MM Test-Drive / Condensed-Review: 2020 Ford Escape SEL


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MM Test-Drive / Condensed-Review: 2020 Ford Escape SEL
By request, a Test Drive and Condensed Review of the 2020 Ford Escape.

IN A NUTSHELL: Generally about average for this class in many ways, but with quick steering response.

CLOSEST AMERICAN-MARKET COMPETITORS: Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Toyota RAV-4, Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, VW Tiguan, Subaru Forester.

At the Washington, D.C. Auto Show this year, I signed up for Ford's (usual) Mastercard dealer Test-Drive offer. They had a small test-drive loop at the show itself, but I also did a much better one at the dealership. I chose the new Escape this year for several reasons. First, it sells and leases in numbers like like free beer at Clancy's Bar. Second, I know several people (and potential buyers) possibly interested in it. Third, Ford dealerships, anticipating high sales, stock a large number of them, so a good choice is usually available to sample from. Fourth, I'm eagerly awaiting the launch of the new upcoming Bronco, but it is not available yet,


Ford, along with Chevrolet and Toyota, has one of the widest line-ups of both crossovers and body-on-frame SUVs of any manufacturers in the American market. The compact-sized Escape crossover slots in between the sub-compact entry-level EcoSport , the mid-sized Edge, the Explorer, which, by today's standards, is probably in-between mid and full-sized, and the full-sized, truck-based Expedition. The now-discontinued Ford Flex, which a shoebox-shaped 2019 model and, like the Explorer, in-between mid and full-sized, is still on Ford's web-site as I write this, and will be sold until supplies run out.

The Ford Escape was introduced in 2000, for the 2001 model year, and instantly became, and remained, a hit, also appealing to Ford loyalists who wanted something smaller and more maneuverable than the (then)-truck-based Explorer. Of all the body styles, I liked the original version the best....subsequent versions, especially the Third-Generation model (which was an Americanized version of Europe's Ford Kuga), got busier in their styling, and the interiors IMO went downhill. Mercury, until they folded, sold a version of it called the was almost an exact twin of the Escape, except for some minor trim/equipment differences.

For 2020, the all-new Fourth-Generation Escape debuts, and shares its basic platform with Lincoln's impressive entry-level Corsair, which I generally have a high opinion of. Of course, the Escape is less-expensive than the Corsair for a lacks the Corsair's sophisticated multi-link rear suspension and double-wall-engine insulation, has much less-impressive fit/finish (especially in the base model), and lacks the Corsair's solid, arguably best-in-class interior materials. But that doesn't mean that it is a poorly-designed or poorly-made is roughly comparable in fit/finish and material quality, across its line-up, to the comparable versions of Toyota's RAV-4, although the RAV-4 is likely to have better long-term reliability.

Five different trim-versions of the new Escape are offered.........the S ($24,885), SE ($27,105), SE Sport Hybrid ($28,265), SEL ($29,265), and Titanium ($33,550). Plans for a long-range Plug-in Hybrid, as I write this, are in the works, but it is not on Ford's web-site for sale yet. Non-hybrids get a 8-speed automatic transmission; Hybrids a CVT (Continuously-Variable-Transmission). Three different engines are offered...S, SE, and SEL models get a 1.5L turbo three-cylinder EcoBoost standard, with a 2.0L turbo four optional on the SEL and Titanium, and a 2.5L non-turbo Atkinson-Cycle four with two electric motors is standard on the Hybrids and (oddly), on the Titanium. All five versions come with standard FWD and have optional AWD wth a "Disconnect" feature.

For the review and test-drive, I selected an SEL version with AWD and no options......I figured the SEL trim would probably be the volume-seller, and that the majority of buyers would choose it. At first, I had to delay the test-drive a I was getting ready, one of the salespeople came out and told me it had just been sold and a deal had been agreed on, so, I figured, that was that. Then, a few minutes later, they cleared it for a test-drive......apparantly either the deal didn't go through, the buyer changed their mind, couldn't get credit, the check bounced, whatever..... I didn't concern myself with that, as it was one of my business. So, I got back in, re-adjusted everything, and got ready to take off.

It was a decent test-drive, but nothing out of the ordinary...with one or two exceptions, this is essentially a bread-and-butter vehicle that drives like one.


BASE PRICE: $30,755



DESTINATION/FREIGHT: $1195 (a little steep for a vehicle this size, but destination charges seem to be going up each year)


DRIVETRAIN: AWD, Transversely-mounted Ecoboost 1.5L Turbo in-line four, 181 HP @ 6000 RPM, Torque 190 Ft-lbs. @ 3000 RPM, 8-speed automatic transmission.

EPA MILEAGE RATING: 26 City, 31 Highway, 28 Combined

EXTERIOR COLOR: Magnetic Gray Metallic

INTERIOR: Ebony (Black) "Active-X" Upholstery.....yep, that's what Ford calls it.


Though not in the same league, shares basic platform with the very impressive Lincoln Corsair.

Quick steering response for this class of SUV.

Fairly good road manners.

Generally good underhood layout.

Dash and interior more neatly laid-out than previous Kuga-based version.

Seat-comfort improved some this year.

Convenient, foot-swipe rear-hatch opening.

Excellent body paint-color choice.

Standard keyless push-sensor system for unlocking doors.

Cap-less refueling is a plus.

High demand for new and used models probably means low depreciation.

Very widespread Ford dealer-network for sales/service/repairs.


Base and lower-level versions use unimpressive interior materials.

Cheap rear-seat interior trim.

Flimsy, ugly stalks on the steering column.

OK but rather ho-hum stereo.

Dash-screen on base models too small.

Rotary-shifter for the transmission awkward to use.


The new Fourth-Generation 2020 exterior of the Escape is substantially different from the wedgish-shaped,Ford Kuga-based Third-Generation general, it has a more conventional look. A large, six-sided grille up front is flanked by sweeping headlights on each side and two large dummy scoops below them. A continuous belt of flat-black cladding (not the best-quality cladding I've ever seen) runs around the entire lower body, around the wheel wells, and forms the lower part of the front and rear bumpers. The body sheet-metal, though on the thin side (as it is on almost everything is these days) is not s thin or tinny-feeling as on some other new vehicles I've sampled. The doors generally feel substantial, but don't shut wth a particularly strong thud. One nice thing about all new Fords and Lincolns (even the base/entry-level models) is a safety / convenience feature, built into the side B-pillars, where, if you don't have your key/fob or you have accidentally locked it inside the car, you simply push a code on a lighted set of numbers and the door will unlock for you (saves a call to On-Star to do it for you, like on GM models). The paint jobs are generally good but have a small amount of orange-peel texture to them. Although not every exterior paint color is available with every different trim-version, in general, ten different vibrant colors are offered, and, IMO, it is an excellent choice compared to the usual sea of white and funeral-home shades. IMO, more manufacturers should offer a choice like this.


As with a number of other new Ford/Lincoln products, a lever under the left side of the dash must be pulled twice to unlatch the hood...there is no secondary latch under the front side of the hood like on most vehicles. The hood itself is very feels like it is made of aluminum rather than steel, which IMO is a good thing since no hold-up gas struts are must fumble with a manual prop-rod. Under the hood, both the turbo-three and turbo-four engines (I didn't see the hybrid) fit in fairly well, with a reasonable amount of room around the edges of the block to reach components. The battery is to the right, rearward, uncovered, and the terminals are relatively easy to get to. The dipsticks, fluid-reservoirs, and filler-caps are generally easy to reach.


The Escape's interior, since its first-generation, has never been particularly plush or upscale, even in the top-line trim versions, and the newest Escape is no exception. Having said that, though, I've seen lots worse, and there is a noticeable difference, particularly up front, between base/mid-line versions and the top-of-the-line Titanium, which has nicer trim, fake wood, and a substantially larger video screen (the base-level screen is about the size of a cell-phone). The Titanium version also has a nice strip of fake-wood on the dash, which helps break up the monotony some. Most, if not all, of he plastic trim in the rear and on the rear door-panels is hard plastic. The front seat area has hard-plastic trim on the lower-levels, but softer-feel materials above knee-level and on the upper-dash. The sun-visors, likewise are hard plastic, as with the majority of vehicles in this class. The controls/buttons are a mixed-bag...some of them feel solid and are easy to use, others have a somewhat loose wobbly feel. The stalks and shift-paddles on the steering column are the usual flat-black-plastic Ford parts-bin and their thin, fragile feel. Somehow, though, even though the material quality could be better, the basic look of the interior is, IMO, better and more pleasant than in the last-generation Escape, with its jumbled overstyling inside. The gauges are generally easy to read. The interior is not the roomiest in this class (so far, what I've seen, the new 2020 VW Tiguan seems the roomiest in the class). Both the Escape's cloth and leather-trimmed front seats are generally comfortable for a person my size and frame (i.e. large)...but, again, I have to give the comfort-award in this class of front seats to the VW Tiguan. The rear seats of the last 3rd-Generation Escape were like sitting on a park bench (I mentioned that in my review)...but the rear seats on the new one, though not as comfortable as up front, are a noticeable improvement. Stereo sound quality on the standard unit, though OK for this class, was not one of the better ones I've sampled. The usual functions expected today (Apple / Android / Bluetooth,, etc....) are available in the larger video-screen of the SEL and Titanium versions......I did not sample the tiny screen in the base-version, which not many buyers would probably want anyway.


The cargo-hatch can be unlatched and opened by a button on the hatch-lid, or by simply swiping one's foot under the rear bumper that triggers a sensor-operated latch. I like this foot-swipe feature, particularly when your hands are full of bags/packages. Interestingly enough, though some other automakers have copied it, it was the Ford Escape itself, on high-end Titanium models, that first offered this feature several years ago. The only issue with it is that you have to keep the rear underside clean....salt and corrosion can mess up the sensors. Inside, the cargo compartment itself is rather roomy due to the more or less conventional SUV body design and the lack of third-row seats, and, of course, the second-row seats fold down for added cargo space. The trim materials in the cargo area are not plush, even on the Titanium version, but are decent and adequate for the class. There are two grocery-hooks and two cargo tie-down hooks. Under the cargo floor, as usual, is a temporary spare tire. I didn't see the important pull-cover listed as an accessory or standard equipment, to keep prying eyes off the cargo, but perhaps (?) I just missed it.


Like I mentioned earlier, this is basically a bread-and-butter vehicle, and generally drives like one. Lightly loaded, the 1.5L Ecoboost four provides adequate power (and not much more) for the weight and drag of the AWD system in stop and go traffic. For several people in the vehicle and/or going up steep hills, however, I'd probably choose the larger 2.0L turbo four in the Titanium or as an SEL option. The 1.5L Ecoboost is not as refined as a V6, but is not bad by small in-line four standards. The 8-speed transmission shifts smoothly, but you apparently have to move up to the Titanium level to get shift-paddles. The rotary-shifter was the only thing I really disliked about the transmission....I found it so slick-moving that it was difficult and awkward to use, and had to use some care to select the gear I actually kept wanting to overshoot the gear-indicator. These rotary-shifters, IMO (also in FCA and Jaguar products), are a solution in search of a problem.

Road manners were about average for this class, which means basic competence and not much else. The one exception was much quicker-than-expected steering response, though it was accompanied by some body roll. Road noise from the tires was not excessive, but you could definitely hear some. Wind noise was generally well-controlled, and ride comfort from the suspension and 18" wheels/55-series tires was generally decent on most surfaces, and just borderline firm on some small sharp bumps. I did not notice any proposing ride-motions that sometimes accompanies SUVs of this class. The brakes were adequate, and the pedal was located in a good enough position for my large feet that my big shoe had no problem going from gas to brake and hang-ups on the edge of the brake pedal.


Overall, my MM-score for this latest 4th-Generation version of the Escape is a little higher than the last 3rd-Generation version, which I thought was awkwardly-styled, quirky inside, and uncomfortable in the rear seat. Being on the same platform as the excellent new Lincoln Corsair, of course, helps, though even the Titanium version of the Escape lacks the Corsair's advanced multi-link suspension, double-thick sound insulation, superb interior craftsmanship/materials, and other engineering details.

Still, for the money, the upper-level versions are not a bad vehicle by any means, though I'd spring for the 2.0L Ecoboost if I regularly drove heavily-loaded or in hilly regions. I'd avoid the base is just too cheap inside, just like the base Toyota RAV-4. But, as with the RAV-4, one cannot argue with the sales-numbers of the Escape. It apparently provides, for many buyers, just what they are looking for, at a price they can afford.

And, as always......Happy Vehicle-Shopping.



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I just saw one this week, haven't seen many of the new 2020s yet, at least in California
That's strange....CA often gets new vehicles before the rest of the country. Here, in the D.C. area, the new Escape has been out for months.
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That's strange....CA often gets new vehicles before the rest of the country. Here, in the D.C. area, the new Escape has been out for months.
Perhaps I haven't noticed them. I see plenty of the imports, CRV, RAV4, Rogue, Tucson, etc. Wonder what incentives are available on them now.