While the original 2001 Ford Escape didn’t originate the compact crossover genre, it arguably propelled the species into the mainstream and was frequently the bestselling SUV in Canada.
But lately, the Escape has lost ground in the sales race to the latest iterations of the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V. The RAV4 has undergone a pair of redesigns since the current third-generation Escape made its debut in 2012, and the CR-V was all-new for the 2017 model year. The time has come for a reboot, and there are no half-measures about Ford’s response.
Based on an all-new flexible architecture, the 2020 Escape wraps class-leading roominess in a shapely city-slicker exterior, attributes designed to attract "sophisticated urban professionals,” says Hau Thai-Tang, executive vice-president of product development and purchasing.
Powertrain options include two gas-only and two hybrids.
The Escape’s role in Ford’s new dual-model approach to SUVs also explains why front-wheel drive will be standard and all-wheel drive optional on all four trim levels. (Currently, the S is FWD-only, while AWD is available on the SE and SEL, and standard on the top-trim Titanium.)
That said, the Escape “doesn’t lose any SUVness,” chief engineer Jim Hughes says. “It needs to withstand the rigours of an urban lifestyle while supporting weekend activities.”
Roomy? The rear seat on gas-engined models has 150 millimetres of fore-aft slide adjustment and, at full stretch, provides best-in-class rear legroom – 90 mm more than the current Escape, says Ford, and even more than in the second row of a Chevrolet Suburban. A bi-level cargo deck maximizes space when set low, or aligns flush with the folded seat-backs when set high. Up front, a rotary shift knob frees up more storage room on the centre console.
All this in a package that’s six centimetres longer, both lower and wider by about two centimetres, about 100 kilograms lighter and 3 per cent to 5 per cent more aerodynamic than before.
Naturally, the 2020 will also check all the expected boxes in terms of display, connectivity and detect-and-protect driver aids. The top three trims will have a free-standing eight-inch touchscreen, and available features include a 12.3-inch digital gauge-cluster, 4G LTE WiFi, wireless charging and a head-up display.
Standard on all trims is Ford’s Co-Pilot360 suite of driver aids, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, blindspot and rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high-beam control.
Class-exclusive Co-Pilot add-ons will include push-button automatic parking and evasive-steering assist; the available adaptive cruise control will include stop-and-go functionality and automatic lane centring. (Note: Adaptive cruise and lane-tracing are standard on the RAV4.)
The new Escape also breaks new ground in terms of technology as we used to understand the term – in other words, the hardware that makes it go, stop and steer.
The selection of powertrains will include a base 1.5-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, a hybrid (FHEV), a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and an enhanced 250-horsepower version of the current 2.0-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost. Transmissions will be eight-speed with the gas-only engines and a continuously variable unit on the hybrids, similar to that of the former 2005-2012 Escape Hybrid and most others.
Despite having only three cylinders to begin with, the 1.5 will feature cylinder deactivation as a further fuel-saving measure. When firing on all three, it’s targeted to supply 180 hp and 177 lb.-ft. of torque, and can tow 2,000 pounds. The hybrids are rated to tow 1,500 pounds, and the 2.0 engine, 3,500 pounds.
The hybrids will be step-up choices, with 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle gas engines and peak system outputs projected at 198 hp for the FHEV and 209 hp for the PHEV. Ford says the FHEV’s 1.1-kWh battery is a third the physical size of the original Escape Hybrid’s. It fits below the floor, as does the 14.4-kWh battery of the PHEV, although the greater width of the PHEV’s battery leaves no space for a driveshaft, so the plug-in will be FWD only.
The PHEV will be offered in SE, SEL or Titanium trims, while the FHEV will be Titanium only, FWD or AWD, with the 2.0 EcoBoost optional. Ford is projecting a range of at least 880 kilometres for the FHEV and an all-electric range of at least 48 km for the PHEV.
The latter will also offer four charge-management modes:
- EV Auto: gas and/or electric as appropriate;
- EV Now: “forced” electric-only drive while the charge lasts;
- EV Later: forced gasoline driving to save the battery for later use;
- EV Charge: gas engine recharges a depleted battery while driving.
All versions of Escape will also have five selectable drive modes: normal, eco, sport, slippery and snow/sand.
The 2020 Escape goes on sale in the fall. The competition will no doubt be concerned.
There will also be a “small, rugged” sister vehicle based on the same architecture, aimed at hardcore backwoods addicts.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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