The compact crossover segment has all the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. that aren’t pickup trucks. That includes standbys such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue and Ford’s news redesigned 2020 Escape.
To capture a bigger slice of that market – the Escape is ranked 4th by sales volume – Ford is providing buyers with generous passenger and cargo space and an agile ride. It also works to provide good fuel economy and a plush interior.
But this is a tough segment and the rivals are impressive. The Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are efficiency champions. The Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Rogue win points for their plush interiors. The new Escape still trails in those respective features.
The 2020 Escape’s standard engine is a 1.5-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s available in S, SE and SEL trim levels and achieves a surprising 180 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. The engine is peppy off the line but works best as a daily in-town driver.
Drivers looking for a more robust driving experience should opt for the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder power plant. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and produces up to 250 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This engine gives the Escape the power it needs to haul a family and their gear and still reach highway speeds quickly. The 2-liter is available in the SEL and Titanium grades.
But the best Escape engine option is the new 2.5-liter hybrid four-cylinder powertrain. Ford paired the engine with an electronic continuously variable transmission that delivers a smooth acceleration and deceleration experience. Despite a heavier weight and less horsepower – just 200 – the hybrid has better handling and driving dynamics.
Ford also will offer a plug-in hybrid electric variant of the Escape next year.
Two recent days of driving around Louisville, Ken., and its rural surroundings found significant variation in the way each 2020 Escape model performs. Escapes powered by the 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter power plants become unwieldy at high speed as firm steering goes devolves into a loose feel. But the Escape Hybrid drives with ease at all speeds. The hybrid model feels better balanced for the Escape’s body structure and height. That provides a more planted road feel.
Ford engineers have made meaningful improvements to the new model’s suspension and chassis.
The 2020 Escape absorbs more road’s imperfections than its predecessor. It rides smoothly. Ford reduce the amount of engine noise passing into the cabin.
The three-cylinder engine gets the best fuel economy. The front-wheel-drive 1.5-liter engine model achieves an EPA-estimated 27 mpg in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway. The same engine, paired with an all-wheel-drive system, is slightly less efficient earning 26 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.
The 2-liter power plant only comes with all-wheel drive and achieves 23 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. That’s a big dip from the RAV4 and CR-V models with four-cylinder engines. Both get 26 mpg in city driving and at least 32 mpg on the highway. Hybrid model fuel efficiency estimates are not yet available. Toyota’s hybrid RAV4 sets the bar with a 40 mpg rating for combined city and highway driving.
The Escape’s cabin isn’t up to par with what buyers will find when they cross-shop the CX-5 and Rogue. It has plenty of hard surfaces, especially in its lower trim levels, and some interior accents look cheap.
Drivers also should forgo the Escape’s navigation system. It responds slowly and is prone to glitches. In one test it inexplicably instructed the driver to exit a highway then get back on at the following on-ramp. That has been a problem in other Ford vehicles, including the 2020 Explorer.
Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are in the Escape SE trim and higher levels. Drivers can plug their phones in and opt for Waze, Google Maps or Apple Maps.
Aside from its infotainment system issues, the Escape works well for the active families, especially if they’re into golf. It has a cavernous cargo area that can fit six bags of golf clubs behind the rear seats. The SUV has a maximum of 37.5 cubic feet of cargo space, but that number diminishes to 34.4 cubic feet in the hybrid model.
The Escape’s seats slide forward and aft and feature a 60-40 split that allows for more cargo configurations. There’s easily enough room in the second row to fit two adults. The Escape has more overall headroom, and second-row shoulder- and hip room than the outgoing Escape generation. Passenger volume is the same in each of the Escape’s trim levels.
Adventurers can finally use their Escape to tow. Models powered by the 1.5-liter engine can tow up to 2,000 pounds while 2-liter Escapes can tow up to 3,500. Escape Hybrids can tow 1,500 pounds. Buyers of Escape SEL and Titanium trims intent on hauling will want to be sure to add the Class II Trailer Tow Package to their Escape.
Buyers can also add roof rail crossbars for the easy addition of a snowboard rack or cargo box.
The Escape comes standard with FordCo-Pilot360 driver assistance technology. The suite of tech includes automatic high beams, blind-spot alert, lane-keeping assist, a rearview camera, post-collision braking, hill start assist, and pre-collision assist with emergency braking.
The 2020 Ford Escape starts at $24,885 and tops out over $40,000. The 2020 Escape Hybrid starts at $28,255 for the SE Sport Hybrid grade.
Ford has produced an Escape that current Escape owners will love. Buyers have a new hybrid option in the category aside from the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. The question is whether the new Escape offers enough to cut into the massive sales of the Toyota, Honda and Nissan offerings in this segment. It’s a tall order.