2002 Ford Escape XLT 4x4
2002 Ford Escape XLT 4×4. Click image to enlarge

by Jeremy Cato

Ford Motor Co. took aim at skate-boarders, newlyweds, small families, younger buyers and buyers young at heart – in other words so-called “active consumers” – when it launched the Escape small sport-utility vehicle in the fall of 2000.

Now that it’s been on sale for several years, it’s clear that the Escape has appealed to owners who want utility and responsive handling, a sport-ute profile that isn’t too daring and ground clearance (19.8 cm. or 7.8 in.) adequate for tackling bumpy, rutted roads.

What’s also clear is that a nearly-new Escape can be had for a reasonable price. Those considering a used Escape should make sure the seller has dealt with a number of service campaigns and vehicle recalls, if necessary (see Buyer’s Alerts). If all is in running order, then an older Escape can be a pretty decent buy.

That’s because the Escape is relatively pleasant to drive for a sport ute. The steering delivers pretty crisp responses and the fully independent suspension set-up does a good job of keeping the wheels on the road while also controlling ride motions and smoothing out lumpy pavement. Truth is, the Escape is fundamentally a front-drive car/truck hybrid, so behaves more like a car than truck.

Yet when the going does get slick or the pavement comes to an end, there’s a smart four-by-four system to come to the rescue. Ford calls it Control Trac II and it has two operating modes: “four-by-four Auto” and “four-by-four On.”

Be warned, though, that this system is not really intended for serious boulder-hopping. There are no locking differentials and you won’t find a low-range transfer case, either. But if you’re merely interested in extra traction in the snow and slush or whatever, Control Trac II is definitely up to the job.

And power? The Escape has more than enough for a quick getaway – especially rigs loaded with the 3.0-litre, 200-horsepower V6. The base engine is the same 2.0-litre four-banger used in the compact Ford Focus and it’s overmatched in this application.

Most Escapes have been sold with a four-speed automatic transmission, though Ford has also offered a five-speed manual. The autobus has been the only tranny offered with the V6. In any case, plant your foot on the gas of a V6 Escape and in less than nine seconds you’ll hit 100 km/h from a standing start. Stopping power from the front disc/rear drum brakes (with anti-lock) is first rate. If you plan to tow (up to 1,587 kg. or 3,500 lbs.), the V6 is your only real choice.

As a family hauler, the Escape has the basics down pat. While it’s shorter than Honda’s CR-V, you’ll find more cargo room behind the rear seats – when they’re up, that is – when comparing 2001 models. Flop them flat and the CR-V has an edge.

Access to the rear comes via a two-piece hatch, just like the best station wagons of the ’60s and ’70s. Adult passengers will find a cabin with all the space they need to settle in for a three-hour cruise and entry and exit through the large doors doesn’t require any special twisting or bending.

Ford and Mazda worked together to create the Escape and its near-twin the Tribute. So if you don’t find an Escape to your liking, shop around for a used Tribute.

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