- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

MODEL: 2001 Ford Escape XLT 4WD V6
PRICE AS TESTED: $23,710.
TYPE: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger, small sport utility vehicle.
MILEAGE: 18 mpg (city), 24 mpg (highway).

The small sport utility segment is booming, and Ford Motor Co. hopes its 2001 Escape will capture part of the action.
Ford insists it's not abandoning the company's heritage of producing durable, rugged SUVs but rather is reaching out to new customers looking for a versatile, affordable vehicle that fits active, urban lifestyles.
"We believe Escape will appeal to a wide variety of consumers, including those who have not owned an SUV before but now require the space and versatility an SUV provides," says Stuart Smith, Ford Escape brand manager.
"Whether they are young singles, newlyweds, small families or empty nesters, Escape is designed to be an affordable and fun option."
Unlike Ford's other SUVs, including the ever-popular Explorer, the 2001 Escape has unibody construction, like a car, rather than the truck-based, body-on-frame design that can feel loose.
Underneath, the Escape has a four-wheel, independent suspension designed for the kind of ride and handling customary in an auto.
And in a first for Ford, the four-wheel drive system offered in the Escape does not include an extra-low gear for rigorous off-roading.
With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price including destination charge of $18,185 for a front-wheel drive XLS model, the four-door Escape is obviously more affordable than Ford's bigger SUVs. The starting MSRP plus destination charge for a four-door, 2001 Explorer is $25,715, for example.
But don't think that because the Escape is smaller and lighter than the 2001 Explorer 17.7 inches shorter overall with a wheelbase 8.5 inches shorter it's less worthy than its big brother.
For one thing, air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, keyless remote entry and roof rack are standard on all Escapes.
Unlike such competitors as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Escape offers a 200-horsepower V6 engine as well as the standard 130-horsepower four-cylinder.
Properly outfitted, the Escape can tow up to 3,500 pounds, easily including jet skis or snowmobiles in the cargo.
In comparison, the CR-V has maximum towing capacity of 1,000 pounds, the RAV4 up to 1,500 pounds.
The Escape arguably looks tougher than its two main competitors. It's not quite as in-your-face as the Nissan Xterra, but the Escape's pronounced wheel wells, defined body cladding and integrated front-bumper guards give the impression this vehicle has bloodlines of a real SUV.
Actually, the Escape sits on a new platform, developed just for it and its sibling, the Mazda Tribute. Besides the platform, both SUVs share a powertrain and roll off the same assembly plant in Missouri. Ford owns part of Mazda.
The front bucket seats are roomy, even for a moderately large person, and controls are nicely arranged and easy to reach.
The white background of the gauges adds a sporty look. The gauges are even more eye-catching at night when the numbers and letters turn bright green and are accented by bright red needles.
But in contrast to most sport utilities, the Escape with automatic transmission has the gear shift lever on the steering column, which doesn't convey much sportiness. And initially, it was a bit awkward to use.
It took some time to adjust to the power available in this lightweight SUV. Just touching the accelerator pedal in the test vehicle an uplevel XLT 4WD with 3-liter, 24-valve, Duratec V6 V6 made the big, 16-inch tires squeal.
The engine provides 200 foot-pounds of torque at 4,750 rpm, far outperforming the CR-V's meager 133 foot-pounds of torque in its 146-horsepower four-cylinder and the RAV4's 148 horsepower and 142 foot-pounds of torque.
The ride was pleasant, with the Escape moving quickly through traffic. Most of the time, the V6 was barely heard. But it came on audibly when pressed.
Rack-and-pinion steering was decently responsive, and the independent front and rear suspension cushioned most road bumps. There was some road noise from the tires and wind noise at highway speeds.
The Escape comes with front-wheel drive only or with Ford's Control Trac II four-wheel drive system.
Control Trac II has two settings. The automatic setting keeps the Escape in front-wheel drive most of the time for best fuel economy. When the system detects wheel slippage, it automatically shifts power as much as 100 percent from the Escape's front wheels to the rear to improve traction.
The second setting, which delivers power to all four wheels all the time, must be activated by the driver. The lockup feature can be turned on even when the Escape is moving.
Ford boasts that the Escape bests competitors in combined interior room for passengers and cargo: 133.9 cubic feet vs. 127.6 cubic feet in the CR-V, for example. This is due, in part, because the Escape is wider and taller.
But the longer CR-V manages to offer a bit more rear legroom and 3.9 cubic feet more cargo space. In addition, the CR-V still is the only vehicle that offers a standard, carry-along roadside table that doubles as the cargo-area floor.
Rear windows on the Escape go down just a bit over halfway, and there's no center armrest in the rear seat. The middle rider back there gets neither head restraint nor shoulder belt.
But side airbags, not offered on the RAV4 and CR-V, are available as a $345 option.
Starting MSRP plus destination charge for a 2001 Honda CR-V is $19,190, while a 2001 Toyota RAV4 starts at $16,695.
Because the Escape is a new vehicle, Consumer Reports does not list reliability reports.

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