Pros: Fun to drive, great handling, roomy interior, tows well, excellent 4x4 system, remote-starter
Cons: Too much road noise, uncomfortable headrests, fuel economy could be better, color options on limited
In 1994 I bought a new Explorer and loved it so much I hated to give it up. Even though it was almost 11 years old I still liked it at least as much as anything new plus it was paid for. Enter an awesome lease deal on a 2005 Escape, and it was finally time to replace old faithful.
Obviously I tend to keep my vehicles and one of the enablers is buying something I really like that also meets my needs. This is my daily commuter, but I do occasionally use it for the 2-hour trip to our cottage, towing the boat, hauling people and cargo, and the occasional off-road excursion. I like creature comforts (another enabler of keeping cars longer) and the Escape Limited gave me everything I wanted except for a dual media (cd/cassette) stereo and redundant stereo controls on the steering wheel. I could've gotten the dual media by stepping down a model, but then I'd give up the automatic headlights/rear view mirror dimming, heated seats, and some other things available only on the limited. Its probably worth stating exactly what vehicle configuration I'm reviewing here:
2005 Ford Escape Limited, 4x4, 3.0L V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans, heated leather seats, Mach stereo w/ 6-cd changer and speed-sensitive volume control, trailer tow package, anti-lock brakes, cruise control, automatic headlamps and rear view mirror dimming, dealer-installed remote start with alarm.
What I love most about the Escape is it is very fun to drive, largely due to its excellent power-to-weight ratio and handling. It is very peppy and the handling is much more car-like than SUV-like. It also has an excellent interior package: Even though it's a class smaller than my old Explorer, it feels just as big inside, a key want for me. I'm just over 6' tall and long in the waist so headroom is an issue with me in most vehicles, but I find both the front and back seats of this Escape quite comfortable. It actually feels bigger than the new Explorer and the only place I notice it's smaller size is in the cargo area which is probably about 10" shorter. It comfortably seats 4 or 5 adults and I have no problems getting the kids and their child seats in and out. Back to the driving performance, the engine has more than enough power to toss this thing around on or off road, or towing trailer. And don't believe those who say this isn't an off-road vehicle. True, it's limited by rather short wheel travel and a shallow break-over angle, but the high powered engine and responsive 4wd system push it through deep sand and up the steepest hills with ease. My once skeptical friends were amazed at how much fun it was to drive in the sand dunes and all of them preferred driving my Escape to their bigger and bouncier trucks. We've only had a little bit of snow so far this year, but it handled it with ease so I'm confident it will handle deep snow with as much ease as it did the deep sand. I do wish Ford offered traction control or a good limited-slip axle, but it wouldn't stop me from buying the same vehicle again. On the towing front, I've towed my 700lb SeaDoo and 3000lb boat and it handled both with ease, including the very long and steep launch ramp I use. I can't vouch for how it would tow its rated 3500 lbs through a mountain range, but I've been happy so far. Finally, a feature I wish was more prevalent is the speed-sensitive volume control. This feature increases the stereo volume as the vehicle speed (and thus noise) increases and the Escape even let's you adjust by how much. Since I drive in a lot of 50mph-0mph-50mph traffic, I found myself constantly adjusting the volume in my old vehicle, but this feature all but eliminates the need. Another nice feature is the "Ford Genuine Accessory" dealer-installed combo remote start/alarm system: Unlike my old aftermarket remote start, this one locks out the starter so you won't grind gears if you forget the vehicle is running and accidentally try to start it. It also has an "errand" mode (keeps vehicle running and locked while you step out) that actually works. The last thing I love is the quality -- just over 5000 miles now and not a single problem!
While I can't say there's anything I hate about this vehicle, there are some things that need improvement. By far my biggest complaint is the road noise. Granted my old Explorer was quieter than most cars I've ridden in, but this Escape pushes the limit of what I'm willing to accept. I can hear fine when I use my cell phone or talk to people in the car so it might not bother others, but I'm very picky when it comes to wind and road noise and it bothers me. I also find that the headrest sticks too far forward and occasionally bothers me. I'm sure this is done to improve anti-whiplash performance, but I find it uncomfortable and bothersome at times. I also think the fuel economy could be better: I averaged a solid 18 mpg in my 1994 Explorer and the Escape is only a little better at 19.7 mpg: Simply put I expect more than a 10% improvement for something 11 model years newer and a class size smaller, even if it does put out 200Hp vs. my 94's 160Hp. Another minor annoyance is that I can't see the switch for the heated seats (mounted on side of seat) and that the heat turns off after about 10 minutes, requiring me to hunt for the switch again if I still want it on. I also expect a limited model to feature an adjustable lumbar support and the Escape doesn't. The limited could offer a few more color choices too: I felt the only "color" (i.e. non-shade-of-gray) choices were over-bearing red or bland gold. I opted for the gold and have gotten quite a few compliments on it, but I still would've preferred the navy blue available on the Sport. The only other thing to add is the previously mentioned want for a dual-media stereo in the Limited model as I listen to both cds and cassettes and use a cassette adapter to connect my mp3 player. (Maybe the dealer will swap it out for me?)