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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — I’ve always liked the current Ford Escape and have been able to look past its flaws, mainly uninspiring looks and drab interiors, in favor of its respectable driving dynamics and overall practicality within the small SUV segment. The refresh for the 2023 model year helps smooth out some of those rough edges. It’s still nothing mind blowing, and the Escape occupies a mighty competitive part of the market, but the new ST-Line Elite trim just reiterated why I love this vehicle, and now it’s even easier to recommend.
The 2023 Ford Escape gets subtle exterior updates that make this small crossover much more attractive. It sees most of the improvements at the front, where a new grille mimics the Ford Edge’s good looks, with even a hint of Mustang Mach-E. The grille changes shape from a goofy smile to a determined grimace, and is moved higher in the dash with the Blue Oval positioned inside rather than above (which is why it now looks more like the Edge rather than the European Focus). The new LED headlights – reflectors are standard, but projectors with higher finishes – also get a more serious look. Our ST-Line Elite also has a fresh light bar that spans the width of the nose under the hood (it looks great at night), somewhat reminiscent of the thicker bar that spans the face of the F-150 Lightning . The hood is also slightly reshaped with more prominent pleats.
That aforementioned ST-Line is a new look available at various levels in the updated Escape trim range. The ST-Lines get a unique black mesh grille at the front. Along the sides they get body color trim on the fenders and door trims, as opposed to the contrast black on other trims, as well as small “ST-Line” badging. Our ST-Line Elite’s gloss black painted wheels provide a nice contrast to the Rapid Red Metallic paint, as do the black window surrounds – other Escapes get chrome gloss work here and not for the better. At the rear, the ST-Line trims get a larger spoiler and a unique black skid plate. This Escape, with its tweaked front end and new ST-Line looks, exudes significantly more athleticism than before.
But performance-wise, there’s nothing special about the 2023 Escape. The same powertrain options remain. A 1.5-liter EcoBoost (read: turbocharged) inline three-cylinder engine, standard in Base, Active, and ST-Line trim, produces 180 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, forward or to all four wheels through a eight-speed automatic transmission. The ST-Line Select, ST-Line Elite and Platinum trim levels get a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder with 250 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, standard with all-wheel drive. The ST-Line trim and above are also available with a hybrid powertrain totaling 192 horsepower and with front or all-wheel drive. The Escape PHEV is now the top-of-the-range model, with a total of 210 system horsepower and 60 km EV range. It is still only available with front-wheel drive.
The updated Escape interior is highlighted by an available 13.2-inch touchscreen infotainment display with Sync 4 software. Besides being big and impossible to miss, the graphics of this new device are remarkably sharp and the screen is responsive. The problem here is that many of the controls that you normally expect to have their own hard buttons are now activated via the touchscreen. Climate controls, heated seats and most of the audio controls are there, but the ones that keep you warm or cool are permanently docked at the bottom of the screen. There’s still a physical volume knob on the center console, as well as the steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Lower trims with the eight-inch touchscreen get physical controls for audio and HVAC. We can celebrate that wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard in the Escape range. The iPhone projection worked quite well, with the HVAC controls still accessible along the bottom of the screen and the Escape’s original home screen with just a single, easy touch. The latter is a big improvement for Ford – leaving Apple CarPlay used to be a frustrating tap-tap-tap situation.
Our tester was equipped with the 12.3-inch digital instrument panel (standard on ST-Line Elite and Platinum trims, which is as crisp and clear as the infotainment display. There was also the optional head-up display, but that’s a small piece of glass that pops up from the hood of the instrument panel, rather than being projected onto the windshield. Despite its small size, it is still very useful and provides important road and vehicle information in our field of view. the Premium Technology Package which also includes a 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system, HD ra
dio, Ford’s Active Park Assist 2.0 (which helps you steer, accelerate and brake in parking spaces) and a set of hip leather seats. version is a cordless phone charging station located in the booth under the center console next to both USB-A and USB-C ports.
The ST-Line trim gets a nice flattened steering wheel with red stitching, while the tech pack leather seats go the extra mile with perforated stitching that adds to a particularly chic look and feel for an Escape. That’s good, because the Escape interior of the current generation has always been a letdown in terms of style, use of materials and atmosphere. There’s still a lot of hard plastic around you, but more than ever before your eyes and hands are drawn to the technology and the more interesting textures. The stitching throughout the cabin enhances the sporty character of our tester, as do the carbon fiber-like plastic trim on the doors and dash. The interior also feels quite roomy, with no position in the cabin feeling particularly cramped. The optional panorama roof lets in plenty of light or, if you prefer, fresh air.
The luggage compartment is as accommodating as ever. Now Ford’s official volume comes behind the second row at 37.5 cubic feet with an asterisk. That’s in the same ballpark as the best in the segment in theory, but to get it you’ll need to make full use of the Escape’s admittedly useful sliding rear seat feature that the others don’t. In short, you have to choose between maximum luggage space and maximum space in the rear seats. Fold that rear seat down and you get 65.4 cubic feet behind the front row, which is indeed less than those family vans.
Driving this refreshed Escape is a familiar affair. Acceleration from the 2.0-litre EcoBoost is quicker than you’d expect, making this thing hit the road with a sense of urgency when asked. It only takes a moment for the full push of power to come to life off the line, but it builds through the middle of the rev range and tapers off slowly as the tach pushes north. It feels perfectly capable of overtaking maneuvers at highway speeds.
The Escape’s suspension pairs well with this punchy turbocharged engine, as both encourage you to drive it just a little bit harder than you normally would with most mainstream compact crossovers. There’s a good road feel through the suspension and enough stiffness to hold it in corners. That’s not to say the ride is harsh – it’s still comfortable, if not the most compliant. It feels like the somewhat sporty look of the ST-Line would have you believe. The steering is a little too artificially boosted, but at least there is some feedback to be had. It’s also encouragingly accurate and gives a car confidence as it’s steered from one corner to the next.
There is one thing that can make buyers think: the price. This ST-Line Elite starts at $39,955, including $1,495 in destination (although Ford’s configurator currently shows an available $500 “2.0L EcoBoost Discount Package”). At least that gets you the 2.0-litre turbo, all-wheel drive, that improved looks and improved tech. Our tester, with its optional paint finish ($495), panoramic sunroof ($1,595), those slick black wheels ($195), and Premium Technology Package ($1,910), along with that aforementioned 2.0L discount (-$ 500) comes out to $43,650. That’s a hefty price tag for the segment, but with the Escape’s good driving dynamics and the improvements Ford has made for 2023, including the sharp ST-Line look (or “cute” as a passerby who owned a truck called it) , gets that price pill easier to swallow.
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