2020 Ford Escape: Next-gen Escape gets car-like dynamics, SUV functionality

2020 Ford Escape SEL 9.JPG
2020 Ford Escape SEL (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

Even though more people are entering the SUV market, they don’t necessarily want to leave the driving dynamics they had with their sedans. Thus, there’s an emerging class of smaller SUVs that have the added flexibility and higher ride height people crave yet maintain the nimble driving dynamics sedan owners are used to.

Enter the 2020 Ford Escape.

The engineers and designers of this all-new vehicle wanted to provide more cargo room and interior volume but maintain a level of agility similar to what you might find in a sedan.

This makes sense considering that Ford has ix nayed its entire sedan lineup.

There is no huge step-in height to Escape – very sedan-like – and that makes egress and ingress easy for petite drivers and passengers. But the cargo area, which boasts 37.5 cubic feet of cargo volume, has the ability to fit four to six golf bags – very SUV-like.

Thus, Ford is banking that its current sedan owners will make an easy transition to the Escape rather than leaving the brand for one of the Asian automakers, which have sedans in abundance.

The exterior styling is sleek and has a Euro influence. In fact, I can’t help but see a bit of Porsche Macan when I look at the Escape from the front three quarters. The long hood and headlight casings integrated into the hood lines push my mind to Porsche as does the slope of the hind quarters.

The interior is attractively and intuitively styled, with all the gauges and controls clearly marked and within easy reach. The styling and materials are an upgrade over the previous generation, but some of the touch points are a bit plasticky when you consider we were driving vehicles that cost more than $35K during the preview.

The perforated leather seats, however, were supple, comfortable and supportive.

My partner and I ended up in SEL and Titanium trims, which have the 8-inch touchscreen display on the center stack, and even though the screen pops up over the dash, it didn’t stick out like it was added on after the fact.

The base audio screen, which we did not have the opportunity to see, is a 4.2-inch LCD.

When it hits the market this fall, the 2020 Escape will have three powertrain options – including the re-introduction of a hybrid. The powertrain lineup will be as follows:

  • 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder Ecoboost engine that delivers 181 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. This engine will be the base engine in S, SE and SEL trims. Front-wheel drive will be standard with all-wheel drive being an option.
  • 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine + electric motor that delivers a combined output of 200 horsepower. This engine will be the base engine in the SE Sport and Titanium trims. Front-wheel drive will be standard with all-wheel drive being an option.
  • 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder Ecoboost engine that delivers 250 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This engine will be the up-level engine available in the SEL and Titanium trims. Vehicles with this engine will only be available in all-wheel drive.

For the first time, the Escape lineup will also have an available plug-in hybrid. Ford hasn’t released too many details about this version, since it won’t make its debut until spring. But it will have the same 2.5-liter engine as the hybrid, it’ll deliver 209 horsepower with the combined output, and it will have about 30 miles of all-electric range.

The PHEV will be available in the SE, SEL and Titanium trims.

During the preview we tested the hybrid and 2.0-liter engine powertrains.

I spent the bulk of my time driving the up-level gasoline engine and found it to be amply powered. It managed fast accelerations and passing maneuvers easily, and I didn’t think it lacked any oomph for more aggressive driving.

Though I had much less time in the hybrid, my initial takeaway is that it is a bit quicker off the start.

One big change to note is though there is a price increase over the previous generation, all trims now come standard with Ford’s Co-Pilot360 safety suite, which includes automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist and automatic high beams.

The 2020 Escape will have five trims:

  • S ($24,885): This trim will only be available with the 1.5-liter engine. It will be equipped with the Sync infotainment system, a 4.2-inch LCD audio display, Co-Pilot360, a subscription-based 4G LTE hotspot that connects up to 10 devices, LED taillights and a cargo cover.
  • SE ($27,095): This trim is also only available with the 1.5-liter engine. It will add an 8-inch touch screen infotainment display, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, evasive steer assist, passive entry, heated front seats and automatic climate control.
  • SE Sport ($28,255): This trim is the dedicated hybrid, it and adds the 2.5-liter engine with the electric motor. It adds a 12.3-inch digital cluster behind the steering wheel, black mirror caps and black grille accents.
  • SEL ($29,255): The SEL has the 1.5-liter engine as well, but the 2.0-liter engine is also available starting at this trim. Other features added at this trim include memory positions for the front seats, a reverse sensing system, sport contour bucket seats, a heated steering wheel, remote start, fog lamps and black roof rails.
  • Titanium ($33,400): This top-tier trim has the hybrid system as its base powertrain, with the 2.0-liter engine being available. This trim also adds Active Park Assist 2.0, lane centering, a B&O sound system, acoustic laminate glass, navigation, ambient lighting and dual-zone automatic climate control.

Above pricing is without the $1,195 destination fee.

The Bottom Line

The 2020 Ford Escape manages the skillful balance between utility and agility.

It certainly has car-like ride and handling, feeling much more like a sedan than an SUV. But the second-row legroom is generous, and the cargo area can hold up to six golf bags – with the rear seats up!

If you look at the Toyota RAV4 ($25,650) and Chevrolet Equinox ($23,800) as primary competitors, it stacks up pretty well. Though it doesn’t have an off-road ready “Adventure” trim like the RAV4, it does have a hybrid version, which the Equinox does not have.

What we’re really looking forward to, however, is that PHEV version.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Ford Motor Co. covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.