The Ford Escape rarely made a dent in the compact SUV sales charts due to ho-hum styling, fuel consumption and driving dynamics which made the competition (by comparison) look significantly better.

Ford Philippines felt that the Escape must become THE choice in the compact SUV arena, and recently launched a new version of its compact SUV amidst heavy rains at the Glorietta Three tent in Makati City.

The new Escape hopes to make a big impression in what is now a cutthroat market with a new look and improved driving dynamics. The overall exterior look of the SUV is the same, but now sports a front fascia eerily similar to the Toyota Fortuner. A grille with three horizontal bars (now engulfed in chrome) and a bigger Blue Oval (read: the Ford logo) for a distinct visual identity. A pronounced lower front grille (inverted trapezoidal in shape) has recessed mesh, with a black divider and a chin spoiler that matches the body color for a more outdoorsy look. Wraparound headlights (with a horizontal "eyebrow") complement the front fascia, with fluid integration into the grille and hood. Speaking of the hood, a dual "Power Dome" bulge atop the bonnet conveys to all that the Escape has potency within the engine bay. "The frond design makes the Ford Escape assert itself and communicate confidence within any Ford showroom, and will soon be the visual identity for all Ford vehicles in the near future," said Ford Escape chief designer Paul Gibson.

To balance the front end changes are some rear and roof design enhancements. The two-piece tail lamp has a new design, fully incorporating the tailights within the rear gate and rear bumper until the beltline and the rear are almost one. The taillights also have LED, and have reversing lights to alert oncoming motorists. The rear gate also carries the bigger Blue Oval badge as its front end counterpart, with the third brake light above the rear glass and chrome letter badging, the latter design aspect delivering understatement and simplicity. Lastly, the rear bumper has a diffuser and a skidplate-inspired lower spoiler (with mesh inserts), with integrated rear light reflectors at the lower corners.

Now the new Escape can be suited not just for dry earth and pebbly roads, but also muddy pathways as well. Or that's what the folks over at Ford's Sta. Rosa (Laguna) headquarters claim with regard to the Escape's powertrains. 2300 cc of displacement (coming from an inline four setup), a floor level four-speed a/t and petrol usage still find itself in the confines of the engine bay, but now comes in XLS (4x2) and XLT (4x4) variants. Certain aspects of chassis design were also increased, in particular with regard to ground clearance (now 201 mm front, 242 mm rear supposedly the highest in its class), approach angle (now 28.5 degrees), departure angle (now 30 degrees). Toss in Goodyear Wrangler 215/70R16 tires, wide front and rear tracks 1540 mm and 1530 mm, respectively) and a 2620 wheelbase and the Escape now screams (not just speaks) off-road.

Both 2.3L engines in both variants now put out 155 hp and 200 NM of torque, but intriguing is the fuel consumption. Ford Group Philippines claims that the 4x4 variants can go 10.1 km/l, while the 4x2 Escape can go to 10.4 km/l on pump gas. Whether or not the figures were city, mixed, or highway consumption were not disclosed during the press and public launch.

If you are piqued as to what the '09 Escape can do for you, the Escape 4x2 (actual MSRP P1.050 million) is pegged at an introductory price of P999,000 for a limited amount of time. Or just head to the nearest Ford dealer for more information. Perhaps a fresh face and a better fun to drive experience exuded by the new Escape will win you over.