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A 2013 Ford Escape SE review: America's bestselling SUV for a reason

Although the early days of the 2013 Ford Escape were plagued with precautionary recalls, spending a week behind the wheel made it clear why the Escape was, is and will continue to be one of the bestselling vehicles in the United States – with great power, tons of room and incredible fuel economy. It’s quite a bit of fun to drive, as well.

Since being introduced for the 2001 model year, the compact Ford Escape has been one of America’s bestselling vehicles in many cases – this small crossover has proven to be the most popular sport utility vehicle in the US market. While the Escape has always been affordable, reliable and efficient, the construction of the new Escape makes it incredibly roomy on the inside and sportier looking than ever on the outside while the infusion of EcoBoost technology makes the 2013 Escape even more efficient and the most fun to drive Escape to date. Even with the untimely recalls issued around the time that this new generation of the Escape was launched, the thing has been selling like hot cakes and it only takes a few minutes of driving to understand exactly why as the 2013 Escape takes everything that has been right about the Escape over the past decade and improves on those building blocks in almost every way.

My 2013 Ford Escape SE test vehicle was a front wheel drive model fitted with the 1.6L EcoBoost so it was only a short step up from be a “base model” but that didn’t make the new compact SUV any less impressive. In fact, considering the amount of content in the 2013 Escape SE and a price starting under $30k, the new Escape shows just how much you can get out of this compact SUV without being forced to break the bank.

The Exterior
While the 2013 Ford Escape SE is based on the same chassis architecture as the popular Ford Focus, you wouldn’t guess that simply by looking at this sporty crossover. While it has a lower stance than many SUVs on the market today, it does so in a way that doesn’t make it look like an awkward SUV built out of a sedan or hatchback. The wheels are pushed to the corners, providing very little front or rear overhang and helping the new Escape to have a very aggressive stance as compact crossovers go.

2013 Escape front end

Across the front, the 2013 Ford Escape SE features traditional halogen style headlights (as opposed to the projection HIDs found on higher trimline models) with fog lights mounted low on the front fascia. The headlights flow back into the fenders to give the new Escape a much more aero-friendly, sporty look than the previous generation Escape that had a very upright countenance while the large lower grille openings filled with black grating continues the sporty theme of this compact ute. The sloping hood quickly meets a windshield that has an incredibly steep angle, flowing smoothly into the curving roofline that bolsters the sporty look of the new Escape but more importantly – this new Escape is incredibly aerodynamic. A splash of chrome on the upper grille combines with the faux vents on the front fenders around the trim around the windows to add a touch of class without going overboard while the contrasting black cladding around the wheels and along the bottom of the entire vehicle gives the Escape a sporty, more rugged look.

Along the sides, the 2013 Ford Escape SE features standard 17 inch aluminum wheels that fill out the wells nicely while the blackened b- and c-pillars combined with the factory tinted rear glass give the side profile of the new Escape a very sporty look. Even though the roofline does slope down a bit in the back to continue the positive aerodynamic properties, the back end sits a little higher than the front to give this compact SUV a stance that makes it look more aggressive than the outgoing model. Little bits of sculpting around the front and rear wheels help to fine tune the aero properties while also working with the sharp side body lines running from front to rear – all of which continue the sporty theme of this compact crossover. Out back, a huge set of taillights mounted high on the body provide plenty of light while furthering the sporty feel of the new escape – accentuated by the two tone contrasting cladding along the bottom of the rear bumper that also houses the duel polished exhaust tips.

2013 Ford Escape rear

While SUV stands for Sport Utility Vehicle, many smaller SUVs have gone through design shifts over the past decade that have taken the “sport” out of SUV. The 2013 Ford Escape proudly inserts “sport” back into the lineup with an exterior design that is both aesthetically pleasing and aerodynamically ideal. Add to those sharp lines and sexy curves the Gingle Ale paint scheme (which I love) and you have a great looking compact SUV that proudly stands out among the often-drab compact crossover segment.

The Interior
Compact crossovers and SUVs have traditionally been smaller inside and out but with the 2013 Ford Escape, there is an impressive amount of space for both passengers and cargo. The driver and front passenger seats offer tons of elbow, knee, leg and head room but where the new Escape really shines in terms of interior space is the back seat. With both front seats adjusted to comfortably seat a pair of 6 foot tall adults, there is still ample leg room in the back seat for two more adults of similar size where other small SUVs would have the rear passenger’s knees mashed into the backside of the front seats. Rear riders are also privy to an ample amount of head and elbow room when only two people are seated in the back and should you squeeze a third person (presumably a child) into the center rear seat, there is still enough leg room to keep everyone comfortable. Also, if you don’t have any rear passengers and you need to haul something larger than the already big rear cargo space, the back seats fold down quickly and easily to create a massive cargo area.

2013 Front seats

All of the current Ford Motor Company vehicles have receive a heavy infusion of high tech goodies in the past few years and the 2013 Escape SE is no different – although this one-step-above-base model requires you to check a few option boxes to really feel the force of Ford’s gadgetry mastery. In particular, my Escape SE test vehicle was fitted with the optional MyFord Touch infotainment system and the Panoramic roof – features which add $1,395 and $1,570 to the bottom line. These are expensive options but especially in the case of the gorgeous panoramic roof that extends well over the rear seats, they are options that I would add were I to buy a new Escape today. As for the MyFord Touch infotainment system, it has taken some heat from certain technologically inept media outlets but as I have said in the past – this is a great system once you spend a few minutes learning how it operates. Between the easy to use touch screen, the many controls mounted on the steering wheel and the available knobs and buttons mounted just below the large touch screen – MyFord Touch is one of the most detailed infotainment systems on the market today. This system allows the driver a variety of different ways to control the sound system, the climate control and the navigation program without taking his or her hands off of the steering wheel and if the buttons on the steering wheel aren’t easy enough – Ford also integrates an easy to use voice activation system that is one of the best in the business. Most importantly, for those drivers who opt for the MyFord Touch system but prefer not to rely on the touch screen (or the controls on the steering wheel…or the voice controls) there are also traditional knobs and buttons that handle the function of the stereo, the navigation and the climate control.

2013 Escape dash

The 2013 Ford Escape SE offers a great many amenities but leather seating surfaces are not on that list – nor are heated or cooled seats. You will need to step up to the Escape SEL for those options but for someone who wants the high tech infotainment package without the added cost of leather, the SE package is a great choice. Even without leather, the front and rear seats look great with their two tone design while providing a comfortable seating position whether you are driving across town or across the country. Oh, and because the Panoramic roof is so impressive, I feel the need to mention it once more before we move onto the drive portion of our Escape review. The big sliding glass roof is great for sunny days and moonlit nights while a cloth tonneau of sorts blocks out the sun when it gets too hot in the vehicle.

In the past, driving a low priced compact crossover meant that you were jammed in a bare bones econobox but the 2013 Ford Escape SE shatters those misconceptions with optional high tech goodies and interior space that you would be more likely to expect from a much larger vehicle. The 2013 Escape has gotten better in every way compared to the previous generation – improving on an already great vehicle and allowing the new Escape to stand out even further from the competition. Most importantly, it achieves this without emptying your checkbook.

The Drive
One of the key advantages of the entire 2013 Ford Escape lineup is the inclusion of EcoBoost technology and my test vehicle was fitted with the 1.6L EcoBoost that offers an EPA estimated 23 miles per gallon around town, 33 on the highway and a combined figure of 26mpg. Over the course of around 500 miles with a mix of roughly 60% highway and 40% city, I was able to average 27.16 miles per gallon and by no means was I driving the Escape gently to get better fuel economy. I suspect that someone who really wants to get great fuel economy can vastly exceed the EPA figures but the important fact here is that the Escape SE with the 1.6L EcoBoost engine is very capable of meeting those government approved fuel economy figures without any effort on the driver’s part.

Fuel economy aside, the 2013 Ford Escape SE with the 1.6L EcoBoost engine and a standard front wheel drive setup is surprisingly fun to drive. The Escape has always been fairly efficient and very reliable – which is why it has been one of America’s bestselling vehicles for years. However, the previous generation Escape was not really a vehicle that many people would consider “fun to drive”. Luckily, the 2013 Escape is based on the versatile Ford Focus platform and that translates to a nice light chassis that feels much lighter on its feet than your average compact crossover. The low center of gravity and wide stance helps the new Escape to handle very nicely in quick turning situations, whether you are swerving around a hazard on the highway or cutting through a series of turns on a country road. While there is some measure of body roll, it is vastly less than what you get with many SUVs of this size or even the previous generation Escape and in the long run – this is truly a compact SUV that handles much more like a compact sedan. Where many SUVs (even small ones) feel like they might topple over if you throw them into a turn too hard, the 2013 Escape handles even sharp turns with a great deal of confidence so where the competition vehicles will get you reaching for the brake pedal when you hit a series of short, sharp turns – the Escape almost asks to be driven through the turns harder. Now, I understand that a great many Escape drivers aren’t all that interested in how well their new SUV would handle a road course or that style of driving, it is a testament to how well engineered both the suspension and chassis are to allow the new Escape to perform so well in conditions that would put many SUVs on their lid.

2013 Escape side

In addition to offering very impressive handling characteristics, the chassis and suspension setup of the 2013 Ford Escape SE does so without compromising ride quality. When many new models shift their focus to handling, they do so in a way that may cause the ride to be harsher in situations where handling really doesn’t make any difference – like when cruising down the highway. However, the new Escape actually seems to provide a smoother, quieter ride when cruising at highway speeds even when traveling on the rough Detroit area roads. Many SUVs are faced with the criticism of “riding like trucks” with a stiff suspension that can echo the imperfections of a rough road surface into the cabin but in addition to offering better handling than the previous generation Escape – the 2013 model year Escape also offers a smoother ride in pretty much every situation.

My 2013 Ford Escape SE Front Wheel Drive test vehicle is the most efficient configuration in the Escape lineup and with 178 horsepower and 184lb-ft of torque, it ranks between the naturally aspirated 2.5L Duratec 4-cylinder (168hp/170tq) and the 2.0L EcoBoost (240hp/270tq). On paper, 178 horsepower and 184lb-ft of torque might seem a little light on power – especially with the significant increase offered by the 2.0L EcoBoost – but for those who want the best fuel economy possible, the 1.6L EcoBoost is a great engine choice. Thanks to the supreme engineering design of all of the EcoBoost engines, this efficient 1.6L mill puts all of that power to the ground in a hurry so acceleration is quick and crisp with enough oomph to spin the tires pretty hard when you’re trying to do so. Not many compact SUVs will smoke the tires and while not many Escape owners will care about that sort of thing – it is impressive how much power the most efficient drivetrain setup in the Escape lineup provides. Acceleration is very strong, particularly through the mid and high RPM range so pulling away from a stop light or speeding up to merge into fast moving traffic is no problem at all for the new Escape.

Not many compact SUVs are labeled as being fun to drive but the 2013 Ford Escape SE achieves that praise without compromising efficiency. Aside from being powerful and efficient, Ford has improved the drive qualities of the new Escape in every way over the previous generation – making the new Escape one of the most engaging crossovers on the road today. Many drivers who look at driving as more of an adventure than a chore have traditionally avoided the compact SUV class due to the lack of on-road refinement but the 2013 Escape is a vehicle that someone who loves to drive can enjoy getting into every day.

The Final Word

If you set aside the recalls that seemed to coincide with the launch of the 2013 Ford Escape, there is really nothing to complain about with this redesigned crossover. The Escape has a great looking exterior that maintains the SUV shape very nicely even though it is based on the same architecture as the Ford Focus - whereas some other examples of car-based SUVs look more like big cars than small SUVs. On the inside, this compact crossover offers seating and cargo space that you would be more likely to expect from a much larger vehicle with an impressive amount of high tech gadgetry without a gigantic price tag. Finally, the 1.6L EcoBoost engine provides plenty of power to allow the 2013 Escape SE to not just be efficient but also quite a bit of fun to drive – a claim which is seldom associated with any affordable, efficient compact SUV on the market. Ford has taken an already very good vehicle and made it considerably better and that can only spell great things for both the company in terms of sales volume and the consumer in terms of owner satisfaction. This is a compact SUV that leaves almost nothing to complain about and it does so with a price point that puts it well within the reach of almost any shopper. The efficiency of a small car with the passenger and cargo space of a larger SUV wrapped into a great looking package and punctuated by the wonders of EcoBoost technology – all of which make it very clear why this is one of America’s bestselling vehicles.

2013 Ford Escape front

If you – like so many other prospective compact SUV buyers around the country – are looking for a smallish crossover that packs incredible interior space from front to back with a powerful drivetrain that offers a very realistic 33 miles per gallon – look no further than the 2013 Ford Escape.