2013 Ford Escape Driving Impressions

The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers good power at high revs for those who like to wind it up, and decent torque for acceleration when you need it at any speed. With a balance shaft to offset vibration, it's smooth. It delivers 10 less horsepower than the 1.6-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost, 14 less foot-pounds of torque, and 2 less miles per gallon. The 2.5-liter engine is about keeping the purchase price down.

When we first drove a front-wheel-drive 1.6-liter EcoBoost, we were impressed by its quickness. With 178 horsepower this good, who needs 240? we asked aloud, thinking of the 2.0-liter EcoBoost we would drive next. The word that came to mind to describe the way the 1.6 gets around is scoots, and it scoots all the way up to redline.

The ride in the 1.6-liter front-wheel-drive model was smooth, while at the same time it felt like it wanted to dance. It darts but doesn't jerk, and you get used to it. There was a bouncy motion to the suspension, but it wasn't harsh or disturbing, unlike the back seat of the Explorer we rode in from the airport. It's very nimble, and we love how it handles on two-lanes.

That's probably Torque Vectoring Control at work, an impressive feature for a compact SUV. It uses the stability control module to monitor the dynamics 100 times per second; when the front inside wheel starts to slip in a corner, brake is applied to that wheel, balancing the grip with the left front wheel and reducing understeer.

Torque Vectoring works with standard Curve Control, which is like electronic stability control, only quicker; it senses when a vehicle is entering a curve too fast, and cuts power and/or applies braking to individual wheels to reduce speed by up to 10 mph in one second. Think freeway on-ramps or off-ramps, especially in the wet.

The brakes are quite aggressive, or rather we should say the sensors that control the brakes are aggressive, because the mechanical feel to the pedal is just right, nicely progressive. But as we dabbed the brakes before corners on the twisty road, it felt like they were surging and biting. Once we felt the stability control come on, and it actually made a tire chirp when it braked just one wheel.

In some challenging choppy switchbacks, the suspension did good job of smoothing it all out. We assume that Torque Vectoring Control was at work, but we didn't feel it.

The automatic 6-speed transmission kicks down into 5th on the freeway quite a bit, unnecessarily we think, but they all do that, even way powerful cars; the more gears there are, the more the transmission tries to get out of top gear. We tried to keep it in 6th by shifting to Sport/Manual mode, to no avail. We tested its tolerance by slowing down to 40 mph in 6th gear and flooring it; it downshifted to 4th gear, while indicating in the digital window that it was in 5th.

It makes us realize that Sport/Manual mode is a paradox. In a “sport” mode, a driver would want the transmission to downshift aggressively; in a “manual” mode, he or she would not.

Our run in the 1.6 included a lot of relaxed driving, so for much of the time our throttle foot was light, but we only averaged 22.7 miles per gallon. It's EPA-rated at 23 city/33 highway.

Our Escape 2.0-liter EcoBoost felt like a totally different car: heavier, more solid, less visceral. The handling is slower and suspension steadier than the 1.6, which most buyers will probably be more comfortable with. The 2.0 Escape feels substantial, for a compact SUV. However, we should point out that our 2.0 was all-wheel drive, and the 1.6 was front-wheel drive, and maybe that explains more about the feel of the car than the engine. Tires and wheels are different, also, with 17-inch wheels on the 1.6, 19-inch wheels on the 2.0.

The all-wheel-drive system is new, with sensors that analyze data from 25 signals, 20 times faster than the blink of an eye, and deliver torque to the wheels as needed, through a new torque converter and electromagnetic clutch.

The 2.0-liter is not just a bigger version of the 1.6. Although both are turbocharged, direct-injected, 16-valve, aluminum four-cylinders, they're from different engine families; the 1.6 is the older Sigma design, the 2.0 is Duratec. The 2.0 feels like a V6, compared to the 1.6. Using different turbochargers, the 1.6 has a steeper torque curve, further adding to its quickness and visceral feel. The 1.6 makes 184 pound-feet or torque at 2500 rpm, while the 2.0 makes 270 pound-feet at 3000. We can't say we felt that big difference, but you sure will if you tow anything. Properly equipped, the 2.0 Escape can tow 3500 pounds, which is a lot for a four-cylinder compact SUV.

Even having 62 more horsepower, 240 hp vs. 178 hp, the 2.0-liter Escape doesn't feel much faster in a straight line; and maybe ours wasn't, because of a taller rear axle ratio. The 1.6 FWD comes with a 3.21 final drive, the 2.0 AWD with a long-legged 3.07, which didn't help fuel mileage much; we got 19.7 mpg with the 2.0. It's EPA-rated at 21 City/28 Highway with all-wheel drive.

Transmissions are the same on the 1.6 and 2.0, but programmed differently, the 2.0 sportier. Like the Ford Taurus SHO (but not the Mustang), it has rev-matching downshifting, meaning you'll hear a little blip from the engine as it goes in gear smoothly, when you manually downshift it hard. And like the SHO, sometimes it upshifts curiously. Once, in Sport/Manual mode, with our foot on the floor and racing to redline, it upshifted on its own into 4th gear at about 4200 rpm, immediately after reaching redline no problem in 3rd. The SHO did the exact same thing. These quirky and contradictory transmission habits usually get down to one engineer in the development team, that automotive journalists rarely can reach to ask why.

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