- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

Ford added a little bit to its SUV line. And a perfect little bit it is. The 2001 Escape gives Ford a small-to-large selection that should delight one-stop sport utility vehicle shoppers.
Ford built its SUV reputation on compact and full-size classes with top-selling Explorer and Expedition. Then the automaker heavy-stamped the megasaur division with the Excursion Ford's final answer to the question, "How big can an SUV get?" But Ford seemed to neglect the hottest new vehicle market small, car-based, hybrid SUVs. Until now, that is.
Developed in partnership with Mazda, the 2001 Ford Escape competes against other hybrids like the Lexus RX 300, the Honda CR-V and the Subaru Forester. Also, Escape's low pricing brings it head to head with entry-level off-roaders like Nissan Xterra and Suzuki Grand Vitara. (Mazda's half of the partnership arrives this year as the near-identical twin, Tribute).
Escape's exterior definitely boasts a Ford family resemblance. However, in addition to the stalwart look of Ford's other E-machines, Escape's beefy lower fascia, bulldog nose and squat stance give it the muscular appeal of an active participant.
At 173 inches in length, Escape is about 15 inches shorter than Explorer but almost as wide. In fact, Escape's track is wider than its big brother's, giving it a bolder stance, as well as better on-road stability.
Escape offers roomy seating for five. The driver's seat is well-bolstered for long-range travel. Controls are conveniently placed. The stylish white background gauges are easily read.
With the rear bench folded snugly, Escape provides 62 cubic feet of cargo room more than Honda and less than Lexus. The rear area is easily reached through the lift gate or the separate flip-up glass.
Under the hood, Escape arrives standard with a 2-liter Zetec I-4 engine and a five-speed manual transmission. Although Escape is fairly light for this size SUV, typical drivers will find a 130-horse engine underpowered. Ford acknowledges the base engine is a nod to buyers in Europe, where fuel economy is of greater concern. And, in truth, the I-4 rates an excellent 24 miles per gallon in the city and 28 highway mpg.
However, most buyers should opt for the 3-liter Duratec V-6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The 200 horses give Escape a lively response through highway passing lanes and up mountain trails. The 200 foot-pounds of torque boosts towing capacity to a practical 3,500 pounds.
Like other hybrids, Escape incorporates many passenger car elements, including unibody construction, four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering for a softer on-road ride.
Escape arrives standard as front-wheel drive only. Four-wheel drive is an option. But if you're buying an SUV rather than a sedan, it shouldn't be. This is another option you're going to need. Ford's new Control Trac II four-wheel-drive system, operated by a simple dashboard switch, is essentially all-wheel drive with both automatic and fully-on modes.
"4x4 Auto" operates normally as front-wheel drive. When wheel slip is detected, torque is transferred to the rear wheels for more traction. In "4x4 On," Escape locks a center coupling, so power is continually split 50-50 between rear and front tires.
Over off-highway trails, Escape rode the ruts with little of the jitterbugging usually associated with smaller SUVs. Its firm suspension kept the drive smooth and controlled. And the automatic four-wheel-drive system operated with seamless efficiency.
Without a true low-gear 4x4 system, Escape can't be expected to conquer extreme off-road challenges. But for roaming the woods, arriving at the ski resort, or towing a boat to the lake, Escape serves nicely.
The 2001 Ford Escape is offered in two models. The base XLS, includes standard items such as air conditioning, roof rack, rear wiper and in-dash CD player. The upgrade XLT model additionally offers anti-lock brakes, fog lamps and a reclining rear seat among other things.
Prices for the 2001 Ford Escape range from $18,160 for the XLS base model to $21,335 for the XLT four-wheel-drive model.
With the addition of the 2001 Ford Escape to its E-machine roster, Ford dealerships can boast the best variety of sport utility vehicles.

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