All-new, sporty 2020 Ford Escape debuts

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Ford took the wraps off an all-new 2020 Escape compact crossover today as the brand ditches sedans and looks to a lineup anchored by SUVs and trucks.

The sporty, lean Escape — the second-best selling Ford after the Ford F-150 — has a lot riding on its sleek back.

It will do battle in the auto industry’s biggest segment against the best-selling Japanese trio of the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V – while also trying to attract customers orphaned by the retirement of Ford's Fusion, Focus and Taurus sedans.

To accomplish these tasks, Ford brings the most versatile Escape yet. The 2020 model features a long list of technology and engine options — including a hybrid and plug-in option -— that has been the Escape’s calling card over four generations. But this Escape also expands its envelope with fetching good looks and interior volume.

The new model has a lower belt-line than the outgoing ute with a sloping, shark-like nose that evokes the premium Porsche Macan SUV. The headlights are level with the hood-line (water-line in Ford parlance), and the Mustang-inspired trapezoidal grille is slung low. Longer, wider, lower, and 200-pounds lighter, the new Escape has a noticeably more athletic presence.

“Like a cat ready to pounce,” designer George Bucca says of an SUV that will boast best-in-class drag coefficient.

The Escape's more athletic look will share the compact SUV space with a boxier, more off road-capable Ford SUV due in the 2021 model year. The as-yet unnamed model will be built on the same front-wheel drive platform as Escape but be more geared for true off-road capability.

With a lower center of gravity than the outgoing Escape, the new ute should have more sedan-like handling.

“This new vehicle performs like no other Escape before,” says Escape chief engineer Jim Hughes. “It’s quick and a lot of fun to drive.”

Yet, despite its lower-by-a-half-inch-stance, the Ford has more room inside. The new architecture allowed engineers to scallop out more headroom, and rear seats can slide like the front buckets – opening up a whopping 6 more inches of legroom nearly on par with a full-size Expedition SUV. The back seat will be roomiest in class.

Cargo room expands to 37.5 cubic feet. Four passengers can stuff four golf bags in the back for a day at the links. Up front, the Ford’s rotary shifter and SYNC 3 infotainment system will be familiar to Ford customers – but the console space is more generous than before, offering cubby space for phones and French fries alike.

Since it debuted over two decades ago as a 1995 model, the Escape has watched its competitive set grow from six to 22 vehicles, with Japanese and Korean offerings coming loaded with standard features. Ford rises to the task with standard CoPilot 360 (which debuted on the Ford Edge last fall) that includes blind-spot assist, automatic braking and automatic high-beams. Wi-Fi connectivity for up to 10 devices is also standard (which is five more than the number of people that can fit in the Escape).

An available park-assist feature is a reminder of the Escape’s pioneering history that included the first kick-open tailgate and first small SUV hybrid option. Active Park Assist 2.0 allows drivers to automatically parallel or perpendicular park with the simple touch of a button — without having to engage the steering wheel or brake. 

For 2020, the hybrid returns (after disappearing since 2012) along with a buffet of turbocharged (Ecoboost) and electric options. The battery-gas engine setup will include a 2.5-liter mill with up to 40 mpg, 550 miles of range and 3,500 pounds of towing capability.

Engine firsts include a standard three-cylinder engine, a 1.5-liter turbo-4 with 180 horsepower, and a plug-in hybrid that can travel more than 30 miles on battery alone – over 50 percent better than the retiring Fusion Energi plug-in sedan.

A fourth powertrain option, available in top-trim models, will be a peppy 250-horse, 2.0-liter turbo-4 capable of accelerating from zero-60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. A carryover from the last generation, it gains 5 horsepower and is tow-rated for 3,500 pounds. All engines are mated to an 8-speed tranny and are available in front-or-all wheel drive.

The new front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive platform is one of five platforms that will gird Ford going forward. The other four are rear-wheel drive (Mustang), van, body-on-frame (trucks) and battery-electric. The platforms, according to Ford, will share 70 percent of their parts for cost efficiency.

The 2020 Escape (and its future off-road segment mate) slots between the entry-level EcoSport and midsize three-row Explorer in Ford’s SUV lineup. It will make its auto show debut in New York City later this month and will be available for media reviews shortly thereafter.

The Escape is assembled in Louisville and arrives at dealerships this fall.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.