The Top Line
I drove a 2001 Escape for over five years and 110,000 miles and I loved it. Of course, there were a few things about the vehicle that can drive you crazy more later. Every year I rent a current model for business travel and have noticed many improvements, so I was hoping for a continuation of that trend with the 2008 model. When I finally sold the 2001 Escape I was looking for a new SUV and took a look at the 2007 Escape and was very disappointed. The fact that a 2008 model came out very early in 2007 gave me some hope. Recently I was on a business trip in Chicago and had an opportunity to rent a 2008 Escape for a week and drive it on a wide variety of roads in different weather conditions. I wonder what changes theyve made? thought I , perhaps they took note of my consumer response surveys and all my epinions and fixed something. And actually .. they did fix a few things.
Originally targeted at the low-end market ($18-25k) the Escape, and its competitors are digging into the low-end of regular SUV sales (Explorer) as well as replacing the family sedan and almost defunct station wagon. The mini-SUVs, as they are now called, are bringing this kind of vehicle into new territory. When Ford initially launched the Escape five years ago, they estimated that 44% of buyers were women, and nearly 2/3rds were new Ford customers.
If you are looking at this car, check out the Honda CRV, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV4 and Saturn Vue. You should also look at the Nissan Xterra and Jeep Liberty if you want something a little rougher and more rugged. Also new on the market this year is the revamped Mitsubishi Outlander, which is the vehicle I eventually purchased to replace my old Escape.
I drove a Hertz fleet 2008 Ford Escape XLT 4 by 4 with a three-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Pay attention to the size of the engine bigger is better. The 3.0L 24 valve Duratec V6 makes for a adequate ride, serving up 200 horses and 193 pound-feet of torque. This engine, now underpowered in horses and technology compared to the competition, racks up a mediocre 9.6 seconds for 0-60mph. Pull away from lights is more than respectable and I had no problems merging onto high-speed interstates or overtaking slower-moving cars when needed. The engine, which previously used to get a bit noisy at around 80mph, has apparently been recalibrated, and seems to be quieter and more refined. The constant road noise that used to plague the early Escapes has definitely been diminished (score #1 for the Ford engineers). The absence of the roar initially made me think theyd compromised on power, but that doesnt appear to be the case although I kept feeling this 2008 model was slower than any other Escape I had driven back to 2001.
The Escape can tow up to 3500 pounds, although I have no direct experience of towing anything with either my own 2001 model or this 2008.
In previous years Ford offered the option for the lower-price models of getting a 2.0L manual engine. This magnificent animal used to offer 127 horsepower and was woefully underpowered for the vehicle. Can you say acceleration of a dead sheep? New for 2005 was the upgrade of the 2L to a 2.3L, 153 horsepower four cylinder that makes it marginally more competitive with vehicles such as the Toyota RAV4. Although I have no personal experience with the 2.3L model (which is available in manual or automatic) it was such a major improvement over the 2L model which was so truly awful that my local Ford dealers hardly ever stocked them.
Fuel economy is average at best. I experienced 16.3mpg driving around the city of Chicago, and about 20mpg on the highway. Which brings me to one of the largest drawbacks of the Ford Escape - THE GAS TANK IS TOO SMALL. Fitting 14 gallons on a good day, you get an effective range of 250 miles. Our local gas station attendant knows me by name. Ford claim it is a 16 ˝ gallon tank, but I just dont believe them. The 2008 Escape also allegedly has fuel economy figures of 20/25 mpg but I classify those figures the same way that I judge height/weight stats for NFL players. So the economy has improved over the last 5 years, but not to the point where you stop imagining that the road noise is actually the sound of dollar bills being sucked out of your wallet. Just as a contrast, I routinely get an average of 27mpg out of my 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander. Based upon my average annual mileage I figure I am saving well over $1,200 a year in gasoline !!
The fuel gauges in the Escape operate in hurry and up wait mode. This means you drop alarmingly from F to about ֿ/4 , then take a similar amount of time to get to E. After a few weeks you learn not to pull into the gas station when the gauge shows ֫/4 otherwise youre only putting about 9 gallons in another psychological point which underscores the teeny gas tank size. Ive noted this feature in every Escape Ive ever driven.
One of the biases I bring to driving the Escape is the fact that I owned one for five years, so I pride myself on knowing how all its quirks, with regard to safe and efficient cornering, impact the driving experience. I drive on the marginally aggressive side of average, without whipping the vehicle into corners and leaving skid marks across the local asphalt.
That said the vehicle handles well, probably the result of being based upon a Mazda car chassis, although if you really put your foot down coming into the turn you can feel the back-end of the vehicle wanting to go its own way and at the same time the front end leans into the turn. The steering at regular speeds is Goldilocks-class neither too heavy, not too light so you really get a good feel about what is going on as you speed down the road. This distinguishes it from the Honda and Toyota where you may as well be holding a wet noodle in your hand when cornering for all the road feel you receive. That said, there is also a new electric assist steering system which seems to have messed up a little of the car-like handling I used to enjoy.
One of non-cosmetic changes for 2008 is the brake system. This model now has rear drum brakes versus prior years all-round disc brakes and it definitely impacted stopping distance for the worse.
As mentioned previously the road noise has significantly diminished from the prior years models, as the newer styling has also had an impact on wind noise. All in all a major improvement.
Going offroad - whether dirt and mud or some gravelly hills - isn't the scary adventure of some of the competitors. The 4WD provides excellent traction and clearance is enough to be able to drive over curbs and small barriers.
Quite of bit of redesign work has been put into the exterior hence the cosmetic surgery title. Can you say lipstick on a pig? The grill, headlights and hood have all been modified and tightened up to provide what is supposedly a tougher look according to the marketing department. Personally, I liked the new look, and it seems to borrow from the Edge and Expedition remakes. The wheel arches now have a distinctive flare, and the side cladding has vanished.
Wow. The interior has certainly changed from 2007 In 2005 Ford made the most noticeable change in the movement of the gear-shift from a clunky column-mount to a center console with a ergonomically designed and grippy gear lever. Yeah!! The console itself meshes into the front-end instrument panel. Now center console box is even larger (the marketing lit says you can fit a laptop in there and yes you can), and there are detachable bins/buckets which can be attached to the passenger and rear side of the console.
Also noticeable are newly designed instrument gauges. Conceptually introduced in 2004 with the white-faced gauges the design was marginally changed in 2005, probably to the overall detriment of look and feel. I personally liked the 2004 version better, but thats just personal aesthetics. The 2008 radio/stereo controls continue to drive me nuts apparently being a heat-seeking missile for complexity. Something as simple as working the stereo shouldnt be that hard. When I sat back to figure this out I concluded it was workflow the controls just werent in the physical position I was expecting them to be. One by-product of the gear-shift movement is that the column shift no longer obscures the stereo (or whether the rear-defrost is on or off). The other annoyance about the stereo is the lack of a MP3 jack in any of the standard trims although this is now apparently available with the upgraded stereo.
My rental model had cloth seats, which were comfortable enough but Id probably go for the leather if I was buying one for the family. Most third-party reviews of the leather rate it as so-so, but cloth vs leather for around $300 is a no-brainer. Im also happy to say that Ford has reverted to the seat designs from earlier years. The 2003 and 2004 driver seats were distinctly uncomfortable and the rear-seats may as well have been a flat park bench; in distinct contrast to the 2001-2002 versions. Thigh support is much improved, and a three-hour drive across Indiana left no strain on my hamstrings, which Ive noticed in some other SUVs. You can get the heated front seats as an option in the XLT.
I also noticed there were still no rear floor mats in my rental. Strange. That happened last year too.
Despite all these minor annoyances, when it comes right down to it, there is a lot of room in these Escapes. The rear seat can be folded down in a 40/60 split (and remember to remove the headrests and tuck them under the front seats before
you start) yielding 65 cuft3 of space. The rear seat is also roomy; I managed to fit three six-footers in the back without anyones knees being damaged.
ABS is now standard on all models (used to be only the XLT and Limited before 2007) and there is now a standard stability control system. A new safety feature introduced in 2006 was an (optional) Side Canopy system offering full-length head curtain airbags for side collision and rollovers which has now been added as a standard feature. The Limited also has an optional reverse sensing system very useful for parallel parking and making sure you do not run over your loved ones who are senselessly standing behind the vehicle.
NHTSA Crash Test Results
Head-on accident Driver 3 stars
Head-on accident Passenger 5 stars
Side Impact Front 5 stars
Side impact Rear 5 stars
Rollover Rating 3 stars
Offset Crash Tests Acceptable (2006-07 data)
My old Ford Escape never left me FORD (Found On Road Dead)
so I should be grateful for that although its behavior in the last few months of its life came close. The Escape has traditionally been one of the most recalled vehicles around although never for anything really incredibly stupid or dangerous. My friends in the car rental business tell me that their fleets actually age well, although at around 35,000 miles (this is for a 2006) they need a fairly comprehensive overhaul that can easily exceed $1,000 for the general public. My one week with the 2008 yielded no problems.
The standard Ford warranty is still 3 years / 36,000 miles although the powertrain has been bumped up to 5 years / 60,000 miles.
The Bottom Line
Aside from a pea-sized gas tank and a little more road noise than youd expect I cant find a reason not to recommend you at least look at this mini-SUV if youre in the market. Although youll find you can get more engine power, options and better mileage at about the cost elsewhere. The 2008 model does sport many improvements over the earlier versions, mainly cosmetic and a few mechanical, and offers you a sporty and safe ride. It is not the SUV to buy if you will be spending a lot of time off-road as the 4WD is more for show than necessity, but you can comfortably fit 5 in the vehicle, feel safe driving around town and the highway and know that it is reliable enough to get you there. The downside is that compared to the competition the Escape now feels rather spartan. It still offers an average radio/CD player; at most two power outlets, no trip computer and no Bluetooth or Navigation Packages except as major upgrades.
Amount Paid (US$):
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