- Innovative high-tech features
- Impressive crash scores
- Peppy performance
- Feels old compared to rivals
- Poor braking performance
- Non-reclining rear seat is difficult to fold
Back when it debuted in 2000, the Ford Escape was a smash hit with its just-right size, pleasant driving dynamics and available V6. It was also a trend-setter, because there weren't many other choices around for a small crossover or SUV. Fast-forward a decade and the 2011 Ford Escape doesn't have it nearly as easy. Competition abounds, and despite some cutting-edge features, the Escape has aged noticeably in a few respects.
We'll give you the good news first. The Escape strikes most folks as attractive inside and out, offering a number of unique and enticing technology features. Among the latter are Ford's superb Sync system that allows voice control over your cell phone, iPod/MP3 player and the available navigation system. Should you opt for the navigation system, Sync also provides real-time information for traffic, weather, sport scores, movie times and probably your horoscope if you ask nicely enough.
New for the 2011 model year is MyKey, which allows parents of teenage drivers to set electronic limits for vehicle speed and stereo volume. And those who dread parallel-parking might want to consider the Auto Park option, a new Ford technology that enables the Escape to identify a likely parking spot and then navigate into the slot with the steering while you just tend to the gas and brake. It works like a charm and is actually better than the system offered in the high-end Lexus LS 460 luxury sedan.
Now, the bad news. Despite all the gee-whiz features, the 2011 Ford Escape still lacks a few key items offered in most of its competitors, such as a telescoping steering wheel and a reclining/sliding backseat. And folding that backseat is a multistep hassle compared to the simple flip-down design of other crossovers. But it's the Escape's brakes that have it trailing the competition. Where nearly all of its rivals have four-wheel disc brakes, the Escape inexplicably uses drum brakes in the rear that simply don't have the power to bring it to a stop quickly.
Once it's loaded with options, a 2011 Ford Escape will likely please those who value having the latest technology. But unlike a decade ago, there are a number of top compact crossover SUVs such as the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox, 2011 Honda CR-V, 2011 Kia Sportage, 2011 Subaru Forester and 2011 Toyota RAV4 that best the Ford in terms of overall refinement and functionality.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011
The 2011 Ford Escape gets a couple of minor equipment changes that include MyKey being made standard across the board.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2011 Ford Escape is a compact crossover that seats five people. It is available in XLS, XLT and Limited trim levels. The 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid model is addressed in a separate review.
Standard equipment on the XLS includes 16-inch alloy wheels, an outside mirror with an integrated blind-spot viewing surface, keyless entry, MyKey parental controls, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning and a four-speaker stereo with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Sync electronics interface (includes iPod interface and Bluetooth) and steering-wheel audio controls are optional. The XLT adds automatic headlights, foglamps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a six-way power driver seat, steering-wheel audio controls and satellite radio. The Leather package adds leather upholstery, heated front seats and ambient lighting. The Sun & Sync package adds Sync and a sunroof. The Sport Appearance package adds 17-inch wheels and a variety of upgraded interior and exterior trim pieces. A seven-speaker stereo upgrade is also available.
To the XLT's feature list the Escape Limited adds different 16-inch wheels, chrome exterior highlights, leather upholstery, heated front seats, Sync and a six-speaker stereo. Upgrading to the Limited Luxury package adds dual-zone automatic climate control, rear parking sensors and a rearview camera. The Moon and Tune package adds a sunroof and the seven-speaker stereo upgrade. Stand-alone options on the Limited include automated parallel-parking assist, a rear-seat entertainment system and a navigation system (which includes the upgraded stereo with HD radio capability, digital music storage and Sirius Travel Link with real-time traffic, weather and other information).
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The Escape's cabin was given a welcome complete overhaul a few years ago, and it encompassed both nicer materials and a more attractive design. The center stack consists of neatly grouped buttons that are designed to work specifically with Ford's Sync system. This electronics interface connects with your cell phone and MP3 player, allowing you to control them through voice commands.
In terms of comfort and space, though, the Escape is starting to feel its age. Up front, the seating position is too tall, which gives the driver the feeling of hovering above the controls, and there's no telescoping steering wheel. The backseat is flat and devoid of recline or fore/aft adjustments. Cargo space stands at 29 cubic feet behind the second row and 66 cubic feet with the second row folded down. Folding it can seem complicated, as the headrests must be removed and the bottom cushions tumble forward before the seatbacks can be flipped down, a design that ensures a flat load floor.
Antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length curtain-type airbags are all standard on the 2011 Ford Escape. In government tests, the Escape earned a perfect five stars in both front and side crash tests. The Escape did equally well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, scoring the highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side tests. The IIHS's roof strength test resulted in a score of "Marginal."
Unfortunately, the Escape is hampered by poor braking performance. From 60 mph, the last Escape we tested stopped in a lackluster 138 feet. Brake fade was also encountered, with stopping distances increasing with each run thereafter.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
All trim levels of the Ford Escape can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive. A 171-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is standard, with a 240-hp 3.0-liter V6 optional on all but the XLS. The 2.5 can be fitted with either a five-speed manual transmission (XLS only) or a six-speed automatic. The V6 comes only with the automatic transmission. Properly equipped, the Escape V6 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The Escape's fuel economy with the four-cylinder, six-speed auto and front-wheel drive is 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. All-wheel drive drops that to 19/25/21 mpg. The front-wheel-drive six-cylinder Escape returns an estimated 18/26/21 mpg, while all-wheel drive gets 17/24/20 mpg.
In testing, we found a V6-equipped model delivered adequate power, but nothing more, including 0-60-mph acceleration in a middling 8.1 seconds. The Escape didn't prove impressive in our handling tests either, as it received a "Poor" rating from our test-driver as it lumbered through the slalom at only 59 mph and pulled a rather low 0.69g on the skid pad.
While pleasant to drive, the 2011 Ford Escape lacks the mechanical polish and sophistication of newer models from Chevrolet, Honda, Kia, Subaru and Toyota. Among compact crossovers, the Escape feels the most trucklike. Nevertheless, the electric power steering makes parking and low-speed maneuvers easy, and the suspension is smoother over rough pavement than older Escapes. Acceleration from both engines is adequate, though the V6 isn't as energetic as the more powerful mills in the Equinox and RAV4.
A slew of innovative high-tech features make the 2011 Ford Escape a tempting choice in the compact crossover category. But most competitors are more appealing due to superior refinement and functionality.