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2005 Ford Escape Review

May 26, 2005 07:37 PM EST | Ford , SUV's | Email to Friend

View large imageFor 2005, the Escape gets a freshened look and some new mechanicals. Last year's base 2.0-liter engine is replaced by a new 153-horsepower, 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that's available with either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. This new engine is a more viable choice for budget-conscious buyers, and like the V6, it can be matched with a new electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system. Meanwhile, the V6 engine has been tweaked to provide improved throttle response. Antilock brakes are now standard across the line. Interior updates include a floor-mounted shifter, new gauges, upgraded seats and additional storage. The most significant improvement inside is the addition of the optional Safety Canopy rollover protection system. Further, the vehicle's structure has been modified to better absorb offset frontal impacts, and the backseat gets a full set of three-point belts. On the outside, all Escapes have reworked front and rear fascias with a new grille design and headlights. Finally, an XLT Sport model joins the lineup.

Ford introduced the Escape in 2001 to capture buyers in the rapidly growing small SUV segment. It quickly became a best-seller thanks to a desirable combination of size, power and ruggedly handsome styling. First-year Escapes suffered numerous recalls, but recent models seem to have the bugs worked out. Mazda also sells a version of this vehicle. Called the Tribute, it shares the Escape's basic structure, platform and powertrains. Appealing to a wide range of buyers, the Escape (and Tribute) is intended for those who want the styling and all-wheel-drive capability of a traditional SUV combined with the size, price, practicality and driving characteristics of a midsize car. The Escape is more suited to on-road driving than off-roading, due to its light-duty AWD system and unibody construction, and isn't as rugged as some other compact SUVs like the Nissan Xterra and Jeep Liberty. Its main competitors include vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Saturn Vue and Toyota RAV4. In a 2001 SUV comparison test of small SUVs conducted by Edmunds, the Escape finished in first place, and were we to conduct another comparison this year, we would still expect it to finish near the top. This year, Ford has made the Escape a more attainable proposition for budget-conscious buyers by slotting in a 153-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder as the base engine choice. Both the 2.3-liter and the carryover 3.0-liter V6 are available with a new electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that Ford says provides smoother and more efficient operation. To allay concerns about side-impact safety in small SUVs, full-length side curtain airbags (Ford's Safety Canopy system) are now optional. A bland interior has always been one of the Escape's shortcomings, but the 2005 model brightens things up a bit with a fresh set of white-faced gauges and a floor-mounted gear selector. Ford has taken another bold step for 2005 with the introduction of the very first hybrid-electric SUV. The hybrid drivetrain uses a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine in conjunction with electric motors to provide power while keeping emissions and fuel usage to a minimum. Under full acceleration, both power sources work together to provide maximum oomph, but under lighter load conditions, such as stop-and-go traffic, it alternates between the two, oftentimes running purely on battery power alone. A regenerative braking system converts energy normally lost as heat into electricity to charge the car's batteries. Available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the hybrid Escape boasts V6-like acceleration and gets up to 36 mpg. Although long-term reliability is not likely to be as good as that of its Japanese competitors, the Escape is still one of the best compact SUVs available. Consumers shopping in this segment would be wise to take one for a test-drive.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
Only one four-door body style is available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Five trim levels are offered: XLS, XLT, XLT Sport, Hybrid and Limited. XLS versions start you out with basic amenities like air conditioning, a CD player and power windows, mirrors and locks. XLT and Hybrid models add 16-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, upgraded cloth upholstery, cruise control and an in-dash CD changer. The new XLT Sport versions have two-tone exterior paint, black step bars and machined aluminum wheels. The high-line Limited comes with body-color exterior trim, heated front seats and sideview mirrors, leather upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

Powertrains and Performance:
Standard on the Escape XLS is a 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder engine that makes 153 horsepower and 152 pound-feet of torque. It is matched to either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. There's also the more potent 3.0-liter V6, which makes 200 hp and 193 lb-ft of torque. It is standard on XLT, XLT Sport and Limited models and comes with an automatic transmission only. With this setup, the Escape can tow up to 3,500 pounds. The Escape Hybrid power plant consists of a 2.3-liter gasoline engine and two electric drive motor/generators. The hybrid features an elegantly simple continuously variable "transmission" of sorts, called a power split device. There are no gears to shift, drive belts, torque converter or clutch. The motors work in concert with the gas engine, through a planetary gearset, to provide seamless power and maximum efficiency. Hybrid fuel mileage is rated at 36 city and 31 highway for 2WD, and 33/29 for the 4WD.

ABS is standard on all Escapes, and V6 models have four-wheel disc brakes. A new safety feature is the optional Safety Canopy system that offers full-length head curtain airbag protection in the event of a side-impact collision or rollover. A reverse-sensing system is optional on the Limited. The Escape has done well in government crash testing, earning a perfect five stars for the driver in frontal impacts and four stars for the front passenger. In side-impact crash tests, it received five stars for both front- and rear-seat occupants. Less impressive is the Escape's "Acceptable" rating (the second-highest) in the frontal offset crash test.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The Escape has never been known for its exciting interior, but for 2005, the cabin gets a few enhancements, including a floor-mounted shifter, new gauges, revised seat cushions and additional storage areas. There is 33 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and you can fold them down to open up 65 cubic feet of capacity, a good figure for this class.

Driving Impressions:
Fun to drive, the Ford Escape offers impressive road manners for a compact SUV. It drives much like a tautly suspended sedan, with little body roll and responsive steering. The V6 is quite powerful, providing swift acceleration, but fuel economy is mediocre. The Hybrid model is nearly as quick, and returns outstanding fuel mileage

Ford's Escape Hybrid
Our new Hybrid Ford Escape

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