Through circumstances too unimportant to go into, I’ve come to have a family member’s 2007 Ford Escape at my disposal for several weeks. So, I’ve recently been giving the Town Cow a rest and — for the most part — enjoying my time behind the wheel of Ford’s mini-ute.
The Escape is not a model most car enthusiasts would get excited about, and I initially was not expecting much. To this particular Escape’s advantage, it is a fully-optioned XLT, with the 3.0L V6, all-wheel drive, sunroof and leather seats. The extra options do help it feel slightly upscale, although it’s still not what you’d call luxurious.
This was the final model year prior to the Escape’s 2008 refresh, and outside this one contrasts its Orange Crush Pearl paint with the first generation’s rubbery-looking gray body cladding. It is starting to look dated, but it is not unattractive.
The controls are basic and there’s lots of hard plastic inside. But at least it’s thick, fairly sturdy plastic that’s squeak-free at 70,000 miles. Part of the toy feel comes from the doors, which are thin, very vertical, and have openings that start noticeably above the floorboards. They feel as though they weigh no more than the doors of my old ’81 Toyota Tercel. The leather-clad seats are very comfortable, striking a balance between plushness and support that’s appropriate for the Escape’s mission and target customer. The back seat is slightly more board-like, but still not bad, and admirably airy for a vehicle this size. When the time comes to carry cargo, the trade-off for the Escape’s maneuverable 14-1/2-foot overall length is less-than-generous wayback behind the seats. Furthermore, the rear seat backs remain about 30 degrees from horizontal when folded forward, which was really lame even in 2007.
When the Escape was first delivered to my care, the weather was sunny and streets where clear, so the optional all-wheel drive system was largely immaterial and I was driving a front-wheel-drive car. Handling falls somewhere in the “not as sucky as it could be” category. The steering is by rack-and-pinion. It has a nice on-center feel, with no “hunting” on the highway, but once you turn the wheel past a certain point — say, enough for a purposeful lane change — you feel the electric power assist kick in with a noticeable change in feel. It’s nothing alarming or unpredictable, just a discernible “step” I found somewhat annoying. Beyond that point, the whole thing feels more than a bit numb. I was not about to push a relative’s loaned car to its limit on the street, so I can’t discuss how 10/10th cornering feels, but nobody who’s interested in an Escape would care about that anyway.
The ride quality is similarly unremarkable: decent for a car-based unibody ute such as this one, but a little harsh by passenger car standards. It pounds uncomfortably over potholes and even some larger frost-heaved concrete seams, but the fully independent suspension thankfully prevents most of the front-to-rear hobby-horsing I’ve experienced in other short-wheelbase SUVs. I’d rather endure an occasional harsh jolt than feel woozy after fifteen minutes on the road.
The big let-down for me is the Duratec 3.0 liter V6. Two-hundred horsepower in a car this size is definitely adequate, and it has plenty of oomph. Unfortunately, it feels horribly coarse and unhappy. It will rev fairly quickly through the mid-range, but makes an awful groan as it does and feels as though it will fly apart long before redline. (Not that the timid CD4E 4-speed automatic would ever let you get all the way to the top of the rev range.) Some engines sound great when they’re working hard; this one is like listening to a Gilbert Gottfried record at 78 RPM. At idle, the whole car thrums and throbs like a Harley Sportster. Just a few hundred extra RPMs and it goes away, but it’s bad enough that the Escape’s owner has a habit of shifting into neutral at stoplights to quell the shaking. I discovered that this same version of the Duratec/Mazda AJ engine is in my parents’ 4th-gen Taurus, and I dislike it just as much in that car, too.
A week ago, Kansas City got nearly a foot of snow dumped on us, so I was able to see how well the Escape could handle the white stuff. I am genuinely impressed with how well the Escape’s all-wheel drive system works. As the front wheels lose traction, the torque-shift to the rears is nearly imperceptible. You just keep moving forward. I found that directional control was good, too. If you get this thing out of shape in the snow, it’s because you’re deliberately trying to do it (which I may have deliberately done on more than one occasion, in the interest of science). The ABS system also worked well, but I’m used to the very early ABS technology built into the Town Cow, which pulses like a jackhammer under your foot.
Overall, “not sucky” is the best way I can describe the Escape. There’s nothing very exciting about it, and I wouldn’t want to take it on a long trip, but for in-town commuting it’s capable and well-appointed. The cabin is not a horrible place to spend time. If I lived somewhere at higher elevations or further north, where I could expect to be driving on snow-packed roads for months at a time, it could be a legitimate contender. If I could only learn to tolerate Gilbert Gottfried’s nasal-y whine.