The back roads of Quebec in early Spring soon left their mark on the 2005 Escape. XLT model shown. Click image to enlarge.
Story and photos by Grant Yoxon
Montreal, Quebec — When it came time to update the Escape, Ford’s best selling compact sport utility vehicle, Ford designers focussed their attention on three guiding principles — “Personality, Performance and Peace of mind”.
The new Escape couldn’t be just ‘new and improved’. It had to have more personality, inside and out, better all-wheel drive performance and more capable powertrain choices, and perhaps most importantly, it had to be the safest vehicle in its class.
In the personality department, the new Escape has new headlamps, fog lamps, an egg-crate grille, new front and rear fascias and new alloy wheels. Interior changes include moving the shifter from the steering column to a floor-mounted position on a flow-through console, different (though not particularly attractive) gauges, new seat cushions, fabrics and leather, and more storage spaces.
But personality is about more than just design. It also involves the driving environment and experience. And in this respect, Ford’s designers have made a good thing better. Larger diameter front shocks and a new stabilizer system better absorb road impacts while maintaining the spritely, nimble driving characteristics of the Escape.
During a day of driving that included traversing Montreal’s well-worn freeways and cruising secondary roads in the Eastern Townships during a preview organized for Canadian auto writers, the Escape demonstrated the fun-to-drive personality that it is well known for. But this Escape was less truck-like in its demeanor than earlier models. Although frost heaves and pot-holes were still noticeable and best-to-avoid road hazards, the 2005 Escape provided a much more civilized and comfortable ride. While the roads beat up on the Escape, the Escape did not beat up on its passengers.
Additional sound-absorbing materials have been added to quieten the interior, insulating the cabin from the rumbling beneath the tires, but wind noise is still quite noticeable.
Introduced in 2000, the Ford Escape very quickly became Canada’s best selling compact SUV. Canadians buying the Escape — 18,694 of them in 2003 — were attracted by its compact size, cargo space, responsive driving characteristics, all weather durability — and available V6 power.
If there was any significant negative, it was the base four cylinder engine. Producing just 127 horsepower and 137 pound feet of torque, and available only with a five-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive, the four-cylinder Escape just couldn’t compete with the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 and their new, more powerful four cylinder engines, available automatics and full-time four-wheel drive.
The new 2.3 litre Duratec engine goes a long way to correcting this problem. With 153 hp and 152 lb-ft of torque, the Escape now has enough power with four cylinders to accelerate, pass and pull without feeling strained. Towing capacity with the four cylinder Escape has been increased from 454 kilograms (1,000 pounds) to 680 kg (1,500 lbs.). Under hard acceleration, the inline four responded eagerly and with less noise, though less pep naturally, than the V6.
Power ratings for the V6 are actually down a touch from 2004, at 200 hp and 193 lb-ft of torque, but new liquid-filled engine mounts and a more sophisticated powertrain management module contribute to a smoother idle and better part-throttle response.
The new four cylinder engine is available with both 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic transmissions, as well as front-wheel drive and Ford’s new ‘intelligent’ four-wheel drive system, replacing the Control Trac II system used in previous years.
The new I-4WD system is fully automatic and does not need to be switched ‘on’, as with Control Trac II. Operating normally in front-wheel drive, the I-4WD system is capable of transferring as much as 99 per cent of traction to the rear wheels if required. The system uses sensors at each wheel and the accelerator to monitor for wheel slippage as often as 200 times per second and can just as quickly shift torque to where it is needed.
The system is completely transparent to the driver. On a mixture of fresh fallen snow mixed into a gooey mess of mud and dirt, the Escape felt sure footed and steady. Whether and how much its I-4WD system intervened to maintain this confident disposition was not apparent.
With three trim levels, two engine options, two transmissions for four cylinder models and a choice of full-time four-wheel drive or front wheel drive, the Escape gives buyers more choices than any of its major competitors.
Prices for the 2005 Escape, which is already on sale, range from $22,795 for the Escape XLS with 2.3 litre engine, manual transmission and front-wheel drive, to $28,195 for the XLT trim level with standard V6, automatic transmission and front-wheel drive, and $35,895 for the fully-loaded Escape Limited 4×4. Four-wheel drive models start at $28,125 for the XLS automatic 4×4.
Standard equipment on the XLS includes 15-inch steel wheels, power door locks and windows, remote keyless entry, tilt steering, auto-off headlights, AM/FM stereo with single disc CD player, and cloth upholstery.
The Escape Limited includes a bag full of comfort and convenience with standard leather seating, power moonroof, heated front seats, 7-speaker premium audio system, fully automatic headlights, trip computer and reverse sensing system. Many of the Limited’s standard features are optionally available with the XLT trim level.
Some of the more significant changes in the 2005 Escape are ones you can’t see. New occupant sensing technology can determine whether or not the front passenger seat is occupied and whether the occupant is an adult or child and switch off the air bag if it is empty or a child is present. Dual stage front airbags are capable of deploying at full or partial power depending on the severity of an accident. All five seating positions now have head restraints and three-point safety belts. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist are now standard on all Escape models, while side curtain air bags that protect against side impacts and roll-overs are available on higher trim levels. Later this year, the Escape’s front structure will be upgraded to provide increased protection in offset frontal crashes. All this adds up to peace of mind for buyers and, as expected, a superlative safety rating.
The Escape has undoubtedly been a success for Ford, and in a segment that is fiercely competitive. New and improved compact SUVs are arriving all the time (both Nissan and Hyundai will bring new compact SUVs to Canada this year). But thanks to the three Ps — Personality, Performance and Peace of mind — Ford intends to keep the Escape ahead of the competition.