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2020 Ford Escape First Drive: Getting With the Program

2020 Ford Escape First Drive: Getting With the Program
Autos
Louisville, KY - For 2020, the Ford Escape arrives with more space, less weight, more technology and – huzzah for you hybridists out there – a hybrid model for the first time since 2005. Oh, and there’s also a 1.5L three-cylinder turbo version with cylinder deactivation tech, which is an industry first. We were deployed to the Escape’s home state of Kentucky – every Escape comes out of the fabrication facility here in Louisville – to sample the Escape on some of the state’s twisty and undulating roads and in town in the home of baseball bats and bourbon.

Refreshed styling

It should come as no surprise that the latest Escape gets new styling as well. The blue colour you see here is all new, the headlights have grown and it’s longer wider but with a lower roofline than previous, making for a squatter, more athletic appearance.

Surprisingly, though the roofline has been dropped down, headroom has not been affected. Ford used more high-intensity, high-strength steel and other materials throughout the body meaning certain panels and crossmembers – those used for the roof, for example – don’t have to be quite so thick. That also extends to the a-pillars and doors, allowing for larger openings and a better view out.

Photo: D.Heyman

The interior

It’s not just window dressing, either. The seating position and view out of the latest version of Ford’s ultra-hot-selling crossover (or CUV) is right on point. According to Ford, this was a major bone of contention for Escape drivers – most of whom are women, according to the manufacturer -- so a better view out and seating position was imperative.

In addition to the larger window openings, the interior is much less cramped and cluttered than it was previous. The dash is simpler but more luxurious-looking as a result, and there are oodles of storage – up to 15 litres – in the cabin. This includes a glovebox big enough for the biggest iPad Pro or a handbag.

In another nod to occupant comfort, the rear seats can now slide over six inches fore and aft, but even with the seats all the way back, you can fit six adult-sized golf bags back there, stacked one atop another.

There is a drawback, however: the rear loading area isn’t completely flat when you fold the seats. The sliding seats do mean that even with the driver’s seat pushed back to tall-person levels, another tall person can still sit behind. On some of the four trims, the driver’s seat automatically moves back as the wheel telescopes forward to make entrance and egress that much easier.

That’s some proper luxury-car stuff; I know this is the first time I’ve seen such a feature in a non-luxury car. Is it necessary? Not really, and a cynic would say that kind of messes with all that extra rear-seat space but it does add just a little more je ne sais quoi to the interior ergonomics.

Photo: D.Heyman

Safety

Speaking of features: on the safety front, the 2020 Escape has quite a few features out of the box: cross-traffic alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and auto high-beam reduction all come as standard.

Optioning the CoPilot 360 Assist+ safety suite adds lane-centering assist (whereby the Escape uses its forward cameras to ensure you don’t bounce off the lane markers while in cruise control) and stop-and-go cruise control that will take you all the way down to zero. We tried this in some traffic and it worked flawlessly, taking us to a complete stop at which point it holds for three seconds before you have to put your foot on the brake.

It’s a great feature to have in slow traffic – one of the most banal parts of driving – while the optional Active Park Assist 2.0 covers that other driving banality: parallel parking. We’ve seen this before but that “2.0” designation means that you now don’t have to steer, accelerate or brake as you park; simply press a button, come to a stop when a spot is found, and the system does the rest.

Photo: D.Heyman

The infotainment

Of course, no family-centric CUV would be the same without a proper infotainment system and the Escape gets a slightly updated version of Ford SYNC3 – complete with 8-inch display screen – as standard. The new graphics serve to continue to improve what is already one of the better systems on the market thanks to its responsive touchscreen and smart layout.

Of course, with the system comes 4G LTE WiFi with paring for up to 10 devices, satellite radio and support for the FordPass App, allowing for remote starting, climate control, and vehicle health updates. There’s also a newly-designed optional digital gauge cluster that’s far less glary than before as well as a head-up display (HUD).

The latter is nice to have, but the way it’s displayed off a retractable piece of plastic that telescopes up from the gauge cluster hood will surely divide opinion. After all, not since the previous-gen Mazda 3 and Mini Cooper have we seen a system like this, manufacturers electing to use the windshield as your HUD reflector as it brings it more into the driver’s line of sight. Navi instructions, caller ID, speed and more can all be displayed on the HUD.

Before we get into the 2020 Escape’s on-road behaviour, a note about the front seats: while the driving position is very good, the seat itself is a little short on thigh support, and a little narrow as both myself and my drive partner discovered. Bigger drivers should take note.

Photo: D.Heyman

The powertrain

Three engines are available: a 2.0L turbo-four joins the aforementioned 1.5L and 2.5L hybrid powertrains, and while the latter two may be the more technologically advanced of the trifecta, the 2.0 is the most powerful, making 250 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The 1.5L, meanwhile, is good for a surprising 181 hp –from a three-banger! – and 190 lb-ft of torque.

That 2.0L is a cracker of a powerplant. Especially in Sport mode (it joins Eco, Slippery and Snow-Sand in all versions), which sharpens throttle inputs and gear changes to have you darting off the line in short order. Power is fed through an 8-speed gearbox to all four wheels, while brake-based torque vectoring helps scrub understeer and gets the Escape to rotate better through turns.

Indeed, while there is a bit of vocalization from the powerplant as you really get on it, that’s not what the Escape’s about, as Ford’s research also showed that customers wanted a quieter drive. To help achieve this, the windshield and front side windows get acoustic laminated glass panes, and they’ve gone to an isolated rear subframe that connects to the body and chassis via rubber bushings.

Normally the purview of sedans, the isolated substructure not only helps reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, but makes for a more controlled and smooth-riding rear end. Even the leather seats play a part in NVH reduction by having perforated leather, which Ford says allows them to absorb and reduce any noise found in the car.

Oh, and even though the rear subframe is isolated, torsional stiffness as increased 10 per cent in the new car. Coupled with lower levels of inertia brought on by the up-to-200 lb of weight savings, the ride and handling have both been improved…for the most part.

Photo: D.Heyman

The ride

While the Escape rides very comfortably and quietly, we found it to be a little nervous at times through the corners. The steering is direct but has very little play off-centre, meaning more small corrective movements are required through longer, faster sweepers. That upsets the body a little and occupants will feel it; it’s more of a problem, of course, when talking about more performance-oriented cars, but for a vehicle that should see its fair share of road trips that may involve winding backroads, it is worth bearing in mind.

There’s a wild card, and it’s perhaps the ace up the Escape’s sleeve: the three-cylinder EcoBoost with cylinder deactivation. Unfortunately, while we were given some time behind the wheel of one of these, the drive loop was a short one and not really a good indicator of what fuel savings it presents. We did get a feel for it accelerative characteristics, though, and while I can’t really comment on high-speed passing, I can say that when around town and so forth, you really don’t need much more zippiness from your CUV than what’s on tap here. Of the versions we tried, this is most definitely the one I’d like a little more time in, especially for highway work.

The 2020 Ford Escape should be on dealer lots soon, perhaps even by the time you read this – they’re already rolling off the line in Kentucky.

Photo: D.Heyman

The 2020 Ford Escape should be on dealer lots soon, perhaps even by the time you read this – they’re already rolling off the line in Kentucky.
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