Ford debuts updated Escape with new grille, technology

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is giving one of its best-selling vehicles a major upgrade with a new front end, redesigned interior and updated technology.

The Dearborn automaker on Tuesday will reveal the 2017 Escape at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It’s the fourth-generation of the compact SUV that has traditionally been a platform for some of its newest technologies. In 2005, Escape debuted as Ford’s first hybrid model; in 2013 it featured Ford’s first hands-free lift gate; and last year, it debuted the Sync 3 infotainment system.

The 2017 version, which will go on sale next summer, will come with a significant upgrades for features like lane keeping and park assist, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings and a driver alert system. It will be the first vehicle to feature an expanded version of Sync 3 that includes an Apple and Android smartphone app that lets drivers remotely start, lock/unlock and check gas levels. Its gas-saving stop-start feature will be standard on the Escape’s two new EcoBoost engine options.

Two new engine options will be offered: a 1.5-liter EcoBoost and 2-liter EcoBoost. The 1.5-liter will get an expected 180 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, while the 2.0-liter will get an expected 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque.

“The compact SUV segment is the largest and most competitive in the United States, and the new Escape delivers even more of what our customers want — more technology they can really use to make their daily drive safer and easier,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas.

Beyond the technology, the refreshed Escape includes a number of cosmetic upgrades. The front end has been redesigned with the three-bar grille that’s common on many of Ford’s other SUVs and cars. And there are new LED headlights. On the interior, designers removed the intrusive parking brake lever on the center console in favor of an electronic push-button version to free up more room for storage; there’s also a new center stack.

It’s also been made quieter with insulated doors and new windshield sealing. “Customers equate quietness to quality,” said Milton Wong, chief engineer of the Escape.

The SUV will come in its three traditional trim levels — S, SE and Titanium.

A 2.5-liter i-VCT four-cylinder engine carries over as standard on the S trim level. There are two new engine options: a 1.5-liter EcoBoost and 2-liter EcoBoost. The 1.5-liter will get an expected 180 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, while the 2.0-liter will get an expected 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque.

Escape plays in one of the hottest segments in the industry. SUVs now account for about one-third of the U.S. auto industry, a number Ford predicts will grow to 40 percent by 2020. In the U.S., SUV sales are expected to exceed 5 million units in 2015 for the first time ever.

Since its launch in 2000, more than 3 million Escapes have been sold in the U.S., including a record 306,212 last year. Escape sales are up 1 percent through the first 10 months of 2015, according to Autodata Corp., and the compact SUV has overtaken the Fusion to become Ford’s second-best selling vehicle, behind the profitable F-150 pickup. It trailed only the Honda CR-V in compact SUV sales last year, and Ford officials think they could overtake it if they had the room to build more.

Ford builds the Escape at its Louisville Assembly Plant. In its new tentative labor deal with the United Auto Workers, Ford promised to end production of the Lincoln MKC, also built at Louisville, when its product cycle ends to make even more Escapes.

Ford offers stop-start technology on a number of its vehicles, but Escape will be the first to come standard with the love-it-or-hate-it feature.

The technology senses when the vehicle is sitting idle and shuts off the engine to conserve fuel, resulting in a 4 percent to 6 percent improvement in fuel economy in stop-and-go traffic, Ford said. The engine restarts automatically – in less than half a second – when the driver releases the brake pedal.

“Auto start-stop is the equivalent of turning off the lights when you leave a room, or turning off a water faucet when you’re done washing dishes,” Wong said. “It’s a high-tech approach to more efficient driving.”

Despite being popular in Europe, it has yet to catch on in the United States because many drivers feel the feature is annoying and makes them think their cars have stalled when the engine shuts off at a light or stop sign. Ford has said it expects to offer the feature in 40 percent of its lineup by 2017. “We have to make sure we get this right,” Wong said. “We almost want to make stop-start invisible, to where it just works.”

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