Exterior changes are subtle, and include a front spoiler for slicker aerodynamics and new low rolling resistance Michelin tires for improved fuel economy and a quieter ride. The Escape now features standard stability and cruise control across all models, plus a handy, cap-free fuel filler system to eliminate fiddling at the pump.
Under the hood are three upgraded powertrain options: a 2.5-liter inline-4 mated to either a 5-speed manual or a new 6-speed auto, a 3.0-liter V6 available only with the automatic gearbox, and a hybrid 2.5-liter inline-4 that comes only with a CVT. Four-cylinder models see an 11-percent bump in output (to 171 hp), matching the 0-60 mph acceleration of last year's V6. The new 6-speed automatic is expected to yield a 1-mpg boost in city and highway fuel economy, though final EPA numbers are not yet available. The V6 has gained an impressive 40 hp for a total of 240, and the hybrid model's improvements include refinements to the engine processor and brake sensor for smoother transitions between gas and electric modes. Estimated fuel economy numbers for the front-drive version of the Hybrid are 34 city and 30 highway.
On the road, all three Escape variants accelerate with more authority than before, but they feel more refined, too. The biggest tactile gains for the driver are in the hybrid model, which offers a more natural brake feel and noticeably less perceptible switching between gas and electric power. Ford's new Limited Hybrid includes 16-in. polished aluminum wheels, chrome exterior accents and a luxury and convenience package. Sync comes standard on Escape Limited and Escape Hybrid Limited models, and is optional on all other models. An available voice-activated navigation system incorporates a six-disc in-dash changer, seven speakers, and a subwoofer. The system uses Sirius Travel Link, which includes such goodies as weather maps, movie listings and a fuel-finder system that locates and sorts nearby gas stations by price, location and brand. Expect to pay a bigger monthly premium for this level of on-the-road connectivity.
When equipped with the 6-speed automatic, the four-cylinder produces reasonably strong acceleration—certainly enough to satisfy most daily driving conditions. The V6 is a significant improvement over last year's version, though a tall First gear sacrifices a bit of off-the-line grunt in favor of fuel economy. The addition of a rear stabilizer bar aids handling, though the steering sometimes feels a bit too boosted. Nonetheless, the handling gains are welcome in this segment, which doesn't typically offer much in terms of spirited driving dynamics. Ride quality is impressive in all models, and the suspension's compliance soaks up big potholes and surface irregularities surprisingly well.
The Bottom Line
Ford says that the 2008 Escape has seen a 9-percent jump in the J.D. Power "Things Gone Wrong" score over Toyota's RAV4, and is 7-percent better than Honda's CR-V. That's good news for Ford. It's looking like the Escape will continue to be a bright spot in the Dearborn automaker's lineup during these tough times.