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car review

2013 Ford Escape features a hands-free liftgate.

In mid-July, Ford took the unusual step of asking a few thousand Escape customers to stop driving their compact crossovers equipped with 1.6-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engines. That came with a recall to fix a defective fuel line.

In the big picture, just a few thousand Escapes were affected – out of annual sales expected to total a quarter million or so – though this was a serious matter. Leaking gasoline might lead to an engine fire.

I thought about this as I took the wheel of a 2013 Escape Titanium ($37,499) this fall. I pondered what seems to have become a parade of recalls from not just Ford, but every auto company. Last month, for instance, Toyota recalled more than seven million vehicles worldwide to fix power-window switches. That came on the heels of Honda's recall of hundreds of thousands of CR-V crossovers worldwide, not to mention more than 100,000 Fit subcompacts and nearly a million Civic compacts and Pilot SUVs.

There is a long list of reasons why we're seeing a seemingly endless parade of recalls involving massive numbers of vehicles. Some of it has to do with over-caution on the part of auto makers who really do want to protect their customers. And some of it also is a function of car companies managing their costs by sharing parts and platforms across a wide range of models. When something goes wrong with model A, the shared part on models B, C and D are also affected.

At the same time, though, I think car companies need to be more vigilant with at least their most critical models. At the launch of the 2013 Escape, one Ford of Canada official said to me, "This is a very important car." And Frank Davis, who oversees Ford's engineering work in North America put it this way: "The Escape is a big deal."

Recall issues aside, this all-new Escape is a delicious rig. It has a stylish design and best-in-class fuel economy. You can choose from three different engine choices and no matter which, the ride is quiet and the cabin at highway speeds is comfortable.

Novel features? The "hands-free" tailgate is simple and useful: wag your foot under the rear end and hands-free, the tailgate opens as if by magic. If you've ever arrived at your car with an armful of groceries, you will love this. Ford has also loaded up the Escape with all sorts of do-dads and gadgets, from Active Park Assist, to Intelligent 4WD (four-wheel drive), Torque Vector Control, Curve Control, My Ford Touch.…

In a nutshell, the 2013 Escape looks sleek, rides well and is offered with two EcoBoost four-cylinder engine choices (178 AND 240 hp). The Titanium has the 240-hp engine and it delivers on the promise of fast acceleration. This engine is smooth, too, with no noticeable turbo lag when you goose the throttle.

This Escape feels solid, too. The doors close with a satisfying "thunk," and, at highway speeds, the Escape feels planted. The story begins with a stiff body structure. From there, Ford packed in loads of expandable foam baffles in the roof pillars and front fender. Finally, to muffle noise, the Escape has tightly sealed doors and a mess of sound-absorbing materials in various panels everywhere.

The package feels tight and looks to be well-made. Soft-touch materials cover all the places where your elbows, knees and hands come into contact with the cabin. That cabin is adequately roomy, though the 2013 Santa Fe Sport is noticeably bigger inside, as is the CR-V and Toyota's RAV4. Still, the Escape's split and fold-flat rear seatbacks are a good idea and the rear liftover is low for easier loading.

The Escape sets itself apart with all the gadgetry available, not to mention the beautifully lit instruments and controls. The seat cushions are firm and properly contoured for comfort. Rear-seaters can slide their feet under the front seats.

And then there is the exterior design – an eye-grabber. The roofline sweeps back nicely and the detailing in the front end is attractive. From the side, the Escape's profile is set off by a line in the sheet metal that runs the length of the rig, just below the trapezoidal side windows. Up front, the grille slats stay open for engine cooling, then automatically close to improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency when extra cooling isn't needed.

Of course, the SYNC with MyFord Touch system is available. I know Consumer Reports continues to slag Ford for this gizmo, but anyone who takes 15 minutes to learn the commands should have no trouble here. The various control menus are easy to navigate once you get the swing of things. I had no trouble accessing everything from Bluetooth to inputting a destination in the navi system. The touch screen is self-explanatory, too.

Look, it's completely wrong to compare this new Escape to the old one. Here, the ride quality is more akin to a sporty car than a tall wagon. The all-wheel-drive system is capable of shifting 100 per cent of engine power to the front wheels or the rear, or split the torque in other ratios, as necessary, too. Though a bit smaller than its key rivals, the Escape – a totally modern package – is immensely impressive.

Call it the sportiest of compact crossover wagons – at least from a mainstream manufacturer.

Tech specs

2013 Ford Escape Titanium

Type: Compact SUV

Base price: $37,499 (freight $1,550)

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/270 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Automatic full-time four-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.8 city/6.9 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4


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