Ford's American and European product lines were vastly different for decades, despite having many similarly sized vehicles and, for nearly as long, enthusiasts have pined for the more stylish and sophisticated (but also more expensive) Euro models.

Since Alan Mulally arrived at Ford, Ford's product portfolio has undergone a model-by-model global consolidation, with the result being the introduction of cars of much higher quality and sophistication than their predecessors, especially in the North American market.

With the introduction of the new 2013 Escape compact crossover, the transformation is nearly complete. Despite soldiering on for more than a decade on the same basic platform with a mid-cycle refresh in 2008, the Escape has consistently been one of Ford's top-selling models, as well as being one of the best-selling models in the compact crossover segment. Building on this legacy of success, Ford has even greater hopes for the 2013 model.

Six is Nixed
One of the biggest changes on the face of things is the discontinuation of the V-6 model. But in its place is Ford's new EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The EcoBoost 2.0-liter I-4 matches the outgoing 3.0-liter V-6 in horsepower (on premium fuel), and bests it by more than 40 lb-ft of torque, with an output of 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter serves up ample, confident power in all situations, with midrange torque delivery being especially impressive. Although a keen ear can tell a four-banger is under the hood, the NVH wizards on the development team muted the engine sufficiently that most passengers and non-mechanically inclined drivers would be hard pressed to determine the engine configuration on-the-spot.

The other new engine is the 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that's also expected to be the volume engine in the 2013 Fusion sedan. This plucky little mill cranks out 178 hp and 184 lb-ft. Although we didn't get as much seat time with the smaller engine, when running the Escape up hills and around streets in San Francisco, it never felt underpowered. Compared to the 2.0-liter, the smaller engine has a busier personality, revving a little higher relative to vehicle speed, but should meet most customers' needs and expectations for a small crossover.

The third engine is the 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder carried over from the 2012 model. This engine, offered only in the S trim level, serves up 168 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, and is available only with front-wheel drive.

Ford expects the two EcoBoost engines to comprise the bulk of sales, but weren't prepared to give an estimated proportional breakdown between the 1.6 and 2.0, other than projecting the majority of front-drive models sold would be equipped with the 1.6 and most all-wheel-drive models to would be sold with the 2.0.

Also not coming back for 2013 is the hybrid model, effectively replaced in the Ford lineup by the C-Max tall wagon. But Ford expects the 1.6 EcoBoost model to offer hybrid-rivaling fuel economy, surpassing the 2012 hybrid model's highway fuel economy figure by 1-2 miles per gallon. Official figures have not yet been released for the 1.6, but EPA figures for the base 2.5 are 22/31 mpg city/highway, representing a 1 mpg city and 3 mpg highway gain, and 22/30 mpg for the front-drive 2.0, and 21/28 mpg for the AWD 2.0 EcoBoost. These figures represent a 3 mpg improvement in city economy and a whopping 5 mpg improvement in highway economy compared to an equivalent 2012 V-6 model. These economy gains are all the more impressive considering the 2013 models are on average, about 200 pounds heavier than their 2012 equivalents.

Bigger, But Better
But the slight weight gain is well worth the substantial improvements in refinement, equipment, and sophistication. Road, wind and drivetrain noise is well-muted, not only for the compact crossover class, but even compared to some higher-class models. Engineers and product developers mentioned the BMW X3 as a "stretch" benchmark for driving dynamics and refinement.

Size-wise, the 2013 model is a few inches larger all the way around, except for height, as it's about 1.5 inches lower than the 2012 model. Overall length grows from 174.7 to 178.1 inches, wheelbase from 103.1 to 105.9, and width from 71.1 to 72.4 inches. Interior dimensions have not changed dramatically, with the exception of rear hip room, which goes from 49.1 to 52.4 inches. Cargo capacity also improves slightly over the 2012, from 31.4/67.2 cubic feet (behind second row/folded) to 34.3/68.1. When folded forward, the rear seats create a convenient flat load surface for loading and transporting oversized, boxy items.

Any lingering "cheapness" of the 2012 Escapes is banished with the 2013, including rear drum brakes. All 2013 Escapes have four-wheel discs, with 11.8-inch front vented rotors on front-wheel-drive models and 12.6-inch vented discs on all-wheel-drive models. All models have 11-inch solid rear discs. To further solidify its upscale ambitions, the 2013 model is available with optional three-way driver's side memory seat and exterior mirror settings, a motion-activated power rear tailgate, and available HID headlights.

Although it's clear Ford wanted to raise the level of sophistication and refinement for the 2013 model, it was also clear that it did not want to sacrifice capability, and Ford is proud of the fact that the Escape maintains its class-leading 3500-pound towing capacity properly-equipped, noting that it's between 1300-1500 pounds more than other turbocharged models in its class, including the Volkswagen Tiguan and Kia Sportage SX.

Pricing for the new Escape ranges from $23,395 for a base S model, all the way up to over $37,000 for a top-of-the-line Titanium AWD model. Interested? Start calling your local Ford dealer now, because the 2013 Escape should be in showrooms within the next few months.


2013 FORD ESCAPE
Base price $23,295-$32,945 (est)
Vehicle layout Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engines 2.5L/168-hp / 170-lb-ft 4-cylinder, 1.6L/178 hp / 184 lb-ft turbocharged, direct-injected 4-cylinder, 2.0L/240 hp / 270 lb-ft turbocharged, direct-injected 4-cylinder
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight 3500-3750 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 105.9 in
Length x width x height 178.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in
0-60 mph 6.0-8.0 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 21-22 / 28-31 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.75-0.80 lb/mile (est)
Energy Cons., City/Hwy 147-160/102-112 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
On sale in U.S. May 2012