2011 Ford Escape XLT AWD four-cylinder

Review and photos by
Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com

Since its introduction in 2001, the Ford Escape has been the best-selling compact crossover utility vehicle in Canada. Save for mild styling and mechanical updates in 2005 and 2008, the current Escape is little-changed compared to the original 2001 model. Its sales success is a testament to the strength of the Ford brand, and perhaps to the Escape’s design, which, while dated in many ways, is obviously still attractive to shoppers in a crowded market segment.

2011 Ford Escape XLT AWD

2011 Ford Escape XLT AWD

Dated is a harsh-sounding word, but in this context refers simply to the Escape’s styling. This boxy little truck looks old next to new designs like the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, and to vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, which currently sports styling last refreshed in 2006. In this case, then, it’s important to peer past the wrapper for a closer look at what’s underneath.

The Escape is offered with three engines: base power is from a 2.5-litre four-cylinder, which can be optioned to a 3.0-litre V6. The Escape is also the only small crossover available with a hybrid powertrain, matching the four-cylinder with an electric motor.

My tester was an XLT AWD model with the 171-horsepower four-cylinder engine; it comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission in front-drive models, but choose all-wheel drive and you’re stuck with a six-speed automatic that’s optional in the four-cylinder front-driver and standard in all V6 models.

These specs are average for the class, and those 171 horses are adequate for hauling the Escape around, city or highway. Work the motor hard, and you also get a fair bit of noise for your trouble; it’s not as pleasing to the ear as the mechanical noises you get in a RAV4, for example. But we’re talking relatively basic transportation, after all, and what’s here is perfect for the purpose. The transmission’s only fault is its lack of any means to manually select lower gears, for engine braking on steep downgrades, for example; as in most Fords, all you get here is a “low” gear position that simply chooses the lowest gear that won’t over-rev the engine.

With a four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive, the Escape’s fuel consumption ratings, per Natural Resources Canada, are 10.4/7.7 L/100 km (city/highway); my tester averaged about 12 L/100 km in mostly city running.

Like most small crossovers, the Escape’s all-wheel drive system is of the slip-then-grip variety, running in front-drive mode until they lose traction, and then routing some power to the rear wheels. For what most drivers will put the Escape through – ploughing through snow drifts at the bottom of the driveway to get to work – it works just fine. However, many of the Escape’s competitors feature more sophistication in their all-wheel set-ups, generally including a setting that locks the front and rear axles together for better low-speed traction.

Inside, the Escape’s boxy profile translates into plenty of headroom and cargo space, and rear seat legroom is about equivalent to that of a compact sedan. The Escape lacks any kind of backrest angle adjustment for the back seat; many others in this class do this, and several competitors provide a rear seat that moves fore and aft, as well.

The rear seats fold flat, but only after the bottom cushions are flipped forward. It’s not my favourite arrangement, but at least the bottom is split 60/40 like the backrest, so you don’t have to sacrifice the entire back seat for the sake of some long, narrow cargo. The Escape has one of the largest cargo holds in its class, with 889 litres (31.4 cu. ft.) with the rear seats in place, and 1,903 litres (67.2 cu.ft.) with the seats folded. There’s a shallow storage well under the cargo floor, good for stashing valuables while the car is parked.

The Escape is one of only a few small SUVs that still uses a flip-up rear window that can be opened independently of the tailgate. The last-generation Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson had this too, but it disappeared with the redesigned versions of both of them. While I think it’s a nice feature, I wonder how many buyers in this class would miss it.

The 2008 redesign brought a new interior look for the Escape, and it’s one that I’ve never liked much, at least for the monolithic centre stack. It’s really only the appearance that bugs; while there are an awful lot of buttons to deal with, it’s quite straightforward once you’ve spent some time with it. This is a comfortable enough car, but the seats are rather flat and offer little lateral support – not that I’d suggest taking corners with too much enthusiasm in the Escape; the centre of gravity feels high, and there’s not a lot of roll control baked into the suspension, making this a vehicle that does not encourage spirited driving.

Escape pricing starts at $19,999; my tester’s base price was $27,999, which includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, keyless entry with Ford’s SecuriCode keypad, six-way power driver’s seat, satellite radio, cruise control, automatic headlights, fog lights, black roof rails and heated exterior mirrors. Extras added up to $1,450, broken down into $250 for a cargo convenience group, $400 for a convenience group, the $300 ambient lighting package and $500 for Ford’s SYNC wireless communications system, for an as-tested total of $30,849, not including $1,400 freight.

You don’t have to look far to find more interesting choices in the crossover segment, not to mention vehicles that include extra standard equipment and more capable all-wheel drive systems. The Escape is one of Ford’s oldest designs and feels a couple of generations removed from the vehicles that make up the rest of its lineup, and I suspect that many Escape sales are driven by a combination of brand loyalty and aggressive incentives. Those reasons make the Escape an easy choice in this class of vehicle – and certainly not the worst one – but not necessarily the best one, either.

Pricing: 2011 Ford Escape XLT 4×4

Base price: $27,999

Options: $1,450 (Cargo convenience group of cargo area cover, interior cargo management system and lockable hidden storage and wet trunk bin, $250; Convenience group of dual illuminated visors, compass, auto-dimming rearview mirror, message centre, MyKey and outside air temperature display, $400; Ambient lighting package, $300; SYNC communications system, $500)

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,400

Price as tested: $32,249

Crash test results

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

Chris ChaseChris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

Read more Test Drives on CanadianDriver.com

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