lower front and rear fascias, giving the CUV that armoured, off-road, ‘utility’ look.  Chrome roof rails, window trim and a faux vent on the front fender (a design element popularized on the premium class Range Rover) and beefy 19-in. wheels (standard equipment on our top-of-the-range Titanium model) give the new Escape excellent curb appeal.

The 2013 Titanium edition comes with many standard features such as the 19-in. wheels, HID headlights, leather trimmed seats, dual-zone automatic and keyless ignition, but the icing on this deluxe cake is the hands-free power tailgate.  This is an industry first that allows you to open the tailgate simply by ‘kicking’ your foot under the rear bumper.  Our tester came loaded with ‘extras’, including a panoramic sun roof ($1,750), parking package (with blind spot warning, auto park and rear view camera), Ruby Red paint ($300), and MyFord Touch (sat. radio and GPS, $700.)

I found the Ford Escape super convenient in daily use.  Keyless entry and ignition, and Ford’s hands-free power tailgate means I never had to fumble with a key fob.  Voice-activated climate control seems a frivolous luxury until you use it.  The auto park (an ‘automatic’ parking assist for the parallel parking-challenged) is dead simple to operate and plain works.  And like all CUVs, the second row folds down for cargo hauling, but the Escape is one of those rare vehicles in which the 60/40-split seats fold flat (yay!), so there’s no lip to interfere with sliding goods into the hold.

The interior of the 2013 Escape has  nice quality, soft to the touch plastics, with firm but comfortable front (heated) bucket seats.  The second row seats are flat and like the front buckets, firm – not the most comfortable for a long trip, but the seat backs are adjustable for recline.  The dashboard and centrestack/console design have a high tech design (although two thirty-something passengers didn’t like the Starship Enterprise look.)

Driving the new Escape is a rewarding experience.  The 240 horsepower 2.0-litre intercooled turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine packs plenty of punch with only a minor downside of requiring premium fuel.  Thankfully, the powertrain doesn’t exhibit that annoying delay between throttle application and engine response (turbo-lag) that some turbocharged vehicles occasionally have.

But it’s in the driving dynamics where the Escape really shines.  Handling feels more like descended from a German sport sedan family rather than a CUV’s and ranks right up there with the best in class Volkswagen Tiguan and Mazda CX-7.  Steering is nicely accurate and delivers good feedback, and the chassis is very responsive while preserving a comfortable ride.  Tackle a few corners with enthusiasm and the Escape happily complies with precision and minimal body roll.

Overall, the 2013 Ford Escape is an impressive new CUV.  Great looks, impressive power and handling, and loads of available convenience features make the Escape a very attractive package.  Factor in the vehicle’s cargo carrying capabilities and the security of all-wheel-drive, and the 2013 Ford Escape easily earns a ‘highly recommended’ rating, and in my books is a ‘must-drive’ for anybody in the market for a new compact CUV.

The Specs

2013 Ford Escape

Type of vehicle:  AWD compact suv

Engine: 2.0-litre intercooled turbocharged 4-cylinder

Power: 240 horsepower at 5,500 r.p.m; 270 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 r.p.m.

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Brakes: Front ventilated disc brakes, rear disc brakes. ABS with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution (EBD)

Tires: 235/45R19

Price: $37,499;  As-tested:  $ 43,349 (includes options $4,350, Destination & delivery $1,500)

Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 9.8 city, 6.9 highway (premium unleaded)

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