THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Tidy design with good cabin space, tech galore, Euro-turned suspension
- What’s Worst: Not a gas sipper, throttle body woes, cranky 1.6-L EcoBoost
- Typical Used Prices: 2013 – $17,000; 2016 – $24,000
Among his many interests, the celebrated farmer, tinkerer and industrialist Henry Ford had an affinity for the great outdoors.
After he got his Model T assembly line humming, Ford found time to get reacquainted with his old boss Thomas Edison and discovered their mutual fondness for camping.
Along with awesome beard-grower (and essayist) John Burroughs and tire magnate Harvey Firestone, the foursome dubbed themselves “the Vagabonds” and embarked on long summer camping trips through the Great Smoky Mountains and the forests of New England.
Relentlessly competitive, Ford would challenge his chums in everything from high kicking to wood chopping, while bookworms Edison and Burroughs preferred reading quietly. The Vagabonds had cast the prototypical camping experience.
While his woodsy incursions did not motivate Henry to build the first sport utility vehicle – he did design a mobile kitchen truck, though – tales of his forays into America’s national parks may have inspired future Ford products including the Bronco, Bronco II and the aptly named Escape. Old Henry would have approved.
It’s hard to find a corporate tie-up that was better synchromeshed (to borrow an automotive term) than that of Ford and Mazda, which began with a joint venture to make automatic transmissions in 1969. Soon after, Ford imported Mazda’s wee pickup truck and renamed it the Courier to get a toehold in the burgeoning small-truck market.
Their most successful co-product was the Ford Escape and corporate twin Mazda Tribute, which arrived in mid-2000 as 2001 models. These compact crossovers, built on the Mazda 626 platform, found favour with millions of buyers.
The symbiotic relationship endured until the 2008 Great Recession, which forced Ford to sell its stake in Mazda to avoid bankruptcy. The divestiture freed both automakers to seek their own paths. Mazda went on to develop its fuel-efficient “SkyActiv” drivetrains, while Ford turned to its European operations to find a replacement for the aging Escape.
It found it in the Kuga, a slick compact ute developed at Ford of Europe’s design centre in Cologne, Germany. The Kuga rode on the Ford Focus platform, an amalgam of ingredients cooked up by Ford, Volvo and Mazda engineers back when Ford owned all of the brands. The updated Global C platform formed the basis for the second-generation Kuga, or as it was called in North America, the 2013 Escape.
It was a long time coming, but worth the wait given its unboxy styling and athletic chassis. The new Escape had a 7-cm longer wheelbase, which added 3 cm of rear-seat legroom and a slightly larger cargo hold. As in the Focus, the Escape had struts up front and a multilink rear suspension; thankfully, the settings differed little from Europe’s Kuga.
Cabin materials were upgraded to look and feel expensive, and the old Escape’s rectilinear shapes inside were banished, replaced by soft styling to convey sophistication. Kenaf plant fibre replaced some plastics, an innovation Henry had experimented with. Not everyone liked the Escape’s firm seats, though. The MyFord Touch interface took centre stage on the dashboard.
There were three distinct engines: the updated 2.5-L four cylinder made 168 hp and was available in front-wheel-drive models only, while the 178-hp EcoBoost 1.6-L turbocharged four was the base engine with all-wheel drive. The most powerful choice was a 2.0-L turbo four with 240 horses – the same rating as the outgoing V6, but with more torque (270 lb-ft). All models employed a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, and not the Focus’s disastrous dual-clutch autobox.
The second-gen Escape may have been late to the SUV party, but it arrived well dressed. New features included the innovative foot-activated power liftgate, as well as Ford’s parking technology that included automated parallel parking assist, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and a blind-spot monitor.
For 2016, a new touchscreen infotainment system called Sync 3, supplied by Canada’s Blackberry, replaced the fussy and much-maligned MyFord Touch. Beyond that, Ford saw little reason to mess with its bestseller until 2017, when it received some styling tweaks and a new 179-hp 1.5-L turbo engine to replace the 1.6.
DRIVING THE ESCAPE
The Escape’s porky curb weight is at the high end of the compact-crossover segment, which means the naturally aspirated four cylinder has some trouble moving it with any authority. Zero to 97 km/h comes up in 9.1 seconds. Ford’s turbocharged fours are more robust: the smaller 1.6-L engine can do the deed in 8.2 seconds, while the range-topping 2.0-L EcoBoost can do it in 7.0 seconds flat when fed premium fuel (it runs on regular, too).
Being Euro-tuned, the Escape rides exceptionally well, although the optional 19-inch wheels and tires introduce some stiffness not everyone likes. The electrically assisted power steering is accurate and builds effort while turning, but is largely devoid of feedback at the steering wheel. Brake feel and performance are very good for the class.
Escape owners have not been thrilled with the Escape’s fuel efficiency, especially with either of the turbocharged engines: “I’ve never seen such a small engine have such terrible mpg. I drove a Tahoe previously and through some Chevy magic I got better highway gas mileage with a V8,” one driver complained on a popular website.
The pair typically returns mileage in the low 20s (mpg) in mixed driving, among the worst results in the compact-crossover segment. Turbocharged engines often score well in government efficiency testing, but in the real world drivers step deep into the throttle and the fuel savings evaporate – which explains why some owners find the fuel tank too small.
Buying used: 2013-16 Mazda CX-5
There’s no question the European-designed Escape has struck a chord with consumers on this side of the pond. Buyers adore the crossover’s handsome design inside and out, the functional cabin space, the cornucopia of high-tech features and pleasant road manners. But the Escape also hit a nerve with owners who have had too many reliability issues.
“It has just over 51,000 km on it and has been through four fuel pumps, two water pumps, a transmission rebuild and all engine gaskets have been replaced. It recently bogged down on the highway with foot to the floor and only being able to maintain 70 km/hour,” an unhappy owner of a 2013 Escape wrote online.
The reported stalling and engine shutdowns, sometimes at highway speeds, may be traced to a faulty electronic throttle body, the subject of an active recall campaign (Ford 16B32) that impacts hundreds of thousands of late-model Fords.
The 1.6-L EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, sourced from Ford’s U.K. operations, appears to be the most troublesome, having exhibited stalling, overheating and oil leaks that can lead to fire (there have been at least 29 fires reported to date). Ford is recalling 230,000 of the 1.6-L engines to address the overheating issue, which can crack the cylinder head and allow motor oil to leak onto the hot exhaust system.
The six-speed automatic transmission has been the subject of a number of complaints describing shuddering, hesitation and hard shifts. The unit can reportedly overheat too, and technicians have found plenty of metal shavings in the transmission fluid – never a good sign.
“This year I’ve spent $7,000 in out-of-warranty repairs: faulty injector and faulty BCM (body control module) was $2,500. New transmission $4,500,” one owner itemized in a post.
The 2013-15 Escape is part of a massive door latch recall involving several Ford models. The pawl spring tab can break inside the door latch, preventing the door to close properly. Conversely, a door that is able to close could unintentionally open while the vehicle is moving.
Other commonly reported issues include malfunctioning MyFord Touch interfaces and displays, intermittent electric power-steering systems, faulty wiring harnesses, drained batteries, easily cracked windshields, loose weatherstripping and annoying rattles.
Despite its popularity on Canada’s roads, the Kentucky-built Escape is not a recommended used-car buy. It’s one of the reasons Ford plunged in J.D. Power’s 2016 and 2017 dependability rankings, finishing well below the industry average along with Dodge, Jeep and Fiat.
Those shopping for a second-hand crossover should kick the tires of the Mazda CX-5 – which happens to be the Japanese automaker’s replacement for the Escape-based Tribute.
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