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2017 Ford Escape SE Sport Review

With the arrival of the 2017 Ford Escape, the “New Face of Ford” has hit what’s likely its biggest target. After all, the Escape is not only one of the best-selling Ford models, but also one of the most popular crossovers in both Canada and the U.S.

It’s not all-new, mind you, but it certainly looks the part, what with its trapezoidal grille and narrow headlamps replacing the awkward-looking (and frankly, fairly cheap) front fascia.

Sport package adds flair
The 2017 model year also marks the introduction of the never-before-seen Sport package, which does a whole heck of a lot for the Escape’s styling. Just look at those blacked-out 19” wheels and candy apple paint! Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend the extra $450. Is that something you’d ever expect to see from Ford’s chariot for the masses? I know it blew me away when I first saw it.

The package does cost an additional $1,500, however, the value of which depends on whether you really need a sportier-looking Ford Escape (and the redesigned, leather-wrapped steering wheel it also adds), because it does nothing for the actual performance of the vehicle.

If I’m honest, though, I think the $1,950 all-in premium to get the special look is not a bad compromise. After all, with manufacturers like Jeep, Subaru, and Hyundai all adding a little flair to their entries in this very competitive segment, it stands to reason that there are many prospective Escape customers who are feeling the same way.

There are a couple of issues, however. First, I have no idea why Ford feels like it has to keep those weird plastic “vents” that aren’t really vents at all on each fender. They look so very bought-at-Canadian-Tire cheap, and I see no reason for them as they are non-functional. What’s more, the gap between the rear fender and tire seems rather large, even with the 19” wheels. You can see the shocks while standing, which is not usually the case in the segment.

Otherwise, though, the 2017 Ford Escape is a bit of a looker.

What about inside?
The interior changes aren’t quite so obvious, but they are effective. There’s less clutter thanks to a relocated shifter, while new storage bins allow you to transport more stuff. The cabin is no more spacious than it was previously, but it feels airier. Of course, I can thank the optional twin-panel moonroof on my tester for that. It adds $1,750 to the price, but it’s large enough to cover most of the ceiling and brighten up the passenger quarters. Better still, it hardly affects headroom, which is important for taller drivers like myself.

While the rear seats are split 60/40, they require you to pull a lever to collapse the seatback as well as press a button to fold the headrest. It’s a shame it takes two steps, but the process does provide a completely flat surface and a total of 1,925 litres to load your cargo. That places the 2017 Ford Escape just behind the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but ahead of the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, and Kia Sportage in the cargo capacity department.

I found the steering wheel to be a little too canted away from the driver, but the seats are comfortable. Long drives aren’t a problem, although taller drivers may take a little issue with the short-ish bottom cushion.

Techies will love it
While the new Escape may be one of the last Ford vehicles to get the styling update, it’s one of the first to benefit from the Blue Oval’s new SYNC 3 infotainment system.

It does away with the previous generation’s chunky, slow, and muddy-looking quadrant interface, and replaces it with one that is much sharper-looking and more intuitive. Now, all your main commands are strung across the bottom of the 8” touchscreen and are sized so as to be easily pressed while on the run. There’s even a pinch-and-drag Google Maps-style GPS interface.

Add the fact that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both supported, and you can see how Ford has gone from having one of the worst systems on the market, to having one of the best. You must start with the mid-level SE model to have the option to add SYNC 3, however. It’s not even an option on base S models.

Aside from the nice leather finish, the steering wheel redesign also adds easier to read and press buttons; gone are the oddly shaped and sometimes invisible volume and menu controls from the old wheel, replaced here by user-friendly, directional pads on each spoke. It may not look as futuristic, but it makes a ton more sense.

Turbo power, but…
While the base 2017 Ford Escape gets a carryover 2.5L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, my tester sported the new 1.5L turbocharged EcoBoost engine, good for 179 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. Those may not be sky-high power figures, but the story here is more about how smoothly the power is delivered.

On everything but the steepest climbs, the Escape had no trouble responding to throttle inputs. Peak torque is available at 2,500 rpm, meaning you don’t always have to move down through the 6-speed autobox to pass that RV ahead or to join highway traffic off the ramp. It will wheeze a little on steeper climbs, though, which is a bit of a nuisance. Of course, if you want more power, you can choose the 2.0L EcoBoost ($1,000) with 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque.

You’d think a model called “Sport” would have this engine, but alas that’s not the case. Then again, how often have we seen the word “sport” being used to describe a pretty basic trim, but with a few flashy stickers and maybe a unique colour or two? At least with the Ford Escape Sport, you get some proper additions worthy of the name.

While I can forgive an occasionally wheezy engine, I have a harder time forgiving what is a fairly lethargic transmission. Even when using the wheel-mounted paddles, shifting gears is a two-step affair: hit the paddle, wait a second, and then prepare for the accompanying jolt as the gear is selected. I guess that’s almost a three-step affair, really. At least they give you paddles; other Fords use a pretty non-ergonomic button mounted on the side of the shift lever.

Good ride and handling
The Escape’s ride was a saving grace. Even with those big wheels, I didn’t find it too crashy or loud. Like the engine, “smooth” is the word of the day with this chassis, and prospective buyers are bound to be impressed.

Yes, the soft suspension leads to a little more body lean as you start to push the machine a bit harder, but remember: this is no sports car. The lean just serves to remind you that you should probably back off a little.

Also impressive is the steering. It’s not huge on feel (how many steering racks are these days?), but it is direct, the 2017 Ford Escape changing direction enthusiastically to even slight wheel inputs. While I appreciate a direct steering rack in sports cars as it helps make for a more rewarding drive, it’s important for crossovers, too, in that long road trips are often met with the need to quickly swerve around debris on the road or the occasional wayward elk. Better still, while the Escape’s reflexes are good, it’s not nervous. It doesn’t ask you to correct every three seconds; a slightly heavier steering rack has a lot to do with this.

Are you ready to escape?
This latest Ford Escape has to be respected as it proves quite good at doing what it’s supposed to. A nice view out means it’s great around town (shorter drivers will especially like the tall seating position), while smart cargo, good storage, and a well-sorted chassis mean it’s an able road trip companion, too, which is always important in this class. Plus, the new Escape looks cool, which should register with younger customers.

Yes, that automatic transmission gets in the way a little bit, but it’s a problem that only appears in the most extreme conditions; if you plan on putting your Escape through the ringer, then perhaps the Titanium and its bigger motor are the right choice for you.

Either way, the Blue Oval has once again put some of its best work into one of its highest sellers.

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2017 Ford Escape SE 4WD
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2017 Ford Escape SE 4WD
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2017 Ford Escape SE Sport