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New engine choice, other updates keep Explorer fresh

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2017 Ford Escape interior

Escape is Ford’s second-best-selling model, outstripping the brand’s combined sedan sales.

To grasp the impact of crossovers on sedan sales, we need look no further than Ford.

As it has for years, Ford’s full-size F-150 pickup easily tops brand sales. It’s been the country’s, best-selling vehicle for 36 years.

But the No. 2 vehicle in Ford’s stable? That would be the Escape compact crossover, which outsells all three of Ford’s sedans. Combined.

2017 Ford Escape interior

Dashboard layout and design is beginning to feel dated, but the Sync 3 touchscreen-based infotainment system is much improved.

It follows that Ford is heavily invested in its little bread-and-butter rig, and even in a mid-cycle year like this one, the Escape gets plenty of attention.

Engine-room upgrades lead the updates but a minor facelift also brings a new grille and taillights and a redesigned tailgate. Inside, a new electronic parking brake frees up additional storage room in the center console. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration are newly available on the Sync 3 infotainment system.

Ford leads the segment with three engine choices. A new turbocharged 1.5-liter EcoBoost four makes 179 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque and delivers EPA ratings of 24 combined/22 city/28 highway.

It’s sandwiched between the base engine, a naturally aspirated 168-hp 2.5-liter four, and the top-of-the-line 2.0-liter, 245-hp turbo-four.

The engines are mated with a six-speed automatic transmission and turbocharged models get paddle shifters and a fuel-wise automatic stop/start feature. In sequence, the engines are tow-rated to 1,500, 2,000 and 3,500 lbs.

We tested a mid-range Escape SE ($26,145) fitted with the new engine. Acceleration was smooth and linear, if not pulse-raising, with zero-to-60 coming up in the mid-9-second range. Owners hoping to pack their Escape with gear and still be able to pass slower traffic comfortably, should consider shelling out an additional $1,345 for the 2.0-liter engine.

Dashboard layout and design is beginning to feel dated, but the Sync 3 touchscreen-based infotainment system is much improved over earlier iterations. Its menus are more easily navigated, while a handful of physical switches augment onscreen controls.

Taut yet compliant suspension settings give Escape a planted, in-control feel without residual harshness. Despite wearing 19-inch wheels, our tester calmly absorbed broken road surfaces and railroad beds. Though it’s not communicative, Escape’s electrically assisted steering system is nicely weighted. It has a solid on-center groove that enables it to track true, without requiring constant driver inputs.

Escape’s cabin accommodates five, though some competitors are roomier. The rear seatbacks fold to create a flat cargo floor.

Escape’s three trim levels capture a wide spread of features, from the front-drive-only base S trim ($24,645, including destination) to the full-zoot Titanium $30,145). Standard gear includes automatic headlights, cruise control, air-conditioning, tilt-and-telescoping steering, a rearview camera, Bluetooth integration and AppLink smartphone integration.

SE and Titanium trims qualify for an extensive inventory of safety and driver-assist features, including the newly available lane-departure prevention, drowsy-driver warning and adaptive cruise with forward-collision alert.

Crossovers are the industry’s hot ticket and the competition is fierce. Escape faces newer and fresher challengers, yet Ford continues to insure that its underlying value remains intact.

2017 Ford Escape SE AWD
Vehicle base price: $23,750
Trim level base price: $26,850
As tested: $31,725
Options included Sync 3 touch-screen infotainment with voice-activated navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; blind-spot warning with cross-traffic alert; halogen headlamps; 19-inch black premium painted wheels; power liftgate; SE Sport Appearance package; reverse sensing system; more
Tow rating: 2,000 lbs
EPA rating: 24 combined/22 city/28 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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