- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

It's been said that a compromise is a solution to a problem that pleases no one. While that may be so for many things, some compromises do work like this one: the Ford Escape.

The Escape is a compact sport utility vehicle that first appeared in the market in 2001. The compromise here was to blend sport ute looks, all-wheel-drive traction and the sensible dimensions of a small station wagon. It works well because Escape has most of the qualities that SUV buyers want.

Escape is offered in entry-level XLS and up-level XLT models and is available in three trims. Two- and four-wheel-drive versions are also available. The 2WD is front-wheel-drive, one of very few FWD SUVs in the marketplace. Unless you live in heavy snow country, front-wheel-drive may be traction enough to suit your needs, in which case a 4x2 Escape could save you some money.

The 4x4 Escape is a full-time, all-wheel-drive system that offers two settings: 4x4 Auto or 4x4 On. The former leaves it up to the vehicle to decide to which wheels and in what proportion torque should be applied. The latter locks both axles together to maximize traction. With no low-speed transfer case or undercarriage protection, the Escape is not bred as a true rock-scrabbling off-roader. Statistics tell us that most people don't venture off road in their SUVs anyway, but many utes see occasional duty as a tow vehicle. Escape can be equipped to handle up to a 3,500 lb. maximum weight.

The suspension is fully independent and the ride quality is more carlike than truckish.

The interior seats four to five adults without apologies and still has room for 33 cubic feet of cargo in back. If needed, the rear seats can be folded flat, raising capacity to 64.8 cubic feet. With back seats flopped, that's enough room to hold a large mountain bike in the cargo bay, with hatch door closed and both wheels on the bike. Access to the back is by means of a swing-up hatch door. The window opens independently, in case you just want to toss something inside.

And, if 65 cubic feet isn't enough room, Ford offers a No Boundaries rack system as part of the XLT Sport Trim level. The roof-mounted rack is designed to take topside whatever won't fit inside.

Getting into the Escape requires neither a running start nor a trampoline. Step-in height is low for an SUV, and step bars too skinny, however, for big feet are optional.

Both Escape models received a sound system upgrade this year. XLS versions now have a standard AM/FM/Cassette/CD player, while XLTs gained a six-disc in-dash CD changer. XLTs also gained privacy glass for 2002 and both models benefit from redesigned, low-back bucket seats that are comfortable and provide good support. The driver's version of that new seat is now six-way power adjustable on the XLT, so it's easy to get it just right.

Two engines are offered. The Escape XLS has a 2.0-liter, 127 horsepower four-cylinder motor. A 3.0-liter, Duratec V6 is standard on XLT models and optional on XLS. The DOHC six generates 201 hp and 196 lb.-ft. of torque. A five-speed manual transmission comes with the base model while the XLT has a four-speed automatic with overdrive. It's hard to argue against the Duratec six. While the owner may pay a gas mileage penalty for the added power (EPA rates the 4x4 V6 automatic at 18 city/23 highway), it is responsive and well-suited to the size of the vehicle.

A V6-powered, 4x4 Escape XLT with Sport trim stickers for a whisker over $25,000, delivered. That's a long way from the base price of a 4x2 Escape ($19,235), but the basic values of the vehicle remain the same, regardless of how many options the buyer selects.

Escape is big enough to comfortably hold as many people and possessions as most folks need. Yet, it's small enough that the driver won't need a tugboat to guide him or her into that tight, parking space. And that "right size" makes Escape a good compromise.


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