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2013 Ford Escape SE impresses at the track

Consumer Reports News: July 05, 2012 10:08 AM

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The Ford Escape is among the most important cars we'll test this year. As one of the best-selling small SUVs, its success is very important to Ford's bottom line. That stacks the stakes high for the sport/cute's 2013 top-to-bottom redesign. We just took delivery of the first of two Escapes that we'll purchase to test to see if it measure up to expectations.

Ford aims to provide a more premium driving experience with the Escape than the typical small SUV. Our first impressions are that the Escape's compliant ride and nimble handling set a high bar for this segment. This makes sense, as one of Ford's design targets was the Volkswagen Tiguan, an enjoyable-to-drive small SUV that will be a chief rival for the now globally-sold Escape. (See "Video - 2013 Ford Escape impresses at the track.")

However, the price sets a high bar for this class, as well, also following the premium Tiguan model. Many Escapes will be equipped like our Escape SE with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive. The only option on our test car was a $440 option package that adds a cargo blind and roof rack rails and crossbars. Sticker price is $28,040.

We grabbed the first Escape SE we could find with a light load of options. Initial availability has been impacted due to a hailstorm at the Louisville assembly plant that damaged 3,500 new Escapes. Oddly enough, a few days after buying our Escape, we had visitors appear at the track in a rented 2013 Escape SEL. You'd think Ford would try and fill the retail pipeline first - some dealers haven't received one yet - before they show up in rental fleets.

While the Escape brings some unique features like Ford's Sync voice command system, that price is more notable for what it doesn't buy you. There is no backup camera and no sunroof for that coin. Adding a panoramic sunroof to an Escape SE with no other options brings the sticker to at least $29,040. You can't get a backup camera unless you get an Escape SEL, the next trim line up, and then its bundled in an option package that includes blind-spot monitoring and automatic parking assist. That's unfortunate given the camera's safety benefits and modest production cost.

Compare that to the competition. You get both a sunroof and a backup camera in a $26,675 Honda CR-V EX, as well as more rear seat room. A $26,900 Subaru Forester Premium adds a power driver's seat, heated seats, and navigation but retains an old-school four-speed automatic. The $26,465 Mazda CX-5 Touring also includes electronic blind-spot warning and a power driver's seat. (Satellite radio was added to the Subaru and Mazda for price comparison parity; Honda forces a higher trim level to get satellite.)

So the Escape sells for around a $2,000-2,500 premium, a lot of money in a highly competitive field. We predict incentives will be a way of life for Escape sales, just as they were for the previous generation.

There are a few questions to answer. Does the Escape's premium feel and accomplished driving dynamics warrant spending more money? And how does the wee little 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder balance performance and fuel economy? We'll find out as we fully test our new Escape.

Tom Mutchler

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