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GOOD riddance. ‘Escape’ is far more apt for a lifestyle-promising SUV than the controversial Kuga nameplate (blame the Germans) it usurps, with the swaparoo finally addressing a key reason for the European Ford’s failure to fire in Australia.
However, the menu is not the meal, and this 2013-vintage SUV still has an uphill battle to fight, even with a name that’s literally no longer on the nose.
Exhibit A: what you see. Rather oddball in some of its detailing, a number of the Escape’s ‘improvements’ don’t quite gel. Behold, for example, the newly bluffer grille that only accentuates the thick-limbed body’s slight awkwardness. The same applies inside.
While the tweaked dashboard boasts an in-vogue touchscreen with Ford’s massively improved SYNC3 multimedia interface, it lives within a heavy-handed hood that looks like Darth Vader’s mask. Trunk-like A-pillar bases could hide a whole Death Star from the driver’s view, and clap-arm wipers thud during each sweep, failing to clear the entire screen properly. The front passenger feels higher than a Cypress Hill fan, perched on a seat with no downward adjustment, but at least the gearlever’s confounded, side-mounted shift toggle gives way to a pair of proper wheel paddles.
Yet these are all superficial observations because the Escape’s driving position is first class. Its front seats are firmly supportive, the steering wheel is perfectly sized, ventilation is brilliant, the dials classy (and include a clear digital speedo), the build quality acceptable, and there’s plenty of room.
Moving to the back, the cushion might look emaciated, but the elevated hip point enables a more natural posture that proves comfortable, aided by a reclining backrest, rear vents and an invitingly airy ambience. Unexpected wins include remote control-activated windows (with auto up/down for all), capless refuelling for cleaner hands, and a one-tap retractable cargo blind for the usefully large luggage area.
At the other end is a lusty yet refined 134kW/240Nm 1.5-litre turbo four, offering gutsy off-the-line performance as well as a steady stream of instant oomph for effortless overtaking. Among the fastest in every acceleration increment, the Ford’s impressive fuel economy came as one of the test’s most welcome shocks, assisted by a seamless idle-stop system. Braking proved the best of the bunch too.
Also keeping Escape youthful is its leading dynamic agility, with the group’s most fluid and intimate steering, providing gloriously precise handling and beautifully poised roadholding, as well as firmly controlled, yet reasonably supple, ride comfort.
Keeping in mind that the Trend wears 235/50R18 rubber, initial bump impact feels quite firm at first (and so isn’t in the same league as the super-absorbent Forester), but the dampers do smooth things out with disciplined cushiness. Road/tyre noise is also agreeably contained in most circumstances.
Focused and refined, this Ford is the medium SUV set’s top driving machine, as well as one of the best-equipped. Note also that while AEB is optional ($1300), it is accessibly bundled with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and assist, auto high-beam, adaptive cruise and blind-spot monitoring.
Three years ago a (thirsty) Kuga 1.6T AWD managed the same score (but second place) in our medium SUV Megatest. So third spot for its ageing yet more sophisticated, and oh-so-likeable successor is a terrific effort. The Escape isn’t just about changing names.
Model: 2018 Ford Escape Trend
Engine: 1499cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v turbo
Max Power: 134kW @ 6000rpm
Max Torque: 240Nm @ 1600-5000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 10.5L/100km (tested)
On sale: Now
Medium SUV Megatest Results
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