Borrowing many traditional design cues from the larger Explorer and Expedition SUVs (and Edge CUV), it's bolder and tougher-looking than its predecessor. The Escape shares the wheelbase and exterior dimensions of the previous model, however, it benefits from the deletion of the dated plastic-looking fascias and body moldings. The headlights, grille, hood, mirrors and B-pillars have also been emphasized to enhance the traditional “go-anywhere” SUV capability and “built tough” crossover construction with an impressive max towing capacity of 3,500 pounds on V6-equipped models.
The front-wheel drive base 2008 XLS model comes with a 153 hp 2.3L Duratec inline-four that makes 152 ft-lbs of torque at 4250 rpm through a five-speed manual with overdrive. A four-speed automatic is also available, at a cost. The larger XLT range offers both FWD and 4WD applications of the four-cylinder and the available 3.0L Duratec V6, which makes 200 hp and 193 ft-lbs at 4850 rpm. All 2008 Escape trims come standard with Ford’s exclusive AdvanceTrac with roll stability control system. A six-speed automatic is now available on 2009s.
On the 2008 Escape, Ford has introduced a new speed-sensitive semi-corrective Electric Power Steering (EPS) that uses an electric motor instead of the engine accessory drive pulleys to return better fuel economy and less noise.
At the vehicle launch I attended, the first up was a V6 Limited 4WD model. It impressed me with excellent agility on a tough rural route consisting of worn, winding and hilly roads with blind corners, hairpins and sandy stretches that are indicative of cottage country. Even under these conditions, the V6 never felt underpowered or unwilling to comply with my commands. Revised spring rates, a stiffer anti-sway bar and improved aerodynamics give the vehicle a calm, relaxed driving feel.
The 3,547 lb 4WD model understeers predictably albeit with body roll typical of this vehicle type. And, although it wasn't needed during my time in the seat, the AdvanceTrac vehicle stability system recovers very well and predictably in situations where the chassis gets out of balance and starts skidding. In addition to the fabulous driving routes, Ford gave the media a chance to “feel” the traction control and ABS systems working on an autocross-type road course complete with a slalom area, decreasing radius turns and controlled skid areas.
Available in FWD or 4WD with a 2.3L DOHC inline-four gasoline engine and 70-kw 330-volt electric motor that work together, the 2008 Escape Hybrid is an enticing option. With significant software improvements to the full hybrid control system, Ford engineers have succeeded in making the changeover between gasoline-electric operation barely noticeable. Additionally, regenerative braking technology continues to help recapture lost energy and keep the electrical side topped up.
Thanks to its continuously variable transmission and 133 hp/124 ft-lbs of torque, the greener FWD Escape Hybrid accelerates more like a 200 hp V6 with a combined 155 hp yet still maintains an inspiring 34/30 mpg (city/highway) EPA rating. Driven at low speeds, in a city or perhaps in traffic, the electric motor can handle all of the work up to about 30 mph to achieve considerable fuel savings. AdvanceTrac is now available on the 2009 Escape hybrid models.
Our launch program included a fuel efficiency “challenge” for the 4WD Escape Hybrid, which pitted driver and passenger teams against one another for 'best in fuel economy' bragging rights on an urban loop. The winners managed an impressive combined 36.9 mpg while I could only muster 30.6 mpg (likely due to a slightly heavy foot and missing a couple turns).
Where the 4WD Limited is quiet on the road, the 4WD Hybrid is even more so thanks to its engine shut-off capabilities. When you're not trying to achieve the lowest possible fuel efficiency, the Escape Hybrid has quick acceleration and plenty of passing power without the high-pitched whine I've experienced in other CVT-equipped hybrids.
The spacious and durable-looking interiors of all three vehicles I drove came nicely appointed with 100 percent recycled fabrics on all seating surfaces. Ford’s supplier, Interface Fabrics Inc., estimates the use of these materials will conserve over 660,000 gallons of water, 7,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually and 1.8-million pounds of CO2 emissions. All that and the vehicle is roughly 85 percent recyclable.
Highlights of the redesigned interior include an auxiliary MP3 player input jack, power windows and door locks, movable storage containers with greater capacity and new ice blue lighting for the instrument cluster, center console and steering wheel. An easy-to-use navigation system is also available, with the Sync system being available on 2009s.
Addition of stability control
Side curtain, side-impact and standard airbags are also provided in the safety department, with the latter of which staying inflated a bit longer than most.
All in all, the 2008 Ford Escape seems to have all the details covered. It would be ideal for active young families that like to get away for the weekend. Quieter, smoother, better-equipped, more fuel efficient and safer than before, the Escape will continue to be a popular choice.