When Ford unveiled the Escape eight years ago it offered an extremely functional compact sport utility vehicle, and it was an instant hit. The Escape had impressive sales for the next several years, but Ford made a giant tactical error. It didn’t offer any major improvements, and competition grew and gained ground.
Realizing significant changes were overdue, Ford authorized a redesign in 2008. There were plenty of positives, including a tougher-looking exterior, enhanced performance and improved ride capability.
While the Escape’s changes are good, more consumers are turning to less expensive and more gas-friendly SUVs. And the choices are many, including the Toyota RAV4, Saturn Vue, Honda CR-V, Volkswagen Tiguan and Suzuki Grand Vitara.
Put the Escape in top tier of SUV’s, too, thanks to the redesign. The 2009 model arrives with more improvements, most notably improved performance. The XLT version is a V6 is now a 3.0-liter with 240 horsepower, a big upgrade from last year’s sluggish model with 200 horsepower. The 2009 Escape is also quipped with 6-speed automatic transmission.
Test driven for a week, the XLT still wasn’t any dynamo, but certainly better than the base model – a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder, with 171 horsepower. For hybrid lovers, the Escape’s gas/electric version features a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder with 153 horsepower that requires no plug-in charging. All trim levels of the Escape are equipped with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
Other changes for 2009 include a tweaked suspension for better handling and ride capability, a cell phone interface, improved 6-speed automatic transmission, and the Ford Sync System. It allows phone voice control, MP3 and audio system, plus navigation system.
The new-look Escape has a bolder design the SUV a macho appeal. It won’t be confused with its bigger brother, the Explorer. Yet it has bulked up, featuring a sturdy front end and new chrome grille.
The interior is also improved with a functional, appealing cabin. It rides higher and continues to possess the car-like feel buyers desire in an SUV. The Escape also remains a five-passenger, four-door wagon with a liftgate and glass that pops open for convenience. However, folding the rear seat can be tricky because the headrests need to be removed and bottom cushions tipped forward before the seatbacks can be flipped down.
One change that wasn’t applauded was the braking system. Ford changed the rear brakes from a disc setup to drum brakes, which reduced the Escape’s braking capability.
The Escape has a new electric power steering system that provides a great feel for the road and corners with confidence. Every-day driving situations are no problem because the Escape offers solid handling, corners well and provides a smooth ride.
Cost ranges from $20,100 for the base model to a high of $33,385 for the hybrid version. Depending on the model, the Escape gets 20-28 mpg.
FAST FACTS: 2009 Ford Escape
Power — 3.0-liter, V6, 240 horsepower; Mileage estimate — 20-28 mpg; Standard features — traction control; antilock brakes; antiskid system w/rollover sensors; tire-pressure monitor; front bucket seats; center console; power windows, doors, mirrors; remote keyless entry; AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, digital-media player connection; rear defogger; Warranty — Powertrain 5 years/60,000 miles; Bumper-to-bumper 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion 5 years/unlimited miles; Free roadside assistance 5 years/60,000 miles.