2021 Ford Escape Review
The 2021 Ford Escape is a small SUV that competes against segment juggernauts including the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Redesigned just last year, this versatile crossover is roomier and more powerful than the previous Escape, while a range of new engines ensures there's a powertrain to fit any buyer's budget or needs. That is especially true of this year's model, which expands availability of the hybrid model to the SEL trim level.
On the inside, the Escape offers Ford's newest Sync infotainment interface — one of the most user-friendly touchscreen systems in the class. There's also a long list of available safety features. Among these is adaptive cruise control, which can now recognize speed limit signs and adjust the Escape's speed accordingly. Despite some drawbacks, such as clunky transmission shifts and poor handling capabilities, the Escape is a strong competitor in one of the toughest segments on the market.
The Ford Escape provides most of what you'd expect of a small SUV, including a roomy cabin, helpful technology features and very comfortable seats. Storage capability isn't mind-blowing, but it's certainly good enough. The Escape's few but significant drawbacks include unrefined transmission shifting and a lack of handling precision.
How does the Escape drive?
We tested the Escape SEL with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. This engine makes plenty of power, allowing it to easily squirt through traffic and accelerate up to highway speeds. In Edmunds testing, our Escape covered 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds, which is better than most rival small SUVs with an upgraded engine.
Unfortunately, the eight-speed automatic transmission shifts slowly and can be jerky with its upshifts. Downshifts are similar, and you'll feel multiple small shocks as you decelerate. Even the engine stop-start system bucks the Escape when it restarts the engine as you take your foot off the brake. It all feels terribly unrefined and like something that Ford should have fixed before putting the Escape on sale.
The Escape's handling is disappointing too. It rolls a lot and has a ponderous feel as you go around turns. There's not much grip from the tires either. As for the steering, it's very light and low-effort in the default drive mode. Selecting Sport mode gives it more heft and makes it easier to figure out where the front wheels are pointed.
How comfortable is the Escape?
Overall, we're happy with the level of comfort the Escape offers. The front seats are well shaped and have a pleasing amount of cushioning. The rear seats are also comfortable and provide a suitable amount of thigh support for adults. While our SEL test vehicle was equipped with basic controls for the front passenger, the next-level Titanium adds a power-adjustable seat, which is a rarity in this class.
Around town and on the highway, the Escape rides in a smooth and composed manner. It's also fairly quiet at speed, with road noise the prevailing source of sound intrusion. The SEL trim level only comes with a single-zone climate control system; most midgrade trims for small SUVs come with dual-zone control. Ventilated front seats and heated rears are not available on any Escape trim.
How’s the interior?
The Escape's cabin is functional and pleasantly laid out. The primary controls are easy to reach, and the steering wheel buttons take no time to decipher. The Sync 3 touchscreen interface is snappy and simple to operate as well. The driver's seat gives you a commanding view outward, and it's only mildly impeded by the rising beltline toward the rear. The seat itself offers numerous adjustments that make it a cinch to dial in the perfect position. On the downside, the door armrests are a touch too narrow.
We're impressed by the Escape's use of space inside. There's plenty of room all around, and the deeply sculpted front seatbacks afford lots of knee room to rear passengers. Headroom might run out for very tall rear occupants on models with the panoramic sunroof. Other than the tall doorsills, there are no issues getting into or out of the Escape.
How’s the tech?
The Ford Escape's infotainment system is a highlight. The navigation setup is easy to use, quick to act, and shows you directional info when a point-of-interest search returns multiple locations (e.g., a Starbucks is 1 mile forward, or 0.5 mile to the left). The six-speaker system is excellent for a base system, producing clear audio and punchy bass. Smartphone integration, however, is a bit disappointing. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility isn't standard on every Escape, and there aren't many USB ports to charge your devices.
The driving aids work well and almost all are standard. Though our test car wasn't equipped with it, experience with an Escape Titanium reveals that car's unique lane-centering feature works quite well on the highway, avoiding the "ping-ponging between the lanes" effect in rivals.
How’s the storage?
At 33.5 cubic feet, the Escape's cargo area is average for the segment. We like the low floor and high seatbacks, affording you a lot of vertical storage space before luggage cuts into rear visibility. The rear seats don't fold flat, but the outboard seat belts can be disengaged from their seat holsters so there's no obstruction while loading cargo.
Interior storage is much better, with large cubbies in the front and sizable door pockets in the back. All cupholders have anti-tip tabs, which is fairly uncommon in this vehicle class. Easily accessible car-seat anchors and tethers, plus the large rear seat, make it a breeze to load a child safety seat.
Escape models with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine can tow up to 3,500 pounds, more than many small SUVs.
How’s the fuel economy?
The Escape with the turbo 2.0-liter engine is rated at 26 mpg combined (23 city/31 highway). This is better than all other small SUVs with upgraded engines. Though the estimates are stellar, our observed fuel economy with our test vehicle fell short of expectations. We earned an average of 20.2 mpg over 187 miles of driving — mostly at city speeds but without much traffic.
Is the Escape a good value?
The Escape's interior has plenty of soft-touch plastics up front, while hard plastics are generally silver, gloss black or otherwise textured in a way that shows effort. The simulated leather upholstery is surprisingly convincing. The panel gaps are a little inconsistent and the interior door handles feel inexcusably cheap, but overall it's an appealing cabin for the price.
Ford's pricing is competitive, though you'll often have to pay extra to get features that competitors offer on less expensive trims. Dual-zone climate control, for instance, only comes on the top-level Titanium trim. Ford offers basic warranty coverage for three years/36,000 miles, with powertrain coverage and roadside assistance for five years/60,000 miles. All are average for the class.
Remove the fish mouth-like front grille, and the redesigned Escape would look like any other small SUV on the market. The interior won't wow you at first glance either. But your appreciation of what the Escape offers will likely grow as you put it through the paces of everyday living. It's a perfectly serviceable small crossover SUV, and one that Ford can be proud of.
Which Escape does Edmunds recommend?
We like the generously equipped SEL model, though it's not the most wallet-friendly option in the Escape lineup. All three of the Escape's engines are available on the SEL, and it comes with creature comforts including heated front seats and dual-zone automatic climate control. A bevy of option packages lets you customize the Escape to your heart's content.
Ford Escape models
The 2021 Escape is a small SUV available in four trim levels: S, SE, SEL and Titanium. By default, most trims are driven by a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine (181 horsepower, 190 lb-ft of torque) paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Standard for the Titanium and optional for the SE and SEL is a fuel-sipping 2.5-liter hybrid powertrain (200 total system horsepower) that drives the wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Those looking for more power can opt for the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (250 hp, 280 lb-ft) available on the SEL and Titanium trim levels. Front- or all-wheel drive is available with the three-cylinder and hybrid powertrains, while the turbo-four comes only with AWD.