You can certainly hear a telling "thunk" when you close any of the five doors on the 2013 Ford Escape. Solid? Oh, yes.
This Escape has a stiff body structure, loads of expandable foam baffles in all the roof pillars and front fender, not to mention tightly sealed doors and a mess of sound-absorbing materials in various panels everywhere.
"Buyers associate quiet with quality," says Frank Davis, head of Ford engineering in North America, noting that nailing the quality issue with this new compact SUV is critical.
And the reinvented Escape is quiet at highway speeds. Relatively. The overall package feels tight and looks to be well-made, too. Soft-touch materials cover all the places where your elbows, knees and hands come into contact with the cabin, too. That cabin has more space for back seaters and the cargo hold is bigger than the outgoing Escape. And the split-and-fold flat rear seatbacks are IKEA-furniture friendly and the rear lift-over is pretty low for easier loading.
All very nice, but the truth is every small SUV can handle big, boxy cargo. And they all have a tall roofline and upright seating, just as passengers want.
Comfortable? Oh, yes. This Escape has firm seat cushions covering a nicely contoured seat design. Those in back will find that their feet slide nicely under the front seats. This makes for a very roomy space for your loafers, even if you're big and hefty and wear size 14s. If you want to tow, the maximum rating is 1,587 kg or 3,500 pounds, which is certainly enough for yanking about a modest boat or trailering a couple of Ski-Doos.
As much as anything, Ford's product development types point to the exterior design and it truly is an eye-grabber. Take that attractive line in the sheet metal that runs along the side, just below the trapezoidal side windows. The roofline sweeps back nicely and the detailing in the front end is attractive. A good-looking little rig.
Smart, too – smart in its design. That is, 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.
That said, fuel economy matters here and Ford says the Escapes will have the best of any compact SUV. Moreover, Ford has gone down the road lined with gizmos and gadgets and grabbed seemingly every one of them – including a hands-free power lift-gate. A simple kicking motion under the rear bumper triggers the rear lift-gate. Up it goes when your hands are full and another kick triggers closure.
Of course, the Sync with MyFord Touch system is available and Ford says this one better understands voice commands. The various control menus are also simpler to navigate than ever before. I had no trouble accessing everything from Bluetooth to inputting a destination in the navi system. The controls on the steering wheel can be managed with your eyes closed (don't try this while driving). The touch screen is self-explanatory, too.
The base Escape, a front-drive model, lists for $21,499, while a loaded Titanium model with all-wheel-drive goes for $37,499. Naturally, the starter model does not have all the best goodies, from Active Park Assist (for automatic parallel parking) to something called Curve Control, which uses the brakes to slow you down when you're too hot in a corner. Torque Vectoring Control is another driving nanny, this one helping you accelerate through a turn with better control. Expect to pay $30,000 or more if you want all the best of the gizmos and toys, however.
The most popular engine will be the 1.6-litre EcoBoost four-banger with its direct fuel injection and turbocharging developing 178 horsepower. A 2.0-litre EcoBoost four has replaced the old V-6 and it's plenty powerful at 240 hp. The base engine is an upgraded version of the old 2.5-litre four (168 hp). In all cases, the transmission is a six-speed automatic.
Ford has done its homework here, as you would expect. Still, buyers will need to be careful about loading up with extras if they want to keep pricing under control. The ride quality is vastly better than the ancient Escape being replaced. This Escape doesn't rattle and it's pretty entertaining to drive. The all-wheel-drive system, for the record, 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. The total package is very good.
Ford made a lot of good moves here. Expect the Escape to remain the best-selling SUV in North America.
2013 Ford Escape
Type: Compact SUV
Base price: $21,499 (freight $1,500)
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 168 hp/170 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Base drive: Front-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.5 city/6.3 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4