Which brings us to the strange, aberrant case of the Escape, Ford’s compact SUV.
From its inception in 2000 through the current model year, the Escape has remained essentially unchanged. And yet, it has continued to sell at a brisk clip. Ford sold 254,000 Escapes in 2011, making it the top-selling SUV in the country, and the nation’s fifth best-selling vehicle.
“You probably don’t think of the Escape as the top-selling SUV,” said Jason Sprawka, the Escape’s high priest of marketing. “You’re more likely to think of a [Honda] CR-V, a [Toyota] RAV4 or a [Ford] Explorer. But the fact is, we’re number one.”
Sprawka readily admitted that the Escape’s 2011 sales numbers were buoyed to some extent by the reduced availability of its Japanese competitors caused by the home island tsunami. But the point is that Escape sales were doing “just fine” before the disaster. Ford sold close to 200,000 copies of the small SUV in 2010.
Additionally, even with the Japanese back in the game, sales of the 2012 model were up 5 percent in the first quarter.
All of which raises the question: Why is Ford coming out this summer with a thoroughly redesigned 2013 Escape?
“There were those who questioned whether we should mess with a good thing,” Sprawka said. “But our surveys showed that dated design was the number one cause of [Escape buyer] defections. “
As it turns out, the Escape has hit the ball hard enough to clear the fence and break a window in Crossoverville. This is a nifty compact crossover SUV. It is a stylish replacement for the current model’s dated, two-box design. Handling and fuel economy, as well as passenger and cargo space, have taken a quantum leap forward. The new Escape isn’t just useful. It’s satisfying and fun to drive.
Like the 2013 Fusion, the new Escape reflects Ford’s recent emphasis on fresh, grabby styling. It also reflects Ford’s growing use of global platforms. The Escape, a variation on Ford of Europe’s Kuga, is one of 10 vehicles built off the global C-platform. Others include the Focus (which might explain why the Escape’s sporty handling evokes the Focus), and the soon-to-arrive Ford C-Max.
The base Escape, a front-drive S model, will start at $23,295. The all-wheel-drive, top-of-the line Titanium model I tested will open at $31,195.
Three engines are offered in the Escape, and all of them get at least 30 mpg on the highway. The only carryover is the 2.5-liter four found in the base model (168 horsepower, EPA mileage ratings of 22 city and 31 highway). The two others are new, direct-injected four-bangers of 1.6 and 2 liters. The 1.6 develops 178 horsepower and has EPAs of 24 and 33, while the 2-liter furnishes 240 horses and has EPAs of 22 and 30 with AWD.
The Escape I drove proved roomy, comfortable and quiet. The interior design was fresh, the seats supportive.
A firm, but not abusive, ride was the price for the sporty handling. The steering was quick, but lacked road feel. That direct-injected engine got the car out of the chute nicely. The brake action was sweet.
The tester proved techy business. Standard gear included Curve Control, which brakes the inside wheel in a turn to get you through the corner more quickly. Optional was a power liftgate actuated by simply kicking your foot under the back bumper (convenient when your hands are full).
Contact Al Haas at email@example.com.