The tested metallic blue SE is the mid-level model, with the S being the base and the Titanium being the high-end model that I’d previously tested.
Starting price is $25,550 for the SE and it features one of Ford’s efficient EcoBoost engines, a 1.6-liter that’s turbocharged and has direct injection to give it 178 horses and a torque rating of 184. That’s a jump up from the base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that’s in the base S model and generates 168 horses and a torque rating of 170.
This engine is fairly strong, offering mild acceleration through the 6-speed automatic with SelectShift that allows you to manually shift the gears if you want. Yet because it has a turbo, if you slap the accelerator to get onto a highway the tranny downshifts and the turbo kicks in to boost it to highway speeds relatively quickly. There’s some engine noise, naturally, but it’s short-lived.
Gas mileage is modest. I got 22.1 mpg in cold and somewhat snowy weather, while the EPA rates this model at 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got just 20.5 mpg with the horsier 2.0-liter turbo in the Titanium model previously.
What sets the Escape apart is its quick handling that makes this small ute fun to drive and an easy lane changer on the highway. Parking lot maneuvering is good too, although its turning radius is a full 4 feet more than a Subaru Forester, another worthy small SUV.
Ride is on the firm side, as it had been in the previously tested Titanium model. But this ute has standard 17-inch tires, not the low-profiles of that earlier model. So ride is not severe, just firm, meaning there is some jostle over all those nasty frost heaves we’re experiencing this winter, but generally it’s fine.
Braking from its four wheel discs is excellent and there are traction and stability systems here too.
Another plus is Escape’s quiet interior, which also is uniquely styled with what I call a Star Wars flight deck arrangement with very angular surrounds for all the main gauges. I like the attractive gauges, which feature neon blue needles that offer great visibility day or night. The dash in the tester is black with a matte silver trim that carries over to the door pulls and releases and the console.
There’s a tilt-telescope steering wheel too, with the usual assortment of controls on the hub, including flat round TV remote-style buttons for the radio and trip computer. I’m not as enthralled with the large clunky plastic controls that hang off the hub for phone and cruise controls though.
As I said in the previous review, Escape’s radio is less than intuitive and a pain to operate while driving. There is the Sync system created by Microsoft for Ford. It allows you to call up tunes, etc. by voice command. That could help alleviate the complicated audio control situation and is part of a $1,395 option package.
Ford’s large navigation/radio screen is easy to see, but the touchscreen buttons for radio channel selection are tiny, making them hard to use while driving, especially in winter when you’re wearing gloves. The navigation is part of the MyFord Touch system that adds $795 to the SE’s bottom line. The large screen is helpful though when using the backup camera to see what’s behind the vehicle. Note, you’ll need to clean off the camera lens occasionally in winter as it can become encrusted in a good deal of slop.
Below the screen are Escape’s climate control knobs, which are on the small side and can be hard to grip when wearing gloves. Yet I credit Ford for putting an automatic dual climate control system in the SE.
Another positive is the SE’s seats, which were gray cloth in the test car and much more comfortable than the leather ones I’d tested in the Titanium. The earlier ones were too tight, while these were well shaped and seemed wider. I certainly haven’t lost any weight, so THAT couldn’t be the difference.
The driver’s seat is powered and has a power lumbar support while the passenger’s seat is manual. I wish these were heated though.
Rear seat head and legroom are good and the rear seats are comfortable too, plus there’s a heat duct for the rear seat occupants. The rear seats also split and fold down to boost storage and the test ute had a power rear hatch ($495). Occasionally it did not latch fully when powered down though. Possible our cold weather affected that.
Overhead I like the large sun visors that slide and Escape also includes a large two-level glove box along with a decent sized storage bin/arm rest between the front seats. There are two cup holders in the console.
I was a little put off though by the total price here at $29,075, which includes $895 delivery. This is still a 2-wheel-drive model and that price seems much more in line with a 4-wheel-drive small ute. For the record, the 4WD Escape SE starts at $28,195, confirming my earlier comment. But if you add a similar amount of options as on the test ute, you’ll be well over $30 grand to land the 4WD version.
Escape is a good handling ute though and well worth a look, just be sure to price it out with the options you need to see how it stacks up against the many other choices available. Sometimes you can get a small SUV with 4-wheel drive and heated seats for less than this test model though.
FAST Stats: 2014 Ford Escape SE FWD
Hits: Quick handling and edgy, stylish compact ute with a quiet interior. Like the backup camera, comfy seats and gauges with neon blue needles.
Misses: Not wild about the radio controls, especially the tiny touchscreen channel selection buttons and climate control knobs. A bit pricey for only 2-wheel drive too and no heated seats at this price?
Made in: Louisville, Ky.
Engine: 1.6-liter GTDI I4 EcoBoost, 178 hp
Transmission: 6-speed SelectShift automatic
Weight: 3,502 lbs.
Wheelbase: 105.9 in.
Length: 178.1 in.
Cargo: 34.3 cu.ft. (67.8 cu.ft. rear seats down)
Base Price: $25,550
Dealer’s Price: $24,721
Power liftgate, $495
MyFord Touchscreen/nav, $795
Equipment group 201A (reverse sensing system, perimeter alarm, Sync voice-activated system, SE convenience package), $1,340
Test vehicle: $29,075
Sources: Ford, http://www.kbb.com
Photos: Courtesy of Ford