Third time's the charm?

This enduring small SUV refuses to go quietly into the night and gets another makeover. Dinzo Tabamo misses the old form
Jan 29, 2009

But once the car cover was removed, it began to make sense: The Escape has been updated once more. This would make it its third update since it came out in 2002, and the changes Ford made are the most drastic so far. The front fascia is sleeker now, and the headlamps are of the swept-back design that seems to be in vogue lately (as seen in the Nissan Murano and the Toyota Altis, for instance).

Along with the front-bumper update, the alloy wheels and the taillights have been revised, too, the latter now being reminiscent of the Mitsubishi Fuzion's tail lamps. A new grille, hood, and wheel-arch moldings are just several of the new design features to be found on the compact SUV.

The 4x4 XLT version gets additional features like new fog lamps, parking sonar sensors, and a different badge. However, no variant gets the sunroof found on the previous V6 model, and that's a shame. I remember driving under moonlit nights in the old Escape V6, power ballads blasting from the stereo, the ambient evening light bathing the car inside. Those drives brought home the point of why this vehicle was called Escape.

Personally, I don't like the redesign. The look of the old Escape wasn't its problem, and neither was the interior, for that matter. The old design had a simple, rugged, urban look that suited the little SUV well. The interior was - and still is - straightforward and fuss-free. Very American. But the new skin is a matter of taste, and I believe that there are people who will appreciate this more stylish, more presentable compact SUV.

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The problem of the first Escape was its engine and suspension. Its first iteration offered a choice between an anemic 2.0-liter engine and a brawny but alcoholic 3.0-liter V6 powerplant. So it was a choice between fuel economy and lethargy, and high fuel consumption and power. Thankfully, this was remedied when the 2.3-liter Duratec in-line four-cylinder engine was introduced in 2005. The additional 27hp and 28Nm of torque gave the Escape more thrust akin to that of the V6, yet the fuel economy of the four-cylinder was retained.

The engine accelerates assertively up until 120kph, demonstrating the smoothness of the transmission. But after that, the unplanted handling will remind you that you're not behind the wheel of a Focus. There is also a noticeable amount of understeer and body roll. This may not seem alien to an SUV, but we all know SUVs like this weren't built to crawl rocks or ford streams. And it's hard to ignore the fact that the Koreans are making surprising advances in their SUVs - I don't think it's only because initial expectations were so low.

The Escape's appeal is still that characteristic Ford toughness. It absorbs bumps easily and with minimal shudder. And when you're seated behind the wheel, its presence on the road affirms the fact you're in command.

Once inside, the Escape's charm begins to work once more. The MP3-capable stereo still rocks the house, and the roomy interior gives you real SUV space without the hassle of the girth of a full-size truck. This proved itself during parking: The Escape's turning radius is the same as a compact car's, allowing you to maneuver it easily into those cramped mall parking slots.

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One interior feature that deserves special mention is the leather elbow rest located on top of the center glove box. You can thank the 2007 revision for the relocation of the transmission shifter from the steering wheel to the more traditional center console. After a day or two of driving the Escape, you find yourself getting accustomed to your elbow resting on the soft material as you shift the tranny. Rear passengers get their own cupholders, as well as a tray that folds down from the backside of the front seats. A relaxing drive is clearly the Escape's forte.

The doors were a bit of a disappointment. They didn't have the heavy ‘thunk' sound I was expecting, and they didn't close easily when nudged. But the car's other features make it easy to forget these misgivings. The air-conditioner is very efficient at its job; it can easily disperse the trapped heat inside the vehicle even if the car has been parked under the sun for a long time. Black and beige materials dot the interior landscape, looking classy enough to please the eye, yet unobtrusive enough to never distract you.

At the end of the day, the appeal of the Escape is its ability to transport you in comfort in the urban environment of the city. Power is readily available for quick traffic movements, and the all-disc brakes work well for the times when you need sudden stops to avoid a swerving jeepney-or some other idiotic entity you have to share the road with.

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The Escape has held up well considering its age and the relative youth of its peers. This is a testament to the effectivity of its basic design. The chassis may be pushing six years old, but roominess and ride comfort are qualities that are welcome in any car at any time. And the Escape has this in spades.

It's a good thing Ford decided to go with this bold redesign rather than resort to gimmicks like slapping on accessories or body kit. Avoiding these manufacturing shortcuts is laudable because it doesn't insult the buyer's intelligence. Three revisions may sound like a lot for one model, but it looks like the company put effort in updating the look for this fashionable third iteration.

If you like the new look, you'll be getting a superior urban vehicle with the comfort, ride height and ruggedness to survive on the kind of roads we have. Astute buyers will notice it's not a young car anymore because of the driving experience and the basic ergonomics showing their age, but this is only because the upstarts from other carmakers are catching up fast. Ford deserves a pat on the back for not letting the Escape retire without a fight. But if this is just a revision, we're eager to see what the next-gen Escape will be like, and the host of improvements it will bring.

Come on, Ford, don't keep us waiting too long.

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