If you thought the SUV phenomenon was winding down, think again. Not only do these practical carry-alls show no signs of going away, they could become the dominant body configuration of the automotive industry in the not too distant future. They may have different names and descriptions, but SUV’s these days come in a dizzying variety of shapes and sizes, with every conceivable type of drivetrain. SUVs are, as they say, trending.
“SUV sales are booming,” confirmed Greg Watkins, Ford’s product marketing manager, at the launch of the 2017 Escape, in Jasper, Alberta. “One-third of the entire automotive industry is taken up by SUV sales in Canada right now, and small SUVs are predicted to surpass small sedans in popularity in the near future.”
You can see it already; virtually every manufacturer in the industry has a compact SUV of some type, and those that don’t, will. Ford, in particular, jumped on this bandwagon years ago, and the Escape is one of the most popular SUVs on the market. Interestingly, the number one reason people buy SUVs is because of their 4WD availability.
For 2017, changes to Ford’s most popular SUV will take the form of refinements, rather than a full-blown overhaul. It will be offered in three basic trim levels, with three different engine choices, and a staggering variety of convenience and technology features.
New for 2017 are two turbocharged “EcoBoost” engines….one displacing 1.5 litres, the other 2.0 litres, with horsepower outputs of 179 hp and 245 hp, respectively. Both are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The larger of these two powerplants is taken from Ford’s Edge and both have available 4WD. Base engine is a normally-aspirated 2.5 litre four cylinder developing 168 horsepower, with a front-drive layout.
But what’s noteworthy about this edition of the Escape, is the plethora of features offered with Ford’s latest Sync system. Among other things, you can get programmable remote start, voice recognition system, an upgraded navi system, and automatic updates to the car’s system from WiFi…not to mention an app list as long as your arm. There seems to be no end of app goodies available with the Escape, and, for example, you can use the system to find available parking in a strange city or the nearest outlet for Ford parts.
Let’s not forget other modcons such as a foot-activated rear tailgate, automatic stop/start, blind spot information system, intelligent cruise control, lane-keeping alert and on and on. Depending on the model, you’ll look long and hard to find compact SUV with more available features than the Escape.
Ford has also redesigned the interior layout and added more soundproofing throughout the vehicle. The former change is more of a redesign than a re-do, and the latter makes the Escape as silent in operation as rivals with much higher price tags. During a 900-kilometre run from Calgary to Jasper and back via the Columbia ice fields, I found myself piloting an SUV that had arguably the lowest NVH I’ve ever experienced in this type of vehicle.
Which brings us to performance. Although the “twin scroll” turbo available in the Titanium version has more than enough grunt and reserve power, the other two engines are a little on the anemic side. The base 2.5 powerplant, especially, runs out of breath when you want to overtake a transport truck or particularly large RV, for eg, and you need to really give it some welly. Of the three available engines, the smaller turbocharged 1.5 litre version with front-drive offers the best overall fuel economy: 10.2 L/100 km in the city and 7.8 on the highway.
As far as pricing goes, the base FWD models starts at just over twenty-five large - $25,099 - and a full zoot Titanium with AWD begins at $35,999….before extras. As a baby boomer Luddite, I would plump for the base model, as it has all the things I need and none of the things that distract me from driving.
Millennial tech-heads and those weaned on social media may disagree.