2009 Ford Escape
2009 Ford Escape. Click image to enlarge
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Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by James Bergeron

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2009 Ford Escape

Ann Arbor, Michigan – It was a cold day in Hell, as they say – the location for the 2009 Ford Escape launch was Ann Arbor, Michigan, with a quick pass through Hell, Michigan in the new 2009 Escape four-cylinder, V6 and Hybrid models.

The saying in the high tech industry is that “it” is obsolete the moment you buy “it,” and there is some truth to that in electronics, and especially the computer world. Vehicles, on the other hand, tend to be refreshed in four or five year cycles with some minor upgrades before the next big redesign. If you purchased the completely redesigned 2008 Ford Escape, take a seat; if you are in the market for a new compact SUV, read on.

2009 Ford Escape
2009 Ford Escape. Click image to enlarge

The Ford Escape is the number one selling compact SUV in Canada, and as it is not the least expensive compact SUV in Canada, critics should not debate its popularity. Surprising to me is that the V6 model is more prominent than the inline 4-cylinder engine with the I-4 only accounting for 17% of sales for the Escape in 2007. “The I-4’s sales have been declining year over year, but this trend is changing as fuel prices increase,” said Rick Gemin, Ford Escape Marketing Plans Manager. “Sales are now growing once again the inline four-cylinder engine version of the Escape.”

The 2009 Escape tries to buck the trend by incorporating some minor amendments in the second year of its new cycle, as well as some not-so-minor upgrades. Most of the exterior and interior changes to the 2009 Escape would require a back-to-back comparison test drive between the 2008 Escape and 2009 Escape, and that is exactly what we did. On the outside you would need a very keen eye to spot the differences between the 2008 and 2009 models. Ford has added a chin spoiler on the front of the new model that lowers the ground clearance by 40 mm but aids in aerodynamics for improved fuel economy. Also added is a tiny little flap in front of the rear wheels; it might not look like much, but at 110 km/h, fuel efficiency is improved by three quarters of a mile per gallon, and these days every little bit counts. You may also notice on Hybrid models the addition of Ford’s exterior keypad for keyless entry – previously only available on non-hybrid models.

2009 Ford Escape
2009 Ford Escape. Click image to enlarge

Some minor interior tweaks have made it into the 2009 Escape, including: standard Microsoft Sync 2.0 and Sirius Satellite radio with a six-month subscription, a grab handle on the passenger side to ease entry, softer door panel inserts, and on navigation equipped models, a new very sharp and clear navigation screen that replaces the rather tired-looking monochrome green-coloured screen of the past (look for this new screen in all new Fords soon). Ford has also made some minor changes to the seats in the Escape that I found noticeably more comfortable than the 2008 Escape seating, with less side bolster intrusion into the seating cushion.

Changes to the Escape for 2009 are not only limited to minor body and interior details though – Ford is on a mission to increase both fuel economy and the fun-to-drive factor of the Escape. Ford’s first step was to appeal to Canadians’ love for the manual transmission – available for 2009 is a five-speed manual transmission available in the XLT and I-4 Limited models for the Canadian market. Also standard on all Canadian model 2009 Escapes are heated mirrors, and all Limited models feature a chrome grill.

The next step were the bigger changes for 2009: the 2.3-litre I-4 has been upgraded to a 2.5-litre engine; this engine in conjunction with a tweaked exhaust manifold and intake manifold as well as intake variable cam timing (i-VCT) now offers 171 hp and 171lb-ft of torque. This new engine offers an 11 per cent increase in power output over the 2.3-litre (153 hp) and gives the Ford Escape a 1.7-second improvement in zero-to-97km/h (60 mph) acceleration. This puts the 2009 I-4 equipped Escape in a dead heat in a head-to-head drag race with the 2008 Escape V6.

Of course with this upgrade Ford had to do something about their V6 model, or there wouldn’t be any reason to shell out the bucks for it. The new 3.0-litre V6 now offers a gain of 40 hp over the 2008 3.0-litre engine; the 240-hp V6 is also equipped with i-VCT.

2009 Ford Escape six-speed automatic transmission
2009 Ford Escape six-speed automatic transmission. Click image to enlarge

“With all this extra power, how could they possibly improve fuel economy?” you may ask. It mostly comes down to the new six-speed transmission. “The introduction of the six-speed is a big enhancement for the Escape. A taller top gear reduces engine speed while cruising and shifting at lower rpms in each gear help make the new six-speed four to six per cent more fuel-efficient than the four-speed it replaces,” said Ron Razzano, Escape Vehicle Engineering Manager.

To enhance the fun-to-drive factor Ford also added a new 18.5 mm rear stabilizer bar and revised suspension tuning, but I didn’t take their word for it. On back-to-back test drives between the 2008 and 2009 Escape it was immediately evident that the 2009 Escape was more controlled in corners and exhibited less body roll. Road noise was also reduced; according to Ford engineers the stabilizer bar reduced rear-emitted noise by two decibels.

Out on the test route the I-4-equipped Escape felt powerful enough for day-to-day driving, although perhaps a little wheezy accelerating up hills in the countryside. While the V6 clearly had plenty of torque to pull the Escape along, add in the quick shifting six-speed transmission and the snarly exhaust, and I could see why many would opt for the more potent V6 over the I-4.

2009 Ford Escape hybrid battery pack
2009 Ford Escape hybrid battery pack. Click image to enlarge

The Hybrid was the focus here powered by the same I-4 engine but mated to an electric engine and equipped with e-CVT transmission. I did find the Hybrid a little noisier than the other two models when cruising at 80 km/h – perhaps a harmonic vibration was emanating through the cabin – but generally, the Hybrid was just as quiet as the two other variants; obviously more so when only running on the electric motor.

The Escape was one of the first Hybrids on the market and as such Ford has had time and feedback to enhance and improve the system. The propulsion system in the Escape is extremely smooth – the gas engine shuts off when stopped and starts up again when required for acceleration. I did notice a different sensation while braking and felt the initial regenerative braking had a different pedal feel than that of the friction based system in the I-4 and V6 models. At first this resulted in inconsistent and tumultuous braking.

2009 Ford Escape
2009 Ford Escape. Click image to enlarge

After a few trips I did become quite accustomed to the feel and braking became much smoother and more natural. Compared to the 2008 model the braking system is yet another area where Ford engineers did some tweaking to provide a more seamless transition between the friction and regenerative braking systems.

Another tweak for 2009 was increasing the electric-only mode to a healthy 40 mph (65 km/h). With a light foot during acceleration or while at a constant cruising speed, the 2009 Escape Hybrid could get most people to work within city limits on battery alone.

The 2009 Ford Escape has had quite a few changes; some may crucify Ford for changing a model so quickly or for releasing the 2008 when perhaps it was not ready for prime time. Others may praise them for having the guts to step forward and improve an already popular and best-selling model. In my mind, this is proof that Ford is striving to change and continually improve on their products, and willing to adjust to customer desires and needs.

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