There’s a common theme in our reviews of Ford products that aren’t the Ranger.
We called the Focus Active “underrated”, said the Puma plays in a space where Ford “hasn’t ever really cashed in”, and described the front-wheel drive Escape as trying “to make the Blue Oval a more prominent player” in the booming mid-sized SUV world.
There’s a lot of potential in the Ford line-up, but it’s not managed to find a real sales winner beyond its all-conquering dual-cab ute, the closely-related Everest off-roader, and of course the iconic Mustang pony car.
Given it goes head-to-head with the rampantly popular Toyota RAV4, the Ford Escape lives in a huge segment. It has plenty of power, a long feature list, and a choice between all-wheel and front-wheel drive.
The Escape name isn’t a new one, either. Although it was briefly replaced by the Kuga moniker, the Escape name has been around since 2000, when it debuted on Ford’s twin to the Mazda Tribute.
Is the Escape an overlooked gem in the mid-sized SUV world?
The 2022 Ford Escape Vignale AWD on test goes head-to-head with range-topping versions of most rivals, given its sticker price starts with a five.
It lines up with the Mazda CX-5 Akera 2.5T AWD ($53,180) and Toyota RAV4 Edge AWD Hybrid ($52,700).
2022 Ford Escape pricing:
- Ford Escape FWD: $36,490
- Ford Escape ST-Line FWD: $38,490
- Ford Escape ST-Line AWD: $41,490
- Ford Escape Vignale FWD: $47,090
- Ford Escape Vignale AWD: $50,090
- Ford Escape ST-Line PHEV FWD: $53,440
All prices exclude on-road costs
Escape Vignale highlights:
- 10-way power front seats
- Panoramic sunroof
- Semi-autonomous parking assist
- Aluminium sill plates
- 19-inch alloy wheels
- Chrome exterior trim
- Head-up display
- Matrix LED headlights
- Powered tailgate
That’s atop the following standard kit across the Escape range:
- 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster
- 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (wired)
- Satellite navigation
- Wireless phone charging
- DAB+ digital radio
- Six-speaker sound system
- Ambient lighting
- Privacy glass
- Rain-sensing wipers
- LED headlights, tail lights, fog lights
- Heated, power-folding exterior mirrors with puddle lamps
- Keyless entry and start
- Remote start
The Ford Escape wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on testing conducted by Euro NCAP in 2019.
The Escape scored 92 per cent for adult occupant protection, 89 per cent for child occupant protection, 82 per cent for vulnerable road users and 77 per cent for safety assists.
Dual frontal, side chest-protecting and side head-protecting (curtain) airbags are standard on all Escape models.
All models are equipped with:
- AEB (City, Interurban and Vulnerable Road User)
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Lane centring
- Emergency lane keeping
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic assist
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Traffic Jam Assist
- Driver attention monitoring
- Intelligent speed assist
- Traffic sign recognition
- Rear seat occupant alert
- Reversing camera
- Front and rear parking sensors
It’s a practical space, and it’s loaded with features, but the cabin of the Vignale is lacking a certain… wow factor. That’s disappointing, given it’s a $50,000 car before on-road costs.
The driver and passenger sit in leather-trimmed, electrically-adjustable seats that offer decent support on long trips, despite initially feeling a bit flat. There’s enough adjustment for drivers of all shapes to get comfortable, and the high driving position offers a commanding view of the road ahead.
All the things you poke and prod fall easily to hand, from the rotary transmission shifter to the high-set touchscreen, but they don’t look or feel particularly expensive. The shifter and buttons on the transmission tunnel feel plasticky, while the screen looks tacked on and small compared to what’s on offer elsewhere in the class.
The mix of wood trim, brushed black plastic, textured door trims, and stitched leather lacks consistency, and the blue backlighting that features feels a bit rental Taurus. This isn’t meant be an S-Class rival, but the Mazda CX-5 shows it’s possible to deliver an authentic luxury feel in a mainstream product.
At least the technology is good. SYNC remains one of the smarter infotainment systems on the market, with a full feature list and clever native voice control, while the digital dashboard is simple but effective.
There’s plenty of storage scattered around the cabin, from the open tray on the transmission tunnel to the wireless charging pad at the base of the dashboard. There’s also decent-sized door bins, with space for large bottles.
Rear seat space is good in the Escape, despite its compact-looking exterior. The conventional profile and tall window line put it up there with the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V among the best mid-sized SUVs for carrying kids around.
Legroom is good for taller passengers behind adults, and the panoramic sunroof doesn’t eat too significantly into headroom. The high-set front seats free up space for chunky boots, too.
The rear bench itself slides to allow owners a choice between boot space and legroom. Kids will appreciate the air vents, seat heaters, and USB charge points, along with the fold-down central armrest with cupholders.
Ford has fitted two top-tether and three ISOFIX child seat anchors in the cabin.
Boot space is a claimed 556 litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1478L with them folded (almost) flat. With a flat, broad floor and wide-opening tailgate, it’ll happily take a stroller or set of golf clubs without any stress.
Beneath the floor is a space-saver spare wheel.
The Ford Escape comes standard across the range with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine producing 183kW of power and 387Nm of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Although it’s available with front-wheel drive, our tester was all-wheel drive.
Claimed fuel economy is 8.6 litres per 100km, we saw 7.9L/100km on more than 1000km with a skew to highway driving. Around town the trip computer sat around the 10L/100km mark.
The Escape drinks 95 RON premium unleaded (minimum), and has a 57L fuel tank.
The Escape has an ace up its sleeve in the form of its punchy turbocharged engine. With 183kW of power, it’s among the most powerful mid-sized SUVs in its class, and it shows on the road.
Put your foot down and the Escape delivers an almost hot-hatch-like amount of shove, really pushing you back in the seat. Even with all-wheel drive there’s a hint of torque steer through the steering wheel off the mark, although the car is smart enough to shunt torque to the rear axle quickly.
It doesn’t sound all the inspiring, with a slightly buzzy, whooshing sound when you accelerate hard, but there’s no questioning the engine’s effectiveness.
This SUV is almost hot hatch fast, although the slightly sluggish eight-speed automatic transmission means it doesn’t always feel as snappy as it could. The transmission is smooth at a cruise, and doesn’t throw up any nasty surprises at low speeds.
Mated with steering that’s typically Ford – reasonably weighty and quick, with strong self-centring – it makes even the most luxury-focused Escape one of the sportier mid-sized SUVs.
Like the Focus with which it shares a platform, it feels light on its feet when you’re in a hurry, although the Blue Oval has clearly dialled back the sportiness a bit in keeping with the Escape’s more grown-up billing.
Unfortunately, the big wheels fitted to the Vignale mean it doesn’t ride as well as it really should. Even the standard 19-inch wheels are big, but our tester featured optional 20s that make it too busy over small imperfections. It never quite settles down, especially at low speeds.
We know plenty of buyers are willing to sacrifice ride comfort in the name of style, but we’d be steering clear of the 20-inch wheels fitted to this particular Vignale in favour of the 19s.
It’s more relaxed at highway speeds, where its powerful engine and decent noise suppression combine to create a capable cruiser. The engine sits below 2000rpm at 110km/h, so it’s close to silent, and there isn’t as much tyre roar as you sometimes see in European-engineered cars on Australia’s poorly-surfaced rural roads.
Off-road, the Escape acquits itself reasonably well. It had enough ground clearance (190mm, to be precise) to get through a fairly basic mogul test, although its road-biased tyres and on-demand all-wheel drive system limited its ability to climb our slippery logs.
The all-wheel drive system initially was very active shuffling torque between the axles, but quickly overheated and left the Escape spinning its front wheels.
The Escape is covered by Ford’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which includes the Ford Service Benefits program for roadside assistance, yearly satellite navigation map updates, and capped-price servicing.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, whichever comes first.
Each visit for the first four years or 60,000km is capped at $299, totalling $1196 for the life of the program.
It’s a shame more people don’t buy the Escape, but the Blue Oval needs to bear some of the blame.
Although it’s not a bad car, even the range-topping Vignale AWD struggles to stand out among so many strong rivals.
The range-topper doesn’t feel like the smartest buy in the range. It has plenty of kit and some nice materials around its interior, but they can’t hide the similarities it shares with the $36k base model… or basic versions of the defunct mainstream Focus hatchback.
The good news? The fundamentals are there. The engine is excellent, with enough punch to make what’s a big car feel quick, and it handles well for a mid-sized SUV. You’re not short on space, either.
A big mid-life refresh with some more interesting interior trim bits and the big screen from the new Focus could see this car thrust back into the limelight, but in its current form it’s likely to remain an understudy.
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MORE: Everything Ford Escape