New Ford Escape gets the bling, plus lower prices |

New Ford Escape gets the bling, plus lower prices

special to the daily
Special to the Daily

This year’s Denver Auto Show served as the local launching ground for Ford Motor Company’s sweeping redesign of several long-standing members of its automotive family – many of which are now starting to make the rounds at local lots.

Ford’s truck and SUV design team has apparently been spending plenty of time drawing inspiration from (as far as I can gather) both online combat games and hyperstylized, flashy sources like the hip-hop scene.

The results are some very boxy, tough-looking, chrome-heavy features on vehicles such as the new Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks … and, in a slightly odd variation, a new, sort-of tough looking, chrome-centered redo to the wonderfully mild-mannered but adaptable Ford Escape SUV.

The Escape has never particularly been thought of as a heavy duty machine (it’s actually better known as the first “green” SUV, with a hybrid variation that was one of the first to arrive on the scene), but the 2008 makeover does give it a significant stylistic kick in the pants.

The bucket-load of chrome has gone a long way to gloss up the Escape’s understated image; in the process, the basic package – decent four-wheel drive motoring and reasonable space for five – hasn’t really changed that much.

The good news is that Ford has also apparently lowered the vehicle’s pricing from previous years, meaning you can get into a well-equipped four-wheel-drive version of the Escape, complete with leather seating, Sirius satellite radio and plenty of basic bells and whistles for about $27,000.

Ride and drive in the Escape is, as a result, basic but still reasonably comfortable. The 3.0 liter Duratec V-6 puts out 200 horsepower through a four-speed automatic but is noisy and rattly on hard acceleration and yielded only 18.6 miles per gallon during combined testing (EPA figures suggest up to 17 city and 22 highway, but that wasn’t exactly the case during our drives).

2008’s aesthetic changes include a new, very shiny chrome grille and center bumper (or, without the full chrome package, a plastic mid-bumper with a stylized skidplate), plus a raised and indented truck-style hood and sharp headlamps. Semi-flared 17-inch chrome-plated wheels, a chrome roof rack and hard-edged, triangular side mirrors are also new, as are a stylistically forward-looking but perhaps functionally questionable set of protrusions along the floorline that look just a bit like interconnected Lego blocks.

New white, C-shaped backing lamps are built into the wraparound tail lamps and there is, of course, more chrome on the Escape’s rear end.

The Escape’s interior has become a more complex mix of surfaces and materials than in the past, which you may either find compelling or slightly garish.

Ultraglossy black plastic shows up on the door-mounted armrests, around the center stack and in a big way on the console, with chrome on the door pulls, the outer air vents and the shifter column.

A dotted/fishscale patterned plastic on the dash was also interesting but caused just a bit of visibility issues in direct sunlight.

New stylized lettering on the gauges was somewhat distracting; Ford has opted to move its trip computer and car setup controls to the lower left of the steering wheel, which also proved a bit awkward to access.

The center handbrake has been replaced with a parking brake pedal, yielding a bit of extra room in the center console (a small bin for change, precisely).

Universal Ford-styled audio and cruise controls on the leather-covered wheel are easy to use and a single left-hand stalk contains both windshield wiper controls and turn signals.

The center stack is now topped with a digital display that proudly announces the Escape’s “Audiophile” sound system each time you start up the machine, as well as date, time and temperatures for the dual-zone HVAC system – again, you’ll either like it or find it a bit unnecessary.

Our tester featured Ford’s usable and interactive navigation system and an impressive audio setup, as well as an iPod jack located just below three very large and chunky knobs which control the fan and heating and air conditioning temperatures.

Positioning throughout the cabin is slightly unusual, with a very low glove box and a relatively high but deep box inside the center console, under the armrest.

Full leather-covered seating for both the front and second row is comfortable (and heated, for the driver and front passenger); back seat passengers get reasonable space and good head room.

I found a trio of rear row headrests totally annoying, and when coupled with lever bars on the back glass and the relatively large rear windshield wiper motor, you’ve got some rear visibility issues.

A fully carpeted storage area (which expands from 27.8 cubic feet to 66 cubic feet when you drop forward the second row seating) is also adequate for short trips.

Escape’s short wheelbase (103 inches) does give it tight cornering and a good turning circle; the vehicle does get a little bumpy on grooved pavement but generalized ride is comfortable.

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