2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited
Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Ford’s popular small SUV, the Escape, has received a few upgrades for 2005 – some cosmetic and some functional. Many of the functional changes address weaknesses in the previous model – in particular, its underpowered base 127 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine has been replaced by a 153 horsepower 2.3 litre four cylinder engine with more torque – and for the first time, an automatic transmission is available with the four cylinder engine. As well, the Escape’s somewhat unrefined Duratec 3.0 litre six cylinder engine has been massaged to be smoother and quieter.

Other changes include new standard anti-lock brakes with a new ‘panic brake assist’ system and new larger discs on four-wheel-disc brake models; re-tuned struts and shocks for a smoother ride; an all-wheel-drive system that is now fully automatic and eliminates ‘binding’ in tight turns; and new safety features including curtain airbags, 3-point seatbelts and head restraints in all five seating positions, and improved offset crash protection.

The exterior and interior have been ‘freshened’. The 2005 model still looks like an Escape, but there are new brighter headlamps and fog lamps, new front bumper design, side cladding, taillights and rear bumper. Top-of-the-line Limited models have attractive painted bumpers instead of those dark plastic ones.

Inside, is a new ‘flow-through’ centre console with a floor shifter, new gauges, upgraded fabrics, and improved leather materials on the Limited model.

My test vehicle was a 2005 Escape Limited 4X4 with the 3.0 litre V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission with a base price of $35,895. This model comes with just about every feature as standard equipment, including a four-speed automatic transmission, premium stereo with 6-disc changer, power heated front leather seats, 16-inch tires with alloys, moonroof, and rear obstacle sensor. The head curtain airbags with rollover protection were an extra $600. As tested with Freight and A/C tax, my Escape Limited came to $37,590.

Significant reduction in noise and vibration

In my opinion, the biggest improvement in the V6 Escape is the reduction in engine noise and vibration. Ford added new engine mounts and a new powertrain management computer that is five times faster than the previous one. This means faster communication with the transmission and improved shift performance. Both at idle and under hard acceleration, I found the Escape to be considerably smoother and quieter.

As before, the Escape’s 200 horsepower 3.0 litre Duratec V6 engine has more power than is needed for daily driving duties, but it’s nice to know that when you need pull away quickly from a stoplight or pass a looming semi-trailer, the Escape V6 is very responsive. The automatic transmission shifts very smoothly, and features an on/off overdrive button on the handle for ‘manual’ shifts. On the freeway, the Escape’s cabin is quiet with some wind noise, depending on the wind direction. The engine does just 2000 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2500 rpm at 120 km/h in fourth gear.

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited
Click image to enlarge

Fuel consumption figures for the 2005 model were not available, but they’re likely very close to the 2004 model which offered 13.0 l/100 km (22 mpg) (Imperial gallons) in the city and 9.2 l/100 km (31 mpg) on the highway. These are ideal figures and are likely to be worse in everyday driving conditions.

2005 Escape V6 models can tow up to 1587 kg (3500 lbs.) when equipped with a Class 2 Towing Package (standard on the Limited model).

As before, a fully independent suspension is standard (front MacPherson struts/rear multi-link) but this year the dampers in the front struts have larger diameter pistons (increased from 32 mm to 35 mm) and revised tuning to improve damping over rough bumps. As well, a new front stabilizer bar helps improve stability. I found the ride very comfortable, with excellent performance over rough potholes and railroad tracks. The ride is not choppy or stiff like it is in some small SUVs, and it’s very comfortable on the highway.

Handling is stable with some lean in the corners due to its fairly high centre of gravity, but its fully independent suspension and meaty Continental Contitrac 235/70R-16 inch tires offer plenty of grip in the dry. In a recent rollover test conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Administration, the 2004 Escape and its cousin the Mazda Tribute, were given only three stars out of five. The 2004 Escape 4X4 models had a 20.9% chance of tipping over in a single vehicle crash, according to a standardized swerving manoeuvre performed by the NHTSA (for full details see www.nhtsa.com). Coincidentally, the 2005 Escape now comes with optional side curtain airbags which stay inflated longer in the event of a rollover. It’s difficult to say if the improvements to the suspension in the 2005 model would make a difference to its rollover propensity under severe conditions, but all I can say is that the Escape felt very stable and comfortable in typical city and highway driving environments during the week that I had it.

The Escape’s all-wheel-drive system is now completely automatic – there is no centre differential lock for 50/50 front/rear torque distribution. The new AWD system runs in front-wheel-drive but continuously varies the torque sent to the rear wheels depending on how much is needed. It also senses tight turns and prevents ‘binding’ and driveline harshness that can occur in 4X4’s with a locked differential. The new AWD system also improves fuel economy.

While base Escape models have front disc/rear drum brakes, 2005 V6 Escapes have four wheel discs which are one inch larger in diameter than those of the 2004 model, and have new pads with a longer life and increased fade resistance. As well a new “Quick Brake” system automatically adds more braking pressure in a panic braking situation to reduce braking distances.

Overall, the Escape’s quieter cabin, smoother driveline, more comfortable ride, and better brakes have added to the enjoyment of driving what was already a very nice SUV to drive.

The 2005 Escape is ‘recommended’ by Consumer Reports even though it’s reliability is rated as ‘average’ (see www.consumerreports.org). In offset frontal crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2005 Escape was rated ‘Acceptable’, one grade below ‘Good’ (see www.hwysafety.org) The 2005 Escape with curtain airbags has not yet been tested for side impacts, but earlier versions with side airbags were rated ‘Good’. The 2005 Escape has not yet been tested by the NHTSA, but the 2004 Escape scored five stars for the driver and four stars for the front passenger in 35 mph frontal crash tests (see www.nhtsa.com)


Roomy interior is classier

Upgrades to the 2005 Escape interior have added a cleaner, classier look and a couple more storage spaces.

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited
Click image to enlarge

The Escape has a fairly low step-in height, but it’s necessary to step over a small ledge which can catch your foot if you’re not careful. The driving position is elevated, and outward visibility is excellent. The front leather seats in the Limited model have hefty side bolstering and good side support – the driver’s seat has power height, tilt and for-aft adjustment, and a single-temperature seat heater.

New white-faced gauges, a tachometer and speedometer, include inset LCD readouts for the trip computer and transmission gear indicator. Curiously, the speedometer reads every 40 km/h (40 km/h, 80 km/h, 120 km/h, 160 km/h, 200 km/h).

Attractive metal-look trim is found on the centre dash, around the gear shifter and on the doors. The small, grippy steering wheel is leather-wrapped and includes cruise control functions. The centre instrument panel has the radio at the top – my Limited model had the 6-disc CD changer with six speakers and an eight-inch subwoofer. Ford radios now have a round dial for ‘volume’ instead of a pushbutton, but all other functions, including Seek, Tune and Scan, are pushbuttons. I found the stereo controls easy to reach and use, and I found the premium stereo system offered very clear, crisp sound with little distortion.

A row of large buttons below the radio include ‘Hazard’, ‘rear defrost’, ‘trip info’ and ‘Set’, and ‘Park Distance’ off/on for the rear obstacle sensor.

The simple, three dial arrangement for the heating/air conditioning functions is very simple and easy to use, but I had a quibble with the air conditioning function: in A/C or Max A/C positions, the driver does not get a choice of which air vents to use (window defogger, instrument panel or floor). However, in defrost mode, the A/C switches on automatically.

The Escape’s new lower console has an open bin next to a 12 volt powerpoint, a perfect for charging cell phones. There’s also a separate cigarette lighter. Two cupholders are positioned behind the shift lever, and a central armrest between the front seats is very convenient for resting the right arm while cruising. Inside the armrest is a huge storage bin that’s big enough for purses or folders. There are also storage pockets in the front doors.

I liked the way the power window buttons are angled towards the driver, the grab handle on the windshield pillar for assistance when getting in, and the comfortable front seats with perforated inserts and heaters.

Rear passengers have generous legroom – the front seats are raised for increased footroom – and there’s adequate headroom even though the moonroof takes up some of the vertical space. Rear passengers have two map pockets on the back of front seats, and two flip-out rear cupholders in the centre console.

For improved safety, there are now five three-point seatbelts and five height-adjustable head restraints – the centre rear head restraint is smaller so that it doesn’t block the driver’s rear-view visibility. The new optional side head curtain airbags are designed to stay inflated longer in a rollover accident to protect the heads of the front and rear occupants.

To fold down the 60/40 split rear seats, first lift up the seat cushion from the rear and fold it up against the front seatback. Then fold down the seatback (after taking out the head restraint) into a flat position.

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited

2005 Ford Escape 4x4 Limited
Click image to enlarge

As well, you can remove the seat cushions to provide a little extra space. With the seats folded, there’s over 66 cubic feet of storage space.

A sliding privacy cover in the cargo area provides security for items stored in the trunk, but I noticed that the privacy cover is optional on all Escape models except the Limited.

The rear hatch lifts up easily, and high over your head. The cargo opening is wide, but the load floor height seems a bit high to me. The cargo floor is carpeted as are the backs of the rear folding seatbacks, but the walls are plastic. For securing loose cargo, there are four tie-down hooks in the load floor. There is no powerpoint in the cargo area.

The rear hatch also includes a separate rear opening window, a very useful feature which is not found on many other SUVs. To open the rear window, you pull on a lever just above the license plate – another lever opens the hatch. This is the simplest and easiest method I’ve seen of opening the two separate openings. The advantage of a rear window that opens is that small packages can be tossed in through the opening, and if you’re transporting long poles or baseboards, they can protrude through the rear window.

The rear window also has a wiper with a washer, and an intermittent wiping setting – two very useful features in the wintertime.


Competitors

There are many small SUVs on the market, but if you compare V6-powered SUVs, the Escape’s competitors are the Chevrolet Equinox LT ($31,275), Saturn Vue AWD ($31,535), Hyundai Santa Fe 3.5 GLS AWD ($33,695), Jeep Liberty Limited ($30,775), Suzuki Grand Vitara JLX ($28,595), and Kia Sorento EX ($34,545).


Verdict

Improved looks and functionality should keep the freshened 2005 Escape V6 at the top of its class in Canada. The 2005 Escape is quieter and smoother with better brakes, a seamless AWD system, and more safety features. It’s too early to tell if a poor rollover ranking for 2004 model Escapes has any relevance for the 2005 model.


Technical Data: 2005 Ford Escape 4X4 Limited

Base price $35,895
Options $600 (curtain airbags)
Freight $995
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $37,590
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 3.0 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 200 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 193 lb-ft @ 4850 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires P235/70R-16
Curb weight 1,579 kg (3,481 lbs.)
Towing capacity 1587 kg (3500 lb.)
Wheelbase 2619 mm (103.1 in.)
Length 4442 mm (174.9 in.)
Width 1781 mm (70.1 in.)
Height 1770 mm (69.7 in.)
Ground clearance (min.) 203 mm (8.0 in)
Load floor height 757 mm (29.8 in.)
Cargo capacity 829 litres (29.3 cu. ft.) rear seats up
  1769 litres (62.5 cu. ft.) rear seatbacks down
  1877 litres (66.3 cu. ft.) cushions out
Fuel consumption City: 13.0 l/100 km (22 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
  Hwy: 9.2 l/100 km (31 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Assembly locations Kansas City, Missouri & Avon Lake, Ohio

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