Pros: Nice pep, 6 disc changer, looks good.
Cons: Bad highway driver, uncomfortable seats, illogical ergonomics.
Ah, the joys of company cars. Currently in a 2004 Altima that I'm loving, the time is coming where I'll be able to pick a new car for work. The contenders? The aforementioned Altima S-Extra (this time a 2005), the Ford Five Hundred SE, the Ford Escape XLT 2WD, the Pontiac Grand Prix, the Pontiac G6 GT, and the Dodge Magnum SE. Each has a unique flavour, and each has pros and cons. Consider this review #2 of 6.
What do I need? Space, decent power, and above all else, comfort for long drives. Let's see how contender numero dos, the Escape XLT 2WD, comes out in the wash.
Unlike the other cars in this series of tests, I had the opportunity to drive the Escape for an entire month- somehow the intake manifold of my Altima blew out, and I had a rental for the duration of that time.
Escapes come in 3 trim levels up here- the XLS, the XLT, and the Limited. The subject of this review, the XLT, can be had in 2WD or 4WD- my selection is limited to the 2WD.
Base price for the XLT comes in at $28,395 in Canadian funds.
The XLT Escape comes standard with a 200 HP 3.0 L V6- the same V6 used in just about every Ford vehicle apart from the Mustang and the GT nowadays. To say the cupboard is bare at Ford in terms of engines would be an understatement.
Standard features on the XLT include air conditioning, a 6 disc in dash CD player with 4 speakers, premium cloth seating, a 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, 16 inch aluminum rims, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and an independent rear suspension.
Optional features include the usual- moonroofs, leather, and an upgraded stereo system with a 7 speaker output and increased wattage. The Limited model has all of that, plus the 4WD.
I might as well come right out and say that I'm biased- I'm not a truck guy. So it was with trepidation that I looked at my new car for the next month or so when I first decided to rent the Escape for a month. Having driven my brothers Chevy Blazer in the past, I wasn't too fond of the squeaks, rattles, and general instability of a truck, but I figured I would give the Escape a try since it was on my list.
In terms of looks, the Escape looks like a mini-Explorer. This is NOT a bad thing, as the Explorer is a fairly handsome truck, and the 3/5 version that is the Escape actually improves on the overall look with a more uniform distribution of features. Standard on the XLT is tinted rear windows (great for keeping peering eyes out) and very very bright fog lamps- more on those later.
Step-in to the drivers seat is fairly high and you WILL get dirt on your pants. I have the dry cleaning bills to prove it. This can probably be considered a petty gripe however, as it IS a truck afterall. Once inside, you're treated to a fairly well thought out instrument panel with a few glaring issues- the first of which is the arrangement of the KM/H. In the US, perhaps this is different because it's in MPH, but in Canada, the markings are for every 40 KM/H. This is NOT good. Basically, if you're doing the speed limit on the highway, the needle is right in the middle, with no number. And the breakdown is not easy to figure out on an easy glance- so if you're doing 130, it's hard to tell right away so you can slow down before you get zapped by that cruiser waiting beyond the next exit. In addition, although the black on white gauges look sporty and are fairly clear in the day, at night the illumination leaves a LOT to be desired, with a faint green glow.
Everything else in the cabin is fairly straight forward with lots of storage space, and little nooks and crannies everywhere for maps, PDAs, and cell phones.
Another gripe- remember the fog lamps? Well, to actuate them, you need to push a button. Unfortunately, this button will not activate unless your headlamps are on. And not only that, but it does not stay on after you turn the car off. Which means that if you leave the headlights to 'auto', and it's overcast, you invariably find yourself clicking the fog lamp button over and over to keep turning them on if necessary. This may seem small- but over the course of the month it drove me nuts.
Speaking of buttons- the stereo is full of them. This is NOT good. There's a button for everything and anything. The only knob is for the volume. Everything else is arranged haphazardly, and has a confusing series of letters to describe it. It took some rifling through the owners manual to figure out what the DPS and Ambience settings were for- and I still don't know, apart from noticing more of an echo effect on the music. And although the 6 disc in dash changer is fast and convenient, the speakers included as standard leave a LOT to be desired.
One final note on buttons- in the cold, all of the buttons directly underneath the stereo- those controlling the trip computer, the rear defroster, etc., would seize. I couldn't push them, or they would push in, but not release out. Very frustrating.
Seat comfort is fair. The lack of lumbar support hurts, and I found the bottom cushion to be a little short for my liking. The premium cloth seemed like it had fiberglass elements in it- just didn't have a good feel to it. What WAS nice was the upright seating position afforded by a truck. Visibility all around was great.
As far as rear trunk space- I quickly learned the myth of SUVs- they don't have as much space as you think. Plenty of stackable space, but I'd oftentimes have to put the rear seats down.
Overall, a disappointment.
Power from the V6 was pretty good. It never FELT fast, and it seemed to require quite a tip in on the throttle to get it moving, but it could get up to 60 KM/H pretty easily. I believe the gearing on the Escape may be a little short, as it oftentimes would feel out of breath above 120 KM/H. Revs were limited to around 2500 RPM on the highway, and engine noise and vibration was at a minimum.
What wasn't at a minimum on the highway was wind noise. The thing ROARED. Apparently the 2005 is an improvement on the 2004. I shudder to think what the earlier years were like. Another scary highway quirk was the fact that the Escape was tossed around quite readily by crosswinds. Again, this may simply be the revelations of a rookie SUV driver, but it's what I felt out there. Driving on the highway tended to be pretty tiring, what with the stereo full blast to drown out the wind, and having to correct the steering constantly.
In town, handling was smooth and confident. Very nice steering feel and precision. It certainly wasn't as trucklike as the Blazer I had driven before, and actually seemed to be easier to park than my Altima, what with the higher vantage point and short hood.
Brakes were strong and confident around town. On the highway, I did notice some sponginess and fade after a few repeated slowdowns from 120 to 80. Nothing scary, but enough to notice. The ABS, much like the G6, minded its own business unless it was REALLY necessary.
Frankly, disappointment sums up my month with the Escape. Based on a car, I expected far more car-like tendencies than I encountered. Combine that with atrocious highway manners, and it ultimately fails my personal needs. As a city car, I think it would be a nice vehicle, but for long distance travel, it's a no go, and falls far behind the first car on my list, the G6, in terms of drivability, features, and overall comfort level. Even the cargo space wasn't as large as advertised. Add in a relatively high sticker price for relatively low content, and for me, the Escape is a clunker.
To sum up- disappointing.