2005 Ford Escape XLT V6

Powerful and proven

Those above a certain age will fondly remember a 1963 movie called "The Great Escape." Perhaps its most memorable scene was Steve McQueen jumping an old German motorcycle over a high fence to escape a World War II prison camp.

Funk & Wagnalls defines "escape" as "to get free from confinement, restraint or capture." It makes a dandy name for a vehicle designed for the youthful and active first-time SUV buyer. Ford's Escape leads the increasingly competitive small SUV segment against the likes of Toyota's RAV4, Honda's CR-V and Chevy's new Equinox. It may not be quite as exciting as McQueen's great escapes," but it gets even more competitive for 2005 with a minor facelift, improved powertrains and a host of evolutionary improvements.

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Escape's '05 not-so-extreme makeover adds new headlamps, fog lamps, front and rear fascias, 15- and 16-inch aluminum wheels and a new honeycomb grille. The only small SUV designed to pass the rigorous phalanx of "Tough Truck" tests applied to all trucks and SUVs, the 2005 Ford Escape offers buyers a choice of 12 configurations in XLS, XLT and Limited trims.

The upgraded interior has a standard flow-through console, floor-mounted shifter, bolder-looking gauges, more storage spaces and improved seat cushions and fabrics. It also benefits from significant NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) improvements, including new sound-absorbing panels, and tighter sealing to reduce cabin noise. As before, the liftgate incorporates a convenient flip-up rear window for easy cargo area access.

A new 2.3-liter Duratec 23 4-cylinder, nicely refined by a balance shaft and good for 153 hp and 152 lb.-ft. of torque, is standard issue. It's smoother at idle thanks to new engine mounts and gives quicker part-throttle response due to a new powertrain computer. The standard 5-speed manual transaxle benefits from lighter shifting efforts and shorter throws, and a 4-speed automatic is available with the four-cylinder engine for the first time.

The also-upgraded 200-hp 3.0-liter Duratec 30 V-6-optional on Escape XLT, standard on XLT Sport and Limited-is among the most powerful engines in the compact SUV class.

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Escape is available with standard front- or available four-wheel drive. Its new computer-controlled automatic Intelligent 4WD System enhances traction with smoother, fuel-efficient operation, even in slippery conditions. It drives the front wheels until additional traction is needed, then seamlessly and barely noticeably engages the rears. The 4WD system is optional on all Escape configurations. The 4-cylinder's balance shaft, the V-6's absorptive engine mounts, larger front shocks and a new front stabilizer system, and 4-wheel independent suspension all help to absorb road impacts without detracting from Escape's nimble feel.

Body structure improvements enhance Escape's frontal offset crash performance, and standard passenger-seat Occupant Classification Sensor combined with Ford's Personal Safety System may make Escape first in its class to meet the newly amended Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208 for occupant protection. Head restraints and three-point safety belts are standard at all seating positions, while an optional safety package adds front side airbags and a Safety Canopy rollover protection system. 4-Wheel Anti-lock brake System (ABS) are standard across all series for 2005, and power 4-wheel discs are now standard on V-6 4WD models.

Escape XLS pairs the 2.3-liter four cylinder engine with the 5-speed manual (or optional automatic) transaxle, along with 15-inch steel wheels, grey front and rear fascias and body cladding, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, roof side rails, AM/FM stereo with single CD, cloth front bucket seats, 60/40 split rear seat, air conditioning, center console with two cup holders, dual vanity mirrors, cargo floor hooks, Personal Safety System with front air bags, LATCH child seat attachments and SecuriLock passive anti-theft system. A new XLS Blast package adds 16-inch aluminum wheels and a MACH 6-disc in-dash Audio System along with an available unique paint color-Blazing Copper Metallic.

The XLT gets the 2.3-liter 4 cylinder engine or the optional 3.0-liter V-6, 4-speed automatic, 16-inch aluminum wheels, fog lamps, roof rack with two horizontal bars, privacy glass, steering wheel mounted speed control, six-disc in-dash CD changer, premium cloth seats, power-adjustable driver's seat, floor mats and a perimeter alarm. XLT Sport comes standard with the 3.0L six and adds 16-inch bright machined aluminum wheels, painted dark grey fascia, cladding, wheel-lip moldings and black step bars.

Top-of-the-line Limited models wear a monochromatic look with body-color door and liftgate handles, fascia and cladding, leather seating surfaces, overhead console with dual storage bins, automatic headlamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror, message center and dual illuminated vanity mirrors. New major options include a cargo convenience group that combines a rear cargo area retractable shade and a rear cargo area storage bin.

Our test Escape XLT, with the V6 and 4WD, started at $24,500 and finished at just over $27,000 with options including a $1,055 No Boundaries package (special wheels, tires, Class II trailer towing and a slick roof rack system). It was surprisingly lithe and fun to drive given its SUV capabilities, and the V-6 is quick and lively, if a trifle rough at full throttle.

The interior sported import-like stalk controls for lights and wipers, quality look and feel rotary climate control HVAC dials, an easily-to-operate premium sound system and convenient speed controls on the steering wheel. The 60/40 split second-row seats fold down quickly and easily to maximize the cargo floor without having to consult the manual.

The 2005 Ford Escape offers a strong full-size formula in a small-scale SUV that's big on content, performance, value and safety. (www.fordvehicles.com)

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