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2016 Ford Escape 2.0L EcoBoost FWD

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The Escape last saw big changes for 2013. No longer partnering with Mazda as it had for the previous generations, Ford developed the new Escape from its Focus platform. It also dropped the previously optional V-6, instead serving up a strong 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder as the top-spec engine and a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four as the base engine in front-drive vehicles (a 1.6-liter EcoBoost fills that role in all-wheel-drive versions). Our previous road tests have been confined to all-wheel-drive Escapes: We first tested a 2.0-liter in top-level Titanium trim and then pitted another four-wheel-drive model, this time with the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, against five competitors in a comparison test. There, the Escape ran third behind Mazda’s then also-new CX-5 and Honda’s CR-V. The Mazda was (and remains) more fun to drive while the Honda proved more useful, in a class often judged by day-to-day usefulness. The CR-V rides at the top of the sales charts and gained strength with a refresh for 2015; Ford currently ranks third in sales, chasing the Toyota RAV4, which itself was updated for 2016.

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New version of the 2.0-liter EcoBoost gains 5 horsepower and 5 lb-ft of torque, and there’s an enhanced suite of technology including better smartphone integration, automatic engine stop-start to improve fuel economy, and adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning. Here, however, we’ve tested a 2016 front-driver in mid-level SE trim (base is S, top is Titanium) with the 2.0-liter engine as an example of what buyers might find on the lot today.

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For 2016, the Escape’s 8.0-inch capacitive touch screen runs the latest Sync 3 software; it comes as part of a convenience package that is discounted from its normal $1395 if you spec the SE and the $1195 2.0-liter engine upgrade. Our example had navigation and a nine-speaker audio system for another $795. This test car also included a new-for-2016 SE Chrome package ($1445) that spatters the shiny surface across the door handles, liftgate, front fascia grilles, exterior mirror housings, and 19-inch wheels. It also adds “partial” leather seats. This car didn’t have it, but full leather commands another $1595 and also includes one-touch power windows, plus heat for the seats and the exterior mirrors. The power liftgate is $495, but the nifty kick-under-the-bumper-to-open feature comes only on Titanium models. Our SE stickered out to $30,995, but at this writing there are $2000 in available incentives.

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With 240 ponies under the hood, this 3603-pound crossover SUV gets to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, well ahead of the 9.1 seconds it took for the all-wheel-drive model with the smaller 1.6-liter EcoBoost. It was a couple tenths behind what we recorded for the 2.0-liter AWD edition, despite being lighter by 201 pounds. Mark that down to the available traction at launch. Without torque transfer to the rear axle, there’s a lot of wheelspin and an early upshift to second gear. While more players in this segment now offer a 2.0-liter turbo four, this remains a competitive performance. And that says nothing about how quietly this engine runs in routine daily use—it’s a good powerplant.

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A chassis based on that of the sporty-driving Focus makes for above-average handling. There’s relatively sharp turn-in response and a surprisingly neutral attitude. On our skidpad, the Escape achieved 0.85 g of lateral grip. Some credit goes to the electronic “Curve Control” pseudo torque vectoring and the roll-stability systems. The Escape doesn’t feel quite as impressive on the road, where the light steering provides a minimum of feedback and the brakes deliver retardation in proportion to pedal travel rather than pressure. This car needed 181 feet to stop from 70 mph, 9 feet more than did the Titanium-trim AWD version tested earlier and 7 feet longer than the 1.6-liter, and its ABS was active early and often.

The Mazda CX-5 remains our choice for driving enjoyment in the segment. We could live with this Ford’s less lively controls, though, given its competent performance ability. It can be more fun than either of the Japanese entries that sell in greater numbers, for instance. One advantage is that Ford’s traditional six-speed automatic remains a friendlier companion than competitors’ continuously variable automatic transmissions.

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The Chrome package appearance is a subjective matter of taste, but we can say that the 19-inch wheels with 45-section tires (versus the base 17s with 55-section tires) degrade the ride quality with sharp impacts while thumping loudly over rough roads. You’ve gotta love chrome a lot more than we do to put up with it.

A smooth ride matters more when the driver has to reach over to that central touch screen to manage many functions—the 2013 model’s system was abysmal, and it depended less on precise, multiple touches. Ford’s new Sync 3 system works better and has a better screen, but it’s a long reach for some.

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Ford’s EcoBoost engines don’t have a great record of delivering real-world fuel economy on par with their advertised EPA ratings. This one was no exception, returning the same 19 mpg overall in our testing as did the earlier, heavier AWD model. Approaching the 22-mpg EPA city rating would take a driver determined not to use the power that the turbo makes available. Few consumers seem to care given today’s cheap gas, but anyone signing the typical six-year car note is unlikely to pay less than $2.00 per gallon all the way to the end.

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