First Look – 2020 Ford Escape
Sleek, Sedate Design and Two Hybrid Models Help Revitalize Ford’s Small SUV
The 2020 Ford Escape is here, giving the nameplate its third total redesign since it was first introduced for 2001. Facing a roster of impressive competition, the outgoing Escape had begun to look dated, losing market share to the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and others.
The 2020 Escape should help stem that slide into mediocrity, as it features all-new styling that blazes a new trail for the nameplate. In contrast to the rugged 2001 Escape, its boxy 2008 facelift, and their angular 2013 successor, the 2020 Escape features smooth new styling that loses some personality but gains grace missing from its predecessors.
Flowing Lines—Or Boring Ones?Up front, the Escape features the most modern iteration of Ford’s hexagonal grille, which features a more upturned appearance—it looks happy, doesn’t it? The headlights no longer flank the lower grille, instead mounted high on the front bumper, bookending the Ford oval. New taillights with upside-down L-shaped LED accents appear on the rounder, faster rear end, which features a distinctive bulge on the hatch between the rear window and the sheetmetal. That’s where you’ll find the Escape’s scripted badging, as well as a Ford oval.
The graceful side view is relatively featureless, and in a world of overstyled and overwrought designs, that could be a good thing. Black plastic wheel arches and a slightly angular plastic rocker panel are the major features, along with a subtle chrome window surround. The Escape’s front-drive proportions are pretty obvious, with plenty of front overhang and a short dash-to-axle ratio, but the smooth styling does a good job of imparting an upscale appearance.
Overall, the Escape loses some of its predecessors’ unique looks in the chase for handsome, inoffensive styling.
Sized UpThe front end emphasizes the new Escape’s 85.6-inch overall width—3.8 inches wider than its predecessor. Furthermore, the new Escape is longer by 2.4 inches (180.5 inches) and lower by 0.2 inch (66.1 inches), riding on a 106.7-inch wheelbase (longer than the 2019 by 0.8 inch). Those slight exterior size increases yield even slighter interior increases: 0.1 inch more front headroom, 0.3 inch more rear headroom, 1.5 inches more rear legroom, and a bit less front and rear hip and shoulder room. Given the 2020’s wider stance, the loss of hiproom is a bit of a noodle-scratcher. The new Escape’s cargo space is up, however, to a maximum of 37.5 cubic feet behind the second row, enabled by the sliding rear seat.
As is typical for a modern car, the new Escape loses a fair bit of weight in its 2020 redesign. The base Escape S with a standard 1.5L turbocharged I-4 will slot in at 3,299 pounds, 223 pounds less than the outgoing Escape S with a 2.5L I-4. Other models lose a similar amount, and even the new-for-2020 plug-in and conventional hybrid models weigh less than last year’s porker, an all-wheel-drive Titanium with a 2.0L turbocharged I-4.
Hold Up—Did You Say Hybrid?That’s right, for 2020 the Ford Escape will gain its first hybrid variant since 2012. The new hybrid will make use of Ford’s corporate 2.5L I-4 mated to a 1.1-kWh battery and continuously variable transmission. The system boasts a combined power output of 198 hp, and those electric motors will offer instant torque. In combination with the Escape’s slinkier weight, we expect adequate or adequate-plus performance from the conventional hybrid. Notably, this powertrain will come standard on the Escape SE Sport and Escape Titanium.
Also on the roster will be a plug-in hybrid variant, which uses the same 2.5L I-4 making a combined 209 hp in this application. Ford says to expect an EPA-estimated 30 miles of electric-only range, with a full charge happening in 10 or 11 hours from a standard 110V outlet. A 240V charger will cut that time by two thirds, to 3.5 hours or so. That’s perfectly reasonable given the plug-in hybrid’s much larger battery (14.4 kWh).
Like many other plug-in hybrids, the Escape will feature four EV drive modes. Auto EV will allow the vehicle to dictate when to use electric boost, while EV Now allows drivers to demand electric-only driving. EV Later mode preserves the battery’s current state of charge for future use, while EV Charge allows drivers to generate electric-only miles for future use using the gas engine as a generator. The plug-in hybrid will be available on midlevel SE and SEL models, as well as the top-dog Titanium. Only the S and SE Sport are exempted from the powertrain option.
Standard Turbo PowerThe outgoing Escape forced bargain shoppers to settle for that aforementioned 2.5L I-4 sans hybridization, which was adequate but not inspiring in the slightest. The 2020 Escape will address that by making a 1.5L turbocharged I-4 standard on the base S, as well as the SE and SEL. That engine will produce 180 hp and 177 lb-ft, comparing well to the outgoing base engine’s 168 hp and 170 lb-ft and up slightly from the 2019 Escape’s optional 1.5L EcoBoost, which made 179 hp.
The Escape will also be available with a 2.0L EcoBoost I-4, which is available on the Titanium. This engine will produce an estimated 250 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, right in line with the outgoing 2.0L EcoBoost. Ford estimates a 10-percent-faster 0-60 mph time, and it will tow up to 3,500 pounds when fit with the right towing equipment.
Helping improve both response and efficiency for the turbo engines is a newly standard eight-speed automatic gearbox with narrower steps between gears and a taller top gear. On the efficiency front is Ford’s first-ever North American application of cylinder deactivation, which shuts down one cylinder on the 1.5L turbo four, turning it into a 1.125L turbo three on light-load situations.
Safe and SoundLike most new Fords, the Escape will come standard with Co-Pilot360, which includes automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and active lane-keeping assist. Co-Pilot can also be optioned with active parking technology, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, lane centering, and Evasive Steering Assist. The latter feature detects obstacles in the vehicle’s path and helps the driver apply the correct amount of steering force to avoid an accident without causing overcorrection.
Stylish SanctuaryThe 2020 Ford Escape features a totally redesigned interior with loads more technology than the outgoing model. Part and parcel to that design is the new center stack that boasts an 8-inch freestanding touchscreen on SE models and above, well within the driver’s reach and line of sight at the top of the dashboard. Joining that touchscreen is an available 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which should allow drivers to customize and prioritize the information that’s most relevant to them.
The Escape’s HVAC and secondary controls are reminiscent of the recently revealed 2020 Explorer SUV, and the compact crossover joins other modern Fords with a rotary shift selector on the center console. We’re a bit mystified as to the dial’s placement, which takes up what could have been very convenient storage space. If manufacturers insist on removing the physical gear lever from a vehicle, we’re really not sure why its replacement needs to take up so much real estate in the interior.
We must admit some trepidation with the Escape’s interior quality. Although the vehicle we saw was a preproduction example, the rear door panels were made from unpleasant hard plastic, and in front, everything below elbow-level is rendered in similar materials. We’re not convinced Ford will rectify the problem by the time the Escape hits dealers, and it must be said that the Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V all offer more pleasant plastics than the preproduction Escape we inspected.
Otherwise, the Escape is a relatively nice place to spend time, with a surprising amount of room in both rows of seats. As we said before, the rear seats slide fore and aft 6 inches, and even in the forwardmost position, there’s enough room for children and smaller adults—your 6-foot-tall author was able to fit himself back there, even with the front seat adjusted for a similarly sized man. The rear seatbacks are also adjustable for rake, so when there’s not much cargo on board, there’s plenty of space for passengers in the back to get really comfortable. Cargo space is unchanged whether you opt for a gas-powered Escape or a series hybrid, although Ford engineers did say there’s a slight cargo loss with the plug-in hybrid.
Family-FriendlyGiven Ford’s truck- and SUV-heavy future, there’s no reason to expect the newly redesigned Escape to fail in the marketplace. With handsome and inoffensive styling, a modernized interior, plenty of standard and available safety/driver-assist technology, and future-friendly powertrains, Ford is all but guaranteed to have a hit on its hands. While it won’t set the enthusiast’s heart ablaze, the 2020 Escape will be a great fit for those needing a good family car.