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

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Ottawa-Gatineau – The introduction of the eye-catching 2007 Ford Edge brought a new and appealing look to Ford’s SUV line-up, but it also made the Escape – Canada’s best selling compact SUV – look rather dated.

Enter the 2008 Ford Escape, with an all-new exterior and interior, along with suspension refinements to improve the ride. Retaining its “traditional” SUV style, the 2008 Escape acquires a more obvious resemblance to the Explorer and Expedition, while comprehensively updating its lines. Pricing ranges from $23,999 for the base XLS front-wheel drive (FWD) version, to $34,499 for the Limited with four-wheel drive (4WD).

Ford applies its familiar XLS, XLT and Limited trim levels to the 2008 Escape, with the XLT offering the most drive-train options. It can be ordered with FWD or 4WD, and with a choice of 153 horsepower, 2.3 litre I4 engine or 200 hp, 3.0L V6. Base price for the 2.3L FWD XLT is $25,399.

A four-speed automatic transmission is used in all configurations, and no manual transmission is offered.

Another option is the Escape Hybrid (starting at $31,499 with FWD). Its combination of continuously variable transmission (CVT), electric motor and gasoline engine delivers a combined 155 hp, and can considerably lower fuel consumption, especially in city driving. However, all Escapes will return excellent mileage for this class of vehicle if you use a light foot when driving them.

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

The new Escape looks bigger than the model it replaces, but actually it’s the same size, having the same wheelbase and exterior dimensions. The higher waistline, revised grille and headlamps, taller hood and larger mirrors, all-new sheet metal and tailgate conspire to create a much more substantial presence, however.

Inside, the fabric surfaces are made from 100 percent recycled materials, which Ford believes to be an industry-first. The company that supplies the fabrics, Interface Fabrics Inc., estimates that Ford’s use of these materials will conserve approximately 2.5 million litres of water, almost a million kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents, and seven million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The entire vehicle is about 85% recyclable.

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

The fabrics, by the way, are attractive and expected to be very durable. Leather surfaces are also available, and the beige interior is particularly impressive, giving the cabin a spacious and bright feel.

Notable standard features for 2008 Escapes are 16-inch wheels (aluminum on all but the XLS), an auxiliary audio jack, chrome grille, air conditioning, safety canopy system (side curtain airbags), anti-lock brakes, AdvanceTrac vehicle stability control (not available on Escape Hybrid until 2009), power windows and door locks, and rear liftgate with flip-up glass.

On the road, the ’08 Escape rides more smoothly and quietly than the outgoing model due to revised spring rates, a stiffer anti-sway bar and better aerodynamics. Handling feels tighter as well, although this type of vehicle can still feel a bit top-heavy in certain conditions. Nonetheless, the Escape feels stable and easy to control in typical driving conditions, and on the bumpy, broken pavement found in rural Quebec.

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

The new electrically assisted power steering system is a pleasant surprise. It provides good on-centre feel, without the need for continuous adjustment experienced in some other vehicles. It is also quieter and uses less energy (saving fuel in the process).

Getting into and out of the Escape is easily managed due to the wide door openings and well chosen seat height. Both front and rear headroom is more than sufficient for driver and passengers. Despite the ease of entry and exit, however, grab handles for passengers would be appreciated, if only for something to hang onto when traversing rough surfaces.

The new interior is very smart. Seats are comfortable for the short haul, but we’ll reserve final judgement until they’ve been experienced on a long trip (seats in the outgoing Escape were not satisfactory after a day’s driving). The steering column tilts, but unfortunately does not telescope.

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

Between the front seats you’ll find a huge storage container/armrest. It’s big enough to swallow a couple of laptop computers and more. When not hiding your electronics, fitted storage bins function as receptacles for your small items. These bins attach elsewhere in the Escape when removed from the storage container, and can be used as handy garbage bins for rear seat passengers when required.

The Escape excels at these small details, and seems very well-thought-out for the needs of young families.

A navigation system is available (a $2,000 option), but the display is positioned too low in the centre stack. Nonetheless, the system is easy to program and operate, as are all the dash-mounted controls. There is a new high-mount information display (outside temperature, time, etc.) positioned for easy visibility, and all instrumentation now features blue illumination, replacing Ford’s signature aqua green.

The V6 engine is smooth and sufficiently powerful, returning 12.5/9.1 L/100 km, city/highway, with 4WD. The four-cylinder with 4WD returns 10.9/8.5 L/100km, city/highway, but was not available on this vehicle launch.

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

The Escape Hybrid benefits from improved drive-train management software and a refined CVT gearbox. It is notably smoother than the previous model when accelerating and decelerating. It does, however, feel heavier due to its lower horsepower and greater weight. The 4WD Hybrid Escape is rated at 6.8/7.3 L/100km, city/highway (FWD is listed at 5.7/6.7 L/100km, city/highway).

At the vehicle launch event, we ran a driving “challenge” with the 4WD Escape Hybrid, to see who could achieve the best fuel economy. The winning drivers achieved 6.5 L/100km in an urban driving loop. My vehicle achieved 7.4 L/100km, but we were driving normally, and not specifically trying to get the best mileage. Either way, these are excellent results for an SUV. Pricing on the Escape Hybrid will benefit from provincial and federal incentives for this type of vehicle, further lowering the price.

The new Ford Escape should continue to appeal to compact SUV buyers. For our market it offers the right size, the right price, at the right time. Now with better fuel economy, more safety features and increased utility, it retains the tough-enough demeanour that contributes to its popularity in Canada.

The 2008 Ford Escape is built in Kansas City, Missouri, and is on route to showrooms now.

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