- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

These days, getting more from less has become a way of life for most people. That’s as true in the dealer showroom as it is in the supermarket.

We want to spend less on fuel, but we’d rather not give anything up in the process. This presents a stout challenge for automakers. Like most manufacturers, Ford has been working on keeping up with the changing tides of customer preferences.

They’re retooling their lineup, shifting the emphasis on cars, fewer trucks. Ford is also working on ways to wring out maximum mileage from their existing products. One example of this is the Escape.

Escape has been a popular choice in the compact SUV segment for years. It’s big enough to be versatile — carrying people and cargo. But it’s not so big that it becomes a problem to park — or feed.

The Escape is offered in a front-wheel drive, gas/electric hybrid model that gets an EPA estimated 34 miles per gallon in city, 31 on the highway. The all-wheel drive version of the hybrid is rated at 29/27. Escape is also available in conventional four- and six-cylinder models, and leading the list of upgrades for 2009 is a powertrain that promises more power and (slightly) better fuel economy.

The 2009 Escape (and its cousin, the Mercury Mariner) features a new, 2.5-liter, 171-horsepower, four-cylinder motor, linked to an also-new, six-speed automatic transmission. The inline four-cylinder checks in with an EPA estimated 19 mpg city/25 highway in all-wheel drive models, like the test vehicle.

In a week’s worth of mixed driving conditions, I netted 21 mpg. The mileage gain is modest: (1 mpg more than the former powertrain). But, the new motor also offers 11 percent more power than the outgoing engine, shaving 1.7 seconds off the trip from 0-60 mph. Whether by stop watch or seat-of-the-pants, the power boost is noticeable.

The new, 2.5-liter has more zip and feels less taxed when pressed compared to the 2.3-liter it replaces. The addition of the six-speed transmission spreads the engine’s power over a wider range, which accounts for the less stressed feel and the slight up-tick in mileage.

All-wheel drive is popular in Snow Belt states like mine in upstate New York for the added assurance it provides when tackling sloppy, winter roads. Escape’s AWD system is fully automatic, requiring no input from the driver to engage or disengage.

Effectively a front-wheel drive vehicle under normal conditions, the system uses sensors in each wheel to detect slip, and channel power to the rear wheels as needed, to maintain your grip.

In keeping with the driving habits of most Escape buyers, this is not a hard core, rock crawling, 4x4 system, though light off-roading is well within its capabilities.

Light towing, too: the four-cylinder Escape can be equipped to pull up to 1,500 pounds. Six-cylinder versions can pull up to 3,500 pounds, when equipped with the towing package.

Standard electronic stability control helps the driver maintain composure when driving conditions deteriorate. Both the steering system and the suspension have been revised for 2009. The retuned chassis — along with a change to Michelin Latitude Tour tires - combine to provide tighter handling, but sacrifice nothing in terms of ride comfort.

Escape’s interior fits five adults comfortably, along with a generous amount of their belongings. Step-in height is low, visibility is high and all controls and switchgear are within easy reach. The floor-mounted parking brake pedal is a threat to bang your shin if you’re long of leg.

There are plenty of storage spots stashed about the cabin, and cargo capacity ranges from 29.2 to 66.3 cubic feet, depending on the position of the split, folding rear seat. However, to make the load floor truly flat, you must first remove the rear seat head rests.

An auxiliary input jack is standard equipment. The dash-mounted jack allows you to connect your MP3 player to the sound system. The option sheet includes a combination navigation system and sound system upgrade.

The former is voice-activated and the latter includes AM/FM, a six-disc CD changer, seven speakers and a subwoofer. One other notable option is SYNC - a communication/entertainment platform that allows you to control Bluetooth-enabled cellphones and most MP3 players via voice commands (hint: speak loud and clear).

Escape’s new, standard engine/transmission combo offer more power and smoothness with slightly better mileage. In the race to economize without compromise, the 2009 Escape is keeping pace.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide