Plop on the front seats and you'll see that the overall dashboard layout has changed very little, but there are significant upgrades. The four-speed automatic transmission (a/t) stick is now floor-mounted (instead of the previous model's steering column-mounted a/t stick), the aluminum-lined center dashboard area has a new look, the audio entertainment now rivals that of aftermarket units, and the dashboard gauges sport a new layout and font readouts. Speaking of the dashboard gauges, they now tote an aesthetically refreshing blue font gauge backlight that's a welcome change from the green, amber or red font gauge backlights common in most production vehicles. The front seat backrest-mounted trays (with folding feature and cup receptacles) were retained from the previous model, along with strong air conditioning (aircon), the large center console and a separate partition for the rear hatch and the rear hatch glass.
There are downsides to the new Escape's interior. The knob for the aircon's blower speed (located to the leftmost side of the middle dashboard area) should be made bigger, while the temperature knob (located in the middle area of the dashboard) should be made smaller. People in tropical countries like to fiddle more with the fan speed than the aircon's temperature. Door storage is narrow, which can be ingratiating should you leave spare change or small candy inside the door storage bins. The rear backrests don't fully fold flat, which can be a problem if you're toting long and odd-shaped cargo.
The exterior is a reflection of the Escape's insides, retaining the basic shape of the previous model but exhibiting significant upgrades. The headlights now tote three lamps, the vertically mounted tailights take a page from its Explorer SUV sibling, the front grille is consistent with the visual identity of the entire Ford Group Philippines SUV lineup, and the presence of brushed aluminum underguards for the front and rear bumpers is reassuring for Escape owners who want to thrash their units on soft (or even hard) earth, sand dunes and pebbly roads.
Take the unit out for a spin and the 2.3-liter inline four takes awhile to get into the powerband (2000-plus rpm). In fact the power curve is narrow, to the point that even emergency lane changes or even acceleration from rest on flat tarmac can be frustrating. Not helping much either is the aforementioned four-speed a/t, which has tall gearing and a tendency to remain in any one particular gear for quite awhile before upshifting. The powerband and a/t handicaps are evident in its tested top speed (185 kph) and fuel consumption (9.54 kilometers/liter on four days of mixed driving).
The Escape redeems itself in the handling, ride comfort, off-road driveability and safety department. Body roll is a given (but manageable), and the ride is rather firm but not hard. The brakes grab hard quickly, the anti-lock system wakes up at three-fourths pedal effort, exterior lighting (even at the dim setting) rivals that of high intensity discharge units, the side mirror-mounted turn signals are a big plus (especially for onlookers and motorists opposite the Escape's front end) and the steering is a bit numb in terms of feedback but is enough to help the driver. The four-wheel-drive that came with this Escape variant comes with a shift-on-the-fly feature that allows for quick transition from two-wheel to four-wheel drive.
The test unit's tires (Goodyear Fortera 215/70 R16s) display awful grip on tarmac, breaking traction at 70-75 kph and plowing at 80-plus kph. The parking brake is located near the shotgun passenger (front passenger) side and can be intrusive, which can ruin chances of a second date should you let her ride beside you. Also, the parking brake on the test unit had little bite, with frequent need to pull the handle to a 40-45-degree setting for stop-and-go traffic on inclines.
Despite the overall look of both exterior, interior, powertrain and performance features as something retained from the previous model, the new Ford Escape presents itself as an innovation in a market that has seen little changes of late.