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2005 Ford Escape

A Midlife Makeover For The Best Selling Small SUV

    The small SUV class has been doing well for quite some time and the same can be said for Ford’s Escape. Nevertheless there have been some new competitors who are trying very hard to steal the title of Best Selling Small SUV from the Blue Oval. Chief among these is Chevrolet’s handsome new Equinox, which has been well received by consumers and critics alike. Ford knows this and refreshed the Escape for the 2005 model year to try to maintain its lead spot in the sales race. Is the midlife makeover good enough to keep the Escape out front? You’ll have to keep reading.
     For the record, we didn’t think the Escape was particularly handsome when it first arrived on the market in late 2000. We aren’t fans of grey plastic, which the Escape had acres of, nor did the overall style look particularly fresh to our eyes. Thankfully, Ford has made several minor changes that have a major effect when taken together. Our Limited model wore a new monochromatic appearance package and was covered in Silver metallic paint for an upscale appearance that simply wasn’t available before. A large part of this new upscale persona is due to the revised front end that features a newly styled bumper with round fog lamps and above that, a honeycomb grille. Clear lens headlamps are a welcome addition as are the new 5-spoke 16” wheels. Things are least changed out back but that isn’t a negative remark because the Escape’s posterior remains free of clutter and still looks fine to us. If we had to put something on the wish list for a future update we’d ask for body-colored backup sensors instead of the black units that stuck out pretty obviously on our test vehicle.
     Those in charge of the recent update seemed to have forgotten about the Escape’s insides because we were left disappointed with the interior where cheap materials and poor fitment are all too evident. Our interior was all black, or Ebony as Ford calls it, with some plastic that we believe is supposed to look like metal but doesn’t. The instrument cluster tries a little too hard to be attractive and mostly ends up as being hard to read. The doors and dash are finished in shiny hard plastic and the interior door handles felt especially fragile. We’ve mentioned it before and we still think it’s an unforgivable offense to mess up something that is touched as often as the door handle. Too much noise still finds its way inside, though we should note we do like the new center console mounted floor shifter. Also praiseworthy are the second row seats that fold to create a flat cargo floor. Our Limited model Escape featured a large moonroof and dark tinted privacy glass as well as an easy-to-use 6-disc in-dash CD player. Most drivers reported they were satisfied by the leather bucket seats.
     Not everyone reported satisfaction with the Escape’s mechanicals. On paper the 3.0-liter Duratec V6 looks fine with power ratings (200 hp and 193 lb-ft of torque) on par with the class average. The story is different when you get the Escape on the road and realize those power ratings are only available high in the rpm range. Keep your foot in it long enough to find the power and you’ll be rewarded with roughness and noise—and not the good kind. In addition, the 4-speed automatic transmission does nothing to encourage acceleration with 0-60 mph times coming in somewhere north of 10 seconds. Surprisingly, Ford certifies the Escape to tow 3,500 pounds with a Class II hitch but we recommend you be a person with extraordinary patience if attempting to verify that claim.
     We didn’t test the Escape on anything more challenging than a few dirt roads so we can’t comment on the IQ of the new “Intelligent” 4×4 system. We did, however, notice the button that would allow the driver to lock-in 4-wheel drive is no longer available so let’s hope the computer is as intelligent as Ford claims. The Escape’s ride and handling is about what you would expect from a car-based SUV. That is to say there is a bit more body roll and a little more impact harshness makes it through the 4-wheel independent suspension that it would in a car.
     It appears the midlife makeover was really only successful in one of three areas. The exterior looks fresh again and more than able to take on the next few years until an all-new Escape arrives. The same can’t be said of the interior. Compared to today’s competitors the cabin ranks mid-pack; we fear by the time the Escape is actually replaced it will be deplorable. The little Ford’s drivetrain fits in the same category. The transmission would benefit greatly from another ratio and the engine needs another 30 lb-ft of torque to liven up acceleration off the line. Despite those problems the real difficulty will be asking customers to part with almost thirty grand ($29,770 as tested) for a mediocre small SUV. Sure, ours was the top-of-the-line Limited version, and there are cheaper models available, but the value quotient isn’t much better with those. The Escape isn’t a horrible choice, but unfortunately for Ford, it isn’t the best choice.

The Good:
Fresh style, nice size, large moonroof.
The Bad:
Engine can get rough, 4-speed auto works against acceleration and fuel economy.
The Verdict:
Faced with new competition the Escape is no longer the best choice in the small SUV segment.


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