2003 Ford Escape

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2001 Ford Escape

This 2001 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2007.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 6.75
Pros:
  • Most affordable SUV in Ford's lineup
  • Compactly sized
  • Nice choice of 4- and 6-cylinder engines
Cons:
  • Five safety-related recalls in five early months of sales
  • Wind noise
  • Some awkwardness in manipulating folding rear seats

Small, lower-priced sport-utility vehicles are coming on strong. Ford joins in with the 2001 Escape. Styled with a rugged look, the Escape is unlike other Ford SUVs because of its car-like, unibody construction and car-like, 4-wheel independent suspension. But early production kinks resulted in five safety recalls in five months.

You can never have too many sport-utility vehicles. At least this seems to be the thinking at Ford Motor Co.

Ford's lineup that includes the largest SUV—the Excursion—as well as the best-selling SUV of the 1990s—the Explorer—adds another sport utility in the 2001 model year.

The new Ford Escape is the smallest and most affordable of Ford's SUVs. It's also the first Ford that doesn't have the traditional, truck-based, body-on-frame design that can jostle and feel loosely constructed. Rather, the Escape is put together more like a car, with unibody construction.

Underneath that body, the Escape has a four-wheel independent suspension that's designed for the kind of ride and handling that's customary in an auto.

And in a first for Ford, the four-wheel-drive system offered in the Escape does not include an extra-low gear for rigorous off-roading.

Trying to reach new SUV buyers
Ford officials said they're not abandoning the company's heritage of producing durable, rugged SUVs. They said they're reaching out to a new customer who's looking for a versatile, affordable vehicle that fits active, urban lifestyles. Some of these buyers are SUV-neophytes, to boot.

"We believe Escape will appeal to a wide variety of consumers, including those who have not owned an SUV before but now require the space and versatility that an SUV provides," said Stuart Smith, Ford Escape brand manager. "They might not consider a larger SUV. . . . "

Honda and Toyota already have found plenty of these kinds of consumers who, in recent years, have been buying Honda's CR-V and Toyota's RAV4.

Attractive pricing is key
Just like the competitors, the compact Escape is priced lower than more traditional, midsize SUVs.

With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price including destination charge of just over $18,000 for a front-wheel-drive XLS model, the 4-door Escape is obviously more affordable than the other, bigger Ford sport utilities. The starting MSRP plus destination charge for a 4-door Explorer is more than $25,000, for example.

The Escape's starting price also is less than that of the competing 2001 Honda CR-V, which starts at just over $19,000.

But note that it's higher than the $16,600-plus starting price of Toyota's 2001 RAV4.

Decent level of standard equipment
Don't think that because the Escape is smaller and lighter weight than a new Explorer—some 17 inches shorter in overall length, for example—it's a cheap-feeling, tiny sport utility.

For one thing, air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, remote keyless entry and roof rack are standard on all Escapes.

Unlike competitors in this small SUV segment, such as the CR-V and RAV4, the Escape offers not just a 4-cylinder engine—it's borrowed from the Ford Focus small car—but there's a 200-horsepower V6, too.

Properly outfitted, the Escape can tow up to 3,500 pounds, which is enough for taking along snowmobiles or jet skis.

In comparison, the CR-V has maximum towing capacity of 1,000 pounds, while the RAV4 can tow up to 1,500 pounds.

New platform and new personality
Arguably, the Escape looks more the part of an aggressive-looking SUV than do the two major competitors. It's not quite as in-your-face as the Nissan Xterra is, but the Escape's pronounced wheel wells, well-defined body cladding and integrated front-bumper guards give the impression this vehicle has bloodlines of a real SUV.

Actually, the Escape sits on a new platform, developed just for it and its sibling vehicle, the Mazda Tribute. Besides sharing the platform, both SUVs share the same powertrains and roll off the same assembly plant in Missouri. Ford owns part of Mazda.

The look of the Escape notwithstanding, I didn't have to climb or scramble up into the test vehicle, an uplevel XLT 4WD with V6.

At 5-foot-4, I just turned and sat down on the seat. I did have to lift my feet up and over the raised doorsills at both front and back seats, however. I also had to be sure to lift my feet up and over the sills as I exited, or I'd tumble out onto my knees. Gulp.

Spacious feel to seating areas
The front bucket seats are roomy, even for a moderately large person. The flat floor and good headroom makes the back seat feel spacious, too.

Controls are nicely arranged and easy to reach.

The white background of the Escape's gauges adds a sporty look. The gauges are even more eye-catching at night when the numbers and letters take on a bright green color and are accented by the bright red needles in the speedometer, tachometer, etc.

But in contrast to most sport utilities, the Escape with automatic transmission has the gearshift lever up on the steering column, which doesn't convey much sportiness. And initially, it was a bit awkward to use for gear shifting.

V6 power moves this SUV along well
I quickly squealed the big, 16-inch tires on the test vehicle, just by touching the accelerator pedal. It took some time to adjust to the power available from the 3.0-liter 24-valve Duratec V6 in this lightweight SUV.

This engine provides 200 lb-ft of torque at 4750 rpm, far outperforming the meager 133 lb-ft of torque in the 146-horsepower 4-cylinder in the CR-V and the 148 horsepower and 142 lb-ft of torque in the RAV4.

Note that the Duratec V6 comes only with an automatic transmission. The Escape's base, 130-horsepower 4-cylinder is offered with automatic or manual.

The ride was pleasant, with the Escape moving quickly through traffic. Most of the time, the V6 was barely heard. But it came on audibly when pressed.

Available as 2- or 4-wheel models
Rack-and-pinion steering was decently responsive, and the independent front and rear suspension cushioned most road bumps.

There was a good amount of wind noise at highway speeds, however, and road noise from the tires.

Escapes come as front-wheel-drive vehicles only or with Ford's Control Trac II 4-wheel-drive system.

This system has two settings. The automatic setting allows the vehicle to travel most of the time in front-wheel drive for best fuel economy. Only when wheel slippage is detected does the Escape automatically shift power—as much as 100 percent—from the front wheels to the rear to improve traction. All this is done without any action of the driver.

The other setting, which the driver must activate, delivers power to the front and rear wheels all the time. This lockup feature can be turned on even when the Escape is moving.

This and that
Ford boasts that the Escape bests competitors in combined interior room for passengers and cargo: 133.9 cubic feet vs. 127.6 cubic feet in the CR-V, for example. This is due, in part, because the Escape is wider and taller.

But note the longer-length CR-V offers a bit more rear-seat legroom and 3.9 cubic feet more cargo space. In addition, the CR-V still is the only vehicle that offers a standard, carry-along roadside table that doubles as the cargo-area floor.

Rear windows on the Escape go down just a bit over halfway, and there's no center armrest in the rear seat. The middle rider back there doesn't get a head restraint and has only a lap belt.

The Escape's rear, fold-flat seats aren't the quickest and easiest to manipulate, either.

But side airbags, not offered on the RAV4 and CR-V, are available as an option.

About those recalls
Unfortunately, early production Escapes have suffered from five safety-related recalls in five early months of sales.

Ford officials say the recalls—including wipers that could stop working, steering wheels that could come loose and possible fuel line leakage and vehicle fires—show the automaker wants to correct issues quickly as they crop up. No deaths were reported from the recall issues, for example.

But the repeated recalls also have been embarrassing and are bound to raise eyebrows among consumers about the quality of this new model.

For their part, Ford officials say they're looking to slow the pace of new-model introductions to avoid rushing vehicles out to consumers too soon. They've also asked dealers to help spot quality issues on new models and report them promptly to the company.

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BB06 - 8/22/2014 10:53:51 PM