We’ve never understood why the Ford Kuga didn’t receive more attention from Australian buyers. Was it the marketing, the specification, range mix or perhaps the name? Because underneath all of that, the mid-sized SUV was a good little car.Ford is giving it another crack, though, with a new look, broader range, more tech, sharper pricing and a new (but old) name. This is the 2017 Ford Escape.The Escape badge last filled Ford showrooms back in 2012, as the badge-alternative to the Mazda Tribute. Escape is the model’s global nameplate, and fits with the letter-E theme that graces most of the blue-oval SUV fleet. The only holdout now is Europe, where it will continue to be called Kuga. It’s built there, in Spain, and it sells well as-is. Don’t mess with success.Ford has broadened the new local Escape range too, offering now eight variants which cover three grades, petrol and diesel engines, and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
Crucially, a mid-specification (Trend), front-drive, 1.5-litre petrol automatic model is now available, which in the competitive medium-SUV marketplace, accounts for some 28 per cent of all category sales. This gives the revised Escape range a 92 per cent coverage of ‘what people are buying’, up considerably from just a 28 per cent category penetration of the Kuga.
Prices start from $28,490 (before options and on-road costs) for a 1.5-litre, front-drive, manual Ambiente, and climb to $47,490 for a 2-litre turbodiesel, AWD, automatic Titanium. For the most part, prices of the Escape have dropped over their comparable Kuga counterparts.
IN DETAIL: 2017 Ford Escape pricing and specs
With the new name comes a fresh look, and the Escape now features the family ‘trapezoid’ (not a pyramid) design that Ford is rolling out onto the majority of global models.
It gives the Escape a much more modern face, and a decidedly American look. It works well, from the twin-bar grille to the angular fog-lamp housings. The Kuga was never an unattractive car, but the design seemed to date quickly. The Escape heads down a more conservative and traditional path, but pulls off a smart looking SUV style in the process.
The rear, too, sees new tail lamps and revised styling on the tailgate.
There are nine colours available, with premium paint attracting a $450 option cost. Gone are Tiger Eye and Race Red, replaced by White Platinum and Copper Pulse. The car in the photos is Deep Impact Blue.
Our top-spec Titanium car features smart 19-inch alloy wheels, which remind us of the original Lamborghini Gallardo rims. Not bad company to keep.
The interior remains mostly the same, and is big and airy. Our Titanium grade car also features a large panoramic sunroof which includes a two-stage fabric blind. And unlike many other cars, even with the sunroof, there is plenty of headroom for taller drivers.
Vision is good, although the rear-view mirror and sensor array in the centre of the windscreen is big, and the steeply raked windscreen itself gives a distance of almost a meter from the driver to its base, and a correspondingly large A-pillar ‘foot’ as well.
Revisions to the centre console include an updated climate control interface (dual zone is standard on all models) but the curious ‘baseball cap’ shade over the screen and wacky CD-drive placement is still there, as are the ‘wagon-wheel’ vent dials.
Between the seats, the handbrake is now electric, so the revised console changes placement of the cup holders, which now have a slide cover and a phone storage area, plus there’s a key holder, or coin tray, to the left of the 12-volt socket.
In the centre arm rest are a pair of USB points, and the eight-inch touch screen supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto projections, as well as featuring Ford’s latest SYNC3 infotainment software in all models.
This is included on all models, and is a full-featured system in all vehicles, which means even the entry-grade car scores satellite navigation.
With the addition of SYNC3, comes a change in the external controls. The glossy Sony ‘boom box’ dial has been replaced in favour of a more sedate nine-button panel with a rotary volume dial.
Ergonomically, the recessed screen is still a bit awkward to access, especially while on the move, where some of the touch areas are on the lower extremities of the panel, but we haven’t spent enough time with the Escape, or SYNC3 for that matter, to provide a full review.
We did find the basic navigation functions and trips to-and-from the main menu relatively easy though. The clean colouring and more simplistic interface improves usability, and the voice activation had no trouble understanding a couple of basic requests, having been tuned to understand our uniquely Australian twang.
For the driver, we’ve always been big fans of the multi-function display which provides a host of trip, mechanical and assistance data. The mini Escape icon which shows when lights or cruise control is active, and even the AWD torque-split, is a fun touch too.
This is carried over from the Kuga, but the wheel itself has changed from a four to a three spoke item, with angular button pads over the rounded ones on the Kuga. It works well and suits the more modern design update.
Equipment levels on the Titanium remain high, but the optional safety pack, which is now $300 cheaper at $1300, has some new goodies.
Still included are automatic high beam, blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control and lane departure assistance, but the forward collision braking has been upgraded to handle up to 50km/h (up from 30km/h) speeds, and rear cross-traffic alert has been added. It’s a worthwhile pack and is available on Trend and Titanium specification cars.
There’s a rear-view camera (standard on all models), power tailgate (optional on Trend) and even xenon headlamps with LED running lights (standard on Titanium).
The back seats and boot are unchanged from the Kuga, with still good room for rear passengers, as well as vents and reclining seats.
Cargo is dealt with by a 406-litre boot that expands to 1603 litres when the 60:40 seats are folded. There is still that annoying lip between the boot and rear seats when you flip them down, but you can adjust the false floor of the boot to offer a flat area.
Opening the boot in the Titanium is a powered process and a hands-free ‘kick’ function is also supported.
Very little… well, nothing… has changed under the skin of the Eskuga (you can see why they went with ‘Escape’), and it continues to be a mystery why the SUV hasn’t been more successful.
On the road, even on a short loop, the 178kW/345Nm 2-litre Ecoboost turbo petrol engine is a zippy little thing.
Punchy off the line and good for touring, the peak torque band is from 200 to 4500rpm, giving a really nice level of response for overtaking or even just zipping through some tighter bends.
We’re not expecting a fuel miser here though. Ford claims a combined cycle of 8.8L/100km which to be honest, feels quite high. Mazda claims 7.4L/100km for its 2.5-litre CX-5 Akera and Hyundai lists 7.7L/100km for the 1.6-litre turbo Tucson.
An idle-stop system is now included on the Ecoboost engine, which might help economy for city buyers, but we’ll need to wait and see.
There are of course other engines, and we’ll put economy of each to the test when we have more time with the car.
The Escape feels light, and entertaining on these undulating country B-Roads. It’s quiet, too, with just some wind and light tyre noise coming into the cabin. We’ll get the trusty dB meter out for a more thorough test soon though.
The 19-inch wheels offer a pleasant ride, and there is good feedback through the steering wheel over some choppier surfaces.
A manual transmission is available in the entry-level Escape Ambiante, but in our Titanium, the six speed automatic handles changes well. As we said, it was a short drive so there has been no chance to see how it deals with regular stop-start city traffic, but on the pretty roads around Yarra Glen, it deals with changes smoothly, and even offers paddles on the wheel for a more ‘sporty’ experience.
Kickdown when accelerating from 80-100km/h is reasonably quick, and the engine note, while not a standout, isn’t especially raspy. When at the tonne, the little Ford holds speed well and offers a solidly entertaining drive.
Despite only being a quick look, we’re happy knowing that a car we already felt was a good package, now feels just that little bit more complete.
The new name and new look should do a lot to help re-ignite Ford’s mid-size SUV sales. The broader range and greater expanse of equipment now answers buyers’ questions where they are asking them, and we hope that the underrated Kuga now gets the attention it deserves as the fresh faced 2017 Ford Escape.
We look forward to spending more time in the mid-size SUV and will run it up against the category power players to see what role the Escape can play in one of Australia’s favourite vehicle segments.