FORD… what on earth were you thinking?
Back in 2013, you launched one of the safest, roomiest, comfiest, sportiest, and most practical medium-sized SUVs out there.
But then you mucked it all up with a weird made-up name that some people frankly felt uncomfortable with… no, not Trump, but Kuga. Sales never hit the heights that the car deserved.
Welcome, then, to the 2017 Ford Escape. An old name revived for the Kuga facelift, will it finally give one of our favourite medium SUVs a fighting chance at success?
If legendary Hollywood tough guy John Wayne could make it after changing his name from Marion Morrison, then anything is possible.
The switch from Kuga to Escape has brought with it a tougher new face dominated by a substantially-bigger grille that’s more in line with other Ford trucks and SUVs, as well as slightly cleaner tail-light treatment behind.
Along with new-look wheels, the result is surprisingly effective in modernising an ageing design.
As before, there are three grades available – the base Ambiente from $27,490, mid-range Trend from $33,000, and the luxury Titanium from a cool $45,000.
The front-wheel drive Ambiente and Trend variants offer 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol power in either 110kW/240Nm six-speed manual, or 134kW/240Nm six-speed auto guises, while buyers of the all-wheel drive Trend and Titanium can choose between a 178kW/345Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol auto or 132kW/400Nm 2.0L turbo-diesel with a dual-clutch transmission.
While the 1.5-litre engines remain largely unchanged, the 2.0-litre petrol turbo tearaway has been thoroughly overhauled. Lighter and more efficient than before, it adopts the smaller powertrain’s start-stop tech, to cut consumption to 8.6L/100km.
That’s still some way off the frugal diesel’s 5.5L/100km rating, while the crafty 1.5-litre manual at 6.3L/100km beats the auto’s circa-7.5L/100km result hands down.
Towing capacity is between 1500kg and 1800kg depending on whether it’s petrol or diesel, and it’s worth noting that – despite what the new name, AWD badge, and lofty 200mm ground clearance imply – the Escape cannot go off-road at all.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
The really big news is that, compared to the preceding Ford Kuga, the 2017 Escape offers a broader and more complete line-up, as well as representation in the hottest part of the medium SUV market.
Put another way, buyers can now have the popular Trend at a more affordable price, since the newly minted 1.5L FWD variant from $33,000 is almost $4000 cheaper than the old, 2.0L AWD-only version.
Ford has put some work in making the cabin quieter and more refined, with the Trend gaining acoustic window film to cut noise paths, as well as an available foot-operated, hands-free tailgate opener.
Plus, even the cheapest Ambiente is exceptionally well equipped, with Ford’s new SYNC3 multimedia system that brings a sophisticated and more intuitive voice control functionality, as well as a reverse camera, rear parking sensors, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, climate control air-conditioning, Bluetooth audio streaming, push-button start, and parental control of the audio volume for younger drivers across the board.
Note, however, that AEB Autonomous Emergency Braking is only available from the Trend upwards as part of a $1300 Technology Pack, that also ushers in latest-generation Lane Departure Warning with Driver Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Auto High Beam, Adaptive Cruise with Forward Alert and Enhanced Collision Mitigation, Blind Spot Information System with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and Tyre Pressure Monitors.
These systems were co-developed with safety-obsessed Volvo when Ford still owned the Swedish brand, reflecting the uniquely European design, engineering, and packaging that the Escape offers in a class that is otherwise almost dominated by competitors from Asia.
So is the increasingly rare manual gearbox availability – which makes the cheapest Ambiente the keen driver’s choice amongst all medium SUVs – not just the Escape range – at a sensational price.
We expected the Escape to feel a bit tired and dated after the rash of recent arrivals like the VW Tiguan.
But with its handsome new nose, upgraded multimedia tech, broader model range (including the cracking base manual), improved refinement, and powertrain efficiency gains on the gutsy 2.0L AWD, the Escape takes over from where the Kuga left off as one of Australia’s most likeable – and fun – medium SUVs.
The new name is just the beginning.