The base model Ford Escape is the only one with the option of a manual gearbox, and it’s a handy steerer, too.
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Formerly known as the Ford Kuga, the Escape received a facelift with its name change earlier this year to bolster its fortunes within the highly competitive medium-SUV segment. Despite the new badge, extra kit and interior/exterior makeover it’s one of the oldest models in its segment yet still one of the best in terms of driveability.
The entry-level Ambiente with a six-speed manual is the only Escape variant with a clutch pedal and at $28,990 it’s $1500 cheaper than the six-speed automatic version.
- People who like SUVs because of their high and commanding seating position will like how the Escape feels.
- It has car-like handling thanks to its dynamic steering that’s among the best of any mid-size SUV.
- The 17-inch steel wheels with taller tyres provide a smoother ride than the flashier 18- and 19-inch diameter alloys with low-profile tyres on upper-spec models.
- Standard equipment is reasonably generous for an entry-level SUV in this price range, and includes Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, digital radio, reversing camera, cruise control, speed limiter, fog lights, power mirrors, automatic stop start and electric park brake.
- The Sync 3 infotainment system is easy to use and syncs to your device quickly. Its sat-nav system shows traffic jams ahead and suggests common sense alternative routes when in navigation mode. The voice-activation does need improving though.
- The sound system is surprisingly good.
- The six-speed manual gearbox is smooth and easy to shift, though second gear isn’t as forgiving at very low speeds as most gearboxes.
- The manual makes the 110kW/240Nm 1.5-litre turbo engine feel gutsier than its numbers suggest.
- The centre console has two USB sockets so rear seat passengers can charge devices too.
- An electric parking brake frees up space in the centre console, and activates automatically when the engine is turned off so the car doesn’t roll away if left out of gear.
- The automatic stop-start system is barely noticeable and restarts the engine when you press the clutch to engage first gear.
- The dashboard looks dated, especially the central area around the touchscreen that looks like something from Battlestar GalacticaI, but not in a good way.
- The 406-litre cargo capacity is one of the lowest in its class, but fold the rear seats down and it extends to a respectable 1603-litres.
- Road noise is particularly high on coarse surfaces.
- The $1500 saving when buying a manual rather than the six-speed auto isn’t that much when you consider the auto is mated to a more powerful version of the 1.5-litre turbo engine and comes with paddle shifters for driver involvement.