2008 Ford Escape Limited
2008 Ford Escape Limited. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Haney Louka

Photo Gallery: 2008 Ford Escape Limited

It’s a generally accepted principle that staying at the top is at least as difficult as getting there. I’m sure Ford was feeling this pressure when it came time to overhaul their highly successful Escape for 2008.

Introduced originally as a 2001 model, Canada’s best-selling compact SUV was admittedly quite long in the tooth, having undergone no significant changes until now. But it was still a solid and competitive unit with proven reliability. So here’s the question: how did Ford go about mending something that wasn’t broke?

Although the new Escape looks quite different from its predecessor, this transformation is best described as an update to an existing platform rather than a clean-sheet design. Still, the look is fresh enough to bring the Escape up to current-day aesthetic appeal, even if it remains one of the more conservative shapes on the road.

2008 Ford Escape Limited
2008 Ford Escape Limited. Click image to enlarge

The new face is more in keeping with the Escape’s truck-ish stablemates rather than the more chiseled and fresher look of the Edge and Taurus X. The chrome front bumper on our Limited tester added some welcome glitz to the otherwise safe exterior styling. More subtly, the beltline has moved up to windowsill height to provide the Escape with a more substantial broad-shouldered stance.

But even more significant improvements can be found inside. The new dash bears no resemblance to the old one, and indeed, signals the current direction for Ford’s interior design. A central display sits perched atop the centre stack and provides information on ambient temperature, clock, date, and audio settings. Cool blue lighting replaces the green illumination of the older model.

2008 Ford Escape Limited
2008 Ford Escape Limited
2008 Ford Escape Limited. Click image to enlarge

My tester came with piano black trim on the dash and centre console – much nicer than fake wood but tricky to keep looking clean. The navigation screen on our loaded Escape was well integrated and certainly not an afterthought. The user interface is functional as well, with attractive graphics and labels on almost every visible road on the map. This may seem a silly point to bring up, but take a look at the nav system in the Mitsubishi Galant or Honda Accord and you’ll see a bunch of streets with no names on them: not real helpful.

Climate controls are relegated to the area below the screen, exactly where they belong. The wipers are operated via the turn signal stalk: I continue to insist that this is too much to ask of one control stalk, especially since there’s nothing on the right hand side of the steering column. But kudos to Ford for offering a rear wiper/washer that actually starts the wiping after spraying; on too many systems the driver needs to separately activate the wipers after spraying the rear window. The front wipers gave me grief though, because for some reason the washer lines drained after each use resulting in an annoying delay each time I sprayed the windshield.

So the new Escape is mostly fresh, but one area that was skipped in this update is the powertrain. It’s too bad, because the compact SUV category has benefited from significant progress in the last six years.

2008 Ford Escape Limited
2008 Ford Escape Limited. Click image to enlarge

Powering all V6 Escape models is a carryover 3.0-litre Duratec engine that generates 200 hp and 193 lb-ft of torque. For comparison, a V6 RAV4 pumps out 269 hp, the Hyundai Santa Fe delivers 242 hp, and the new Mitsubishi Outlander is good for 220 hp. These are all models that have been introduced in the past year.

And it’s not only the numbers that put Ford behind its competitors here: the engine needs to be revved to get to its sweet spot but becomes noisy and coarse in the process.

Another gripe of mine has to do with the four-speed automatic – the only transmission offered with the V6. Its more powerful competitors above come with five- or six-speed slushboxes which makes a substantial difference in both off-the-line acceleration and in passing situations. First gear in the Escape is rather tall, meaning that some patience is required to get up to speed. And with a limited number of ratios to choose from, the Escape’s peaky engine can get caught in a dead spot after a downshift.

And rear drum brakes? What’s up with that?

2008 Ford Escape Limited
2008 Ford Escape Limited. Click image to enlarge

But I make these comments as someone who enjoys driving and I applaud a company when they pay attention to the engineering that affects how a vehicle responds to driver inputs. Many SUV shoppers don’t put nearly the emphasis that I do on this sort of thing, though, and they are the folks who will likely find the Escape’s powertrain just fine for their purposes.

Dynamically speaking, the Escape does have some pretty appealing traits that keep it quite competitive in its class. Ride quality is supple without being floaty and in general this trucklet acts very car-like going down the road. And that’s a good thing.

Standard on the Limited and optional on lower model lines is Ford’s “Intelligent” all-wheel drive system. It’s one that continuously monitors vehicle speed, throttle input, and steering angle to deliver power to the wheels that need it before slippage occurs.

2008 Ford Escape Limited
2008 Ford Escape Limited. Click image to enlarge

While summer certainly isn’t the best time to be evaluating all-wheel drive systems, I can say that it worked seamlessly without that torque-steer feeling one gets with front-drive-biased systems found in many of the Escape’s competitors.

The Escape line covers a healthy price range, starting with the $23,999 XLS FWD model. Major standard equipment includes a 2.3-litre four-banger, four-wheel independent suspension, 16-inch wheels, A/C, power windows and locks with keyless entry, recycled cloth upholstery, Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control, and head curtain airbags.

The XLT ranges from $25,399 to $28,899 depending on engine and drive wheels, plus there’s a plethora of available options, while our Limited tester rings in at $34,499 with most of the goodies including leather seats, a sunroof, and a fantastic 320-watt Audiophile sound system.

2008 Ford Escape Limited
2008 Ford Escape Limited. Click image to enlarge

There are few options for this model, and our tester had two of them: the Chrome Appearance Package ($195) and the navigation system ($2,300). About the only thing missing on our tester was the 17-inch chrome wheel package which would have added another $595 to the bottom line.

All in, our tester tipped the scales at $36,994 plus freight and taxes, but Ford’s website reduces that amount by a $1,000 “delivery allowance” and further states that dealers may sell or lease the vehicles for less. Let’s hope so, because paying somewhere in the high-$30s for an Escape puts buyers squarely in Edge territory-or in the company of any number of competitors that would qualify as a better value.

Pricing: 2008 Ford Escape Limited


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