The Japanese-sponsored Honda CR-V, a compact crossover-utility vehicle famous for its impeccable build quality, cute design and excellent road performance, finally has a genuinely worthy American challenger.
Welcome the 2013 Ford Escape, of which a front-wheel-drive sample of the top-of-the-line Titanium model was driven for this column.
The term “American" is used advisedly.
When it was introduced in 2000 as a 2001 model, the Escape was a joint development product of Ford and Japan’s Mazda Motor. The 2013 Escape, assembled in Louisville, Ky., is all-new but is yet another work of global development and engineering. It is sold in Europe and Asia as the Ford Kuga.
Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool trade protectionist, it shouldn’t matter. If the new Escape is an example, global minds working together trump a single nation’s mind working apart. The new Escape beats the vaunted Honda CR-V in almost every way. It is more visually exciting inside and out. In comparison, the Honda looks staid, old-school.
The new Escape offers a more attractive compromise between power and fuel economy than does the CR-V. For example, the comparable CR-V EX-L with front-wheel drive uses a 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine to develop a maximum 185 horsepower and 183 foot-pounds of torque. According to Environmental Protection Agency numbers, it gets 23 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway.
The Escape Titanium runs with a turbocharged (forced-air) 2-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that produces a maximum 231 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque. Yet it delivers a currently respectable 22 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway. For a penalty of one mile per gallon less, I’ll gladly take the Escape Titanium’s offering of more power.
The difference is in the application of technology, too extensive for both the new Escape and the CR-V to go into in detail here. But here are two easily understood examples: The conservatively styled CR-V retains a boxy shape that offers more wind resistance. Resisting the wind is work. A body doing more work consumes more energy.
The new Ford Escape has a super-sleek exterior sculpture that moves more easily through the wind. It is a body happily at odds with traditional notions of crossover-utility and sport-utility vehicle design. It moves through the air so easily, it is sometimes easy to forget you are driving anything related to a wagon, CUV or SUV.
The new Escape also uses a six-speed automatic transmission, compared with a five-speed automatic gearbox in the CR-V. More gears generally means less work in the transmission of power to drive wheels. Less work generally means lower fuel consumption in cars and trucks, and more miles per gallon.
But the downside for the Escape Titanium is that its turbocharged engine runs best with more expensive premium gasoline. “Runs best" here means more smoothly, which renders a feeling of more power. It does not mean that the Escape Titanium cannot run quite well on less-expensive regular gasoline. I tried both during my week in the Escape Titanium and found only a marginal advantage to using premium.
The thing about the Escape Titanium that wows me over the Honda CR-V is the Escape’s interior — premium materials, exceptionally comfortable seats front and back, air vents angled the way common sense intended them to be angled (to efficiently circulate air without blasting front-seat occupants), and, finally, a MyFord Touch information/entertainment/communications system that works flawlessly.
Almost forgot: Ford’s optional new foot-release system for opening the Escape’s rear hatch is quite literally a kick. If you have the vehicle’s electronic key fob somewhere on or near your person, wave your foot under the vehicle’s rear end and — bingo! The rear hatch pops up.
My current understanding is that the system can be deactivated so that no one can deliberately or unintentionally foot-open the rear hatch while you are sitting inside. I did not test that, but I’ll take Ford’s word for it.
I love this new Escape. But another possible downside for me and other consumers is that price might be a negative factor. The Escape starts at $22,470 for the base S model with front-wheel drive and rises to $30,370 for the front-wheel-drive Titanium. Adding options — all-wheel drive, onboard navigation, leather surfaces and others — could raise the Escape’s purchase price a bit above $36,000, which is pricey territory for a compact crossover-utility vehicle.
The Honda CR-V, by comparison, starts at $22,695 for the base CR-V LX with front-wheel drive and rises to $28,145 for a front-wheel-drive CR-V EX-L. Options on the CR-V can also boost its purchase price into the $30,000 range. But starting from a generally smaller sticker means you can save more money.
The automotive retail business is a game of dollars and cents. A more favorable price on a quality vehicle can be a winner.
The bottom line
The 2013 Ford Escape gets a strong “buy" rating here.
Ride, handling, acceleration: It gets excellent marks in all three. But it is a wagon/crossover utility. You can’t take this one to the races, real or imaginary.
Head-turning quotient: Super-slick. I’d argue that it is the most attractive vehicle in its class.
Capacities: Seats five people. Cargo capacity is 34.3 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 68.1 cubic feet with those seats down. The fuel tank holds 15.1 gallons of gasoline. Regular grade can be used, but premium is recommended for best performance.
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; electronic brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction control; side and head air bags; and xenon high-intensity-discharge headlamps with a cornering feature.