Ford's completely revamped 2017 Escape, which hits showrooms in May, has a lot going for it. It's Ford's second best-selling vehicle after the vaunted F-150, SUV sales on a macro level are rising, and it's offering the new guy at a starting price ($23,600) that's lower (!) than the outgoing model.
It's also shockingly well equipped on the technology front.
I had a chance to drive the new mini 'ute through some of Southern California's twistiest of twisties, and came away very impressed. It's a significant overhaul inside and out, and fans of the brand will recognize that the three spoke grille now mimics that found on the Edge, Explorer, and Expedition.
The list of tech enhancements or outright additions in the new Escape (Kuga for the European crowd) is stout. Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning, heated steering wheel, lane keeping aid, lane-departure warning, driver alert system, and SYNC Connect are onboard, joining the likes of enhanced active park-assist, hands-free liftgate, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, and MyKey.
The lighter aluminum hood, more stately tail lamps, a shockingly quiet interior cabin, and roomier interior are all welcome niceties, but it's the vehicle's technical enhancements that impressed us most. Ford has chosen its least expensive SUV to test a marriage of three technologies: SYNC 3, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
It's the first vehicle in the company's entire range to offer all of that, with onsite representatives impressing that the company just wants the driver to use whatever works best for them. That's a lot more impressive of a thing than you might expect -- automakers have traditionally been very territorial when it comes to the onboard infotainment system, and have been reluctant to admit that perhaps Google and Apple know better than their own engineers.
In my testing, the marriage worked spectacularly. If you're interested in adding it yourself, the technology package is available as part of the $1,395 201A Equipment group on the SE trim and included as standard with Titanium. The 8-inch capacitive touch panel is truly best-in-class, and finally comes close to being as responsive as the smartphones we've all been using for the better part of a decade.
It's also worth praising the Escape's Auto Stop-Start feature. It's easily the most subtle system I've had the pleasure of testing, with Ford engineers telling me that it's designed to take cylinder travel into account and shut things down during idle when it'll cause the least disruption.
Other systems tend to cause a semi-violent shake when cutting in and out, but the 2017 Escape's rendition of the tech is barely noticeable. Indeed, it shut off twice at stops during my testing without me even noticing.
Ford researchers found that the average American commuter idles some 16 minutes per day, and we collectively blow through 3.8 million gallons (!) of fuel per day. In other words, you can expect Auto Stop-Start to creep into a lot more vehicles soon, and it's something we should all be happy about. (In related news, you should totally telecommute to cut down on that idling time.)
Infotainment in use
Utilizing CarPlay and Android Auto is spectacularly simple. Just plug your device in, accept a few onscreen prompts, and you're off. Cleverly, Ford engineered an agreement that allows it to keep SYNC 3 -- a fantastic system in its own right -- onboard. There's a Home screen that allows you to tap into SYNC functions, CarPlay, or Android Auto, making it easy to flip in and out of ecosystems.
I plugged both an iPhone and a Nexus device in simultaneously, and the system had no issues jumping out of CarPlay and into Android Auto. Steering wheel controls make it easy to toggle SYNC or Siri, and while it may sound a bit befuddling to have so many choices, the target buyer group for the Escape won't have any issues. (Hey, millennials love options!)
The touch screen did feel recessed a bit too deeply by about an inch, but otherwise it's tough to knock. Even without a smartphone powering things, the SYNC 3 navigation and communication system is a quantum leap over what was available with the last-generation of SYNC (and just about every other factory nav system on the market right now).
To boot, new owners will be introduced to FordPass -- a soon-to-launch app that'll enable remote start, scheduled start, monitoring of vehicle health, and a few extra tricks like spotting and paying for parking.
A great value
Above all, the revised Escape is a heck of a lot of fun to drive. I tested both the standard 1.5L EcoBoost and the optional ($1,295) twin-scroll 2.0L engine, and while the latter was obviously more peppy, both were exemplary. Turbo lag was practically nonexistent, and neither felt as if they were struggling to propel the car up slopes.
The interior is decidedly upmarket given the price, but it should be noted that I only sat in SE and Titanium trims. Ford also addressed a couple of interior sore spots that tend to stand out in entry-level cars. It increased the size of the center console arm rest, and it slotted in two cup holders that fit actual cups used by actual adults.
For fans of technology, it's a top contender in the segment. It may seem curious that customers spending tens of thousands more on Explorer and Expedition can't get the same technologies available here, but that's just the way these things go -- the bigger siblings have yet to see their 2017 models introduced.
Tech rollouts and hardware integrations rarely click into place for an entire vehicle range, but I was assured that future year models of Ford's other SUVs will live up to the bar Escape has raised. Better still, those who pull a SYNC 3-equipped vehicle into their driveway at any point this year will see an update that adds CarPlay and Android Auto by the end of 2016.
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