2013 Ford Escape

A just right balance of size, function and fuel efficiency

The 2013 Ford Escape reminds us of Baby Bear's Bed. Remember the children's tale of Goldilocks, the little girl who strolled into the three bears' home, sampled their soup, sat in their chairs and fell asleep in Baby Bear's bed? Like his soup and his chair, it was just right for her.

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Not Too Big, Not Too Small

Now she's all grown up and looking for a car. She tries a big SUV because it looks cool and carries a lot of stuff. But it's too big, expensive, fuel thirsty and hard to maneuver and park. She tries a small car, but it's not so cool. And it's too puny to pack all her stuff.

So she tries a compact crossover. It looks like a scaled-down SUV, hauls good stuff, drives like a car, has a car-like price and gets car-like fuel economy. Like Baby Bear's bed when she was little, it's just right for her now. So she buys it and lives happily ever after.

And that is why the compact crossover utility vehicle (CUV) market segment has been growing steadily in volume and importance in these days of expensive gas and increasing congestion. More and more folks, whether downsizing from something larger or upsizing from something a bit too small, have been finding them just right in size, price and efficiency.

Now comes this feature-filled, fuel efficient, fun-to-drive all-new 2013 Ford Escape with a choice of three engines and (Ford says) 11 segment-exclusive available features.

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Three Engine Choices

EPA fuel economy from the 2013 Ford Escape, depending on which model, engine and drivetrain you compare, is up to five mpg better than that of the 2012 Escape's. The base front-wheel-drive (fwd) S model is powered by a 168-hp 2.5-liter four that delivers 22 city and 31 highway mpg, while the smaller but more powerful (178 hp) 1.6-liter EcoBoost four is good for 23/33 with fwd. The highest-performance choice is a 240-horse 2.0-liter EcoBoost four rated at 22/30 mpg.

The 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine is standard in 2013 Ford Escape SE and SEL models, while the top-level Titanium comes with the 2.0-liter. There is no V-6, since Ford's EcoBoost combination of turbocharging, direct fuel injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) make more cylinders and larger displacement unnecessary, even for light towing (up to 3500 lb.) All three engines drive through smooth six-speed SelectShift automatics that can be manually shifted through a shifter-mounted switch, and an optional new "intelligent" 4wd system offers better off-road traction than before.

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All-New Design

The 2013 Ford Escape (called Kuga in Europe and China) looks like a taller Focus because it essentially is. Built on Ford's global compact platform, it's about the same length as a Focus sedan but 10 inches wider and nearly nine inches taller on a 1.6-in.-longer wheelbase. It leads with the wide-mouthed, mustachioed Focus face with large blackout sections flanking the central opening and wrap-over headlamps atop the fenders. Broad shoulders connect the tops of the head- and taillamps along the base of the six-window greenhouse, while sculpted character creases flow front to rear at door-handle and fender-flare levels.

The newest Ford Escape is also 10 percent aero-sleeker than the boxy old Escape to boost highway fuel economy. Active grille shutters on models with the 2.5-liter base and 1.6-liter EcoBoost engines close to further improve aerodynamics at cruising speeds.

Inside its quiet cockpit are soft-touch materials and nice finishing touches for a warm, inviting environment. And, despite its curvier shape, the 2013 Ford Escape boasts more cargo room than the 2012, with 34.3 cu. ft. behind the second row and 68.1 with the rear seats folded down. A low 27-in. lift-over eases cargo access, the rear seats fold easily, and an available two-position load floor offers a choice between maximum cargo volume or a flat floor.

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Newest among those available features is an industry-first hands-free power liftgate that (provided you have the key fob) unlocks and swings open with a gentle kicking motion under the center of the back bumper then closes and latches with another-very handy when you're carrying lots of stuff. Another terrific one is Ford's Active Park Assist, which can detect a suitable parallel parking space and automatically steer into it.

A Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) lights an alert in an outside mirror when a vehicle is detected in your blind spot, and Cross-Traffic Alert warns if a vehicle is approaching from either side when you're backing out of a parking space. Like Ford's newest Explorer, the 2013 Ford Escape can be ordered with available Curve Control, which slows you down if you're entering a curve too fast, while Torque Vectoring Control helps you safely accelerate through and out of turns.

Ford's SYNC with MyFordTouch (which some have complained is too complex and slow in its first generation) is upgraded on the 2013 Escape with a simpler look and faster response times. You still may need a bit of a learning curve to fully utilize its capabilities, but it can make phone, navigation, entertainment and climate controls easier to manage through voice commands, touch screens and menus accessed through controls on the steering wheel.

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Driving Impressions

In a recent review of the 2013 Mazda CX-5 CUV, we marveled that Mazda put media on a challenging road-racing course in them and suggested that few (if any) other makers would do that, since few compact CUVs are dynamically talented. Now, add another to that short list of those that are. We have not tested a 2013 Escape on a racetrack, but judging by a fair amount of fun driving on twisty two-lanes, it should do well on one.

And even the 178-horse 1.6-liter EcoBoost Ford Escape has a performance advantage over the 155-hp "SyActive" Mazda (though it falls a bit short in fuel economy). We did not get to try a base engine or the hotter 240-horse 2.0-liter EcoBoost, but we found the 1.6-liter EcoBoost with plenty of go power for most buyers. The only downside of its fairly strong 184 lb.-ft. of torque is that "torque steer" can tug at the wheel of a front-drive Escape if you slam the gas in a low-speed curve in a lower gear.

There are lots of excellent entries in this growing class, including Toyota's RAV4, Honda's CR-V, Chevy's Equinox and the aforementioned new Mazda CX-5. But few (if any) offer the surprisingly satisfying balance of comfort, quiet, ride, handling, performance, features and fuel economy of this 2013 Ford Escape. If you, like the grown-up Goldilocks, are ready for a just-right blend of size, function and efficiency, this might be it. www.ford.com

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