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Ford Escape at Car of the Year 2021

By Tim Robson, 02 Mar 2021 COTY

Ford Escape at Car of the Year 2021

Plenty to commend here, just not quite the cut-through

Expectations are high for Ford’s brave new hope in the SUV space. Really, really high, in fact. The Ford Escape is intended to add vital firepower to a local Ford line-up that places its eggs all too firmly in the Ranger/Everest basket – but boy, does it need to be on its game.

It sits in a category that Ford has managed to alternatively neglect and under perform in over a couple of decades now, but the new mid-sized Ford Escape – previously known to us here as the Kuga for a spell – is supposed to sweep all those assertions under the rug.

A three-strong line-up is intended to give all things to all people, and a concerted engineering effort has ostensibly balanced ride, handling and comfort in equal measure.

Ford Escape at Car of the Year 2021

It’s this effort at rejigging the car for local tastes – and the fact that the C2 chassis is no bad thing – that ensured the Escape’s place on the COTY tour.

So the reality is that it’s not all bad news.

Based on the C2 underpinnings of the Focus and its friends, Ford has worked hard on giving the Escape a genuine shot at taking on runaway category leaders like the Toyota RAV4. There’s plenty of spec and plenty of attention lavished across the three variants, to the point where there are different grille and bar treatments for all, and a unique suspension tune for one of them.

Ford Escape at Car of the Year 2021

Not only that, Ford has doubled down on weight reduction (the three cars here vary from 1611-1690kg), while it chased down and targeted noise ingress like cops raiding a backpacker’s beach party.

A perky turbocharged 2.0-litre four-potter petrol feels stronger than its 183kW and 387Nm suggests, complementing the C2’s inherent chassis balance and leading to praise for its dynamics across the room.

RELATED Plug-in Hybrid Ford Escape delayed

“Lots of power, the front axle struggles a bit, but strong dynamically,” is one such comment from Campbell. “This is quite a dynamically sporty car.”

“Surprising dynamics,” writes Ferlazzo. “This is enjoyable to drive.” And there was more praise to come.

“Is this the best driving SUV in its class?” asks Inwood. “Engine is a powerhouse, steering is sharp and responsive with great turn-in. Body control is also really nicely judged.”

“Dynamically very polished,” confirms Byron.

I’m with them; that 2.0-litre engine is a ripper of a thing, in actual fact, while the ride of the base model Escape and top-spec Vignale are more in keeping with the Escape’s intended audience than the tied-down handling of the mid-spec ST-Line. It’s refined, too, with great NVH suppression in evidence and – in the Vignale at least – more than enough luxury to sway the masses.

But the Escape can’t afford to be off the pace anywhere when it’s facing both the COTY chopping block and a buying public spoiled for choice.

Ford Escape at Car of the Year 2021

“Seems like a nicely executed thing, but does it give me a reason to not buy a Toyota?” asks Inwood rhetorically.

“It won’t take the segment by storm; it’s just not different enough,” opines Richard.

And with that, the Escape sealed its fate in COTY 2021. Sometimes, nice guys just don’t win.

Ford Escape at Car of the Year 2021

Richard Ferlazzo on the Ford Escape’s design

“Apart from the well-deserved success of the Territory, Ford has had a mixed bag of imported SUVs. The new Escape has fresh European styling and the new Ford front look, along with obvious attempts all over the exterior to give it a more youthful and sporty flavour.

“But it’s still a bit on the safe side and is up against some funky competition in this class. The interior is similarly contemporary and has a very good electronic cluster, but even the ST-Line could have had a bit more pizzazz to match that sparkling engine.

“Overall, a worthy new entry to the segment, but may struggle to get noticed.”