The Ford Escape gets better for 2016 with a new, easy-to-operate version of its Sync onboard communications and control system that's quicker to respond and more user-friendly.
The second best-selling sport utility vehicle in the United States is one of the first Fords to get a better Sync system, which has an improved arrangement of control menus for such things as entertainment and navigation. It has a swipe feature for accessing menus, larger on-screen buttons and can send texts from your cellphone while driving.
The roomy, five-passenger Escape already stands out from the compact SUV crowd by offering three options of four-cylinder engines — including two that are turbocharged — for a lively, sporty drive not often found in other SUVs. This is particularly true with Escapes that have the 240-horsepower EcoBoost four cylinder that generates a full 270 foot-pounds of torque.
The 2016 Escape earned the same four-out-of-five-stars overall safety rating that the 2015 Escape had in federal government frontal and side crash tests. However, Consumer Reports pegs reliability at worse than average.
Pricing covers a broad range. The manufacturer's starting suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $23,995 for a front-wheel drive, base Escape S. The only engine in this model is the 168-horsepower, non-turbocharged, four cylinder. The base comes standard with a rearview camera and seven airbags, among other things.
Buyers must move up to the Escape SE to get four-wheel drive at a starting retail price of $27,945. SE models include a 178-horsepower, 1.6-liter, turbocharged four cylinder, standard aluminum wheels, 10-way power driver's seat, fog lamps, chrome exterior accents and last year's Sync system.
The top-of-the-line Titanium model has the SE's standard turbo engine but includes more standard equipment such as leather-trimmed seats, Sync 3, blind spot monitoring, hands-free, power rear liftgate and 18-inch wheels. All that pushes the starting retail price tag to more than $30,000 with two-wheel drive.
And if buyers want the strongest turbo engine — the 240-horsepower, 2-liter, EcoBoost four — they have to pay an additional $1,195 on both the SE and Titanium models.
All Escapes come with a six-speed automatic transmission. In the test Escape Titanium 4WD model, the vehicle shuddered frequently when it was shifted from reverse to drive and the driver pressed on the accelerator to move forward.
The Escape is popular because it's an easy-to-drive vehicle that's nicely sized, easily maneuverable and easy to park.
The Escape offers good views above the traffic and has a comfortable seat level for entry and exit. Seats provide decent support. Back-seat legroom is a good 37.3 inches, and front-seat passengers can luxuriate in up to 43 inches of legroom — 1.7 inches more than the front seats of the competitor Honda CR-V. There's 34.3 cubic feet of storage space on the flat cargo floor behind the Escape's second-row seats, which expands to 67.8 cubic feet when the second row is folded down.
Sync 3 responds faster than its predecessor, and the display screen is easier to read. Menus and controls are more intuitive and less fussy in Sync 3.
The air conditioning system in the test Escape didn't deliver truly cold air, and when the ventilation system was turned on, it sounded like the compressor was going out.
But the test Escape — with its impressive turbo power — barely averaged 18 miles per gallon for a travel range of just 277 miles on a single tank. The federal government rating is 21/28 mpg in city/highway travel for this model.