DON’T you love it when car companies fool with names?
After a brief hiatus as Kuga, Ford’s mid-sized, five-seat SUV has reverted to the original name.
Well, Ford needed a name starting with E to match its other SUVs.
Despite the change, Escape is yet to strike a chord with buyers, the name resonating about as vibrantly as a broken guitar string.
This time last year, Kuga was 9th in a field of 16 competitors, with 1094 sales so far for the year. As we speak, Escape is running 10th in a field of 19 with 1054 sales.
Prices start from $28,490 for the manual Ambiente two-wheel drive base model, $35,990 for the all-wheel drive value-for-money Trend with an auto, or $44,490 for a top-of-the-whiz Titanium with the lot (add $2500 for a diesel).
Standard kit includes cloth trim, two zone climate, a reverse camera, rear park sensors, and a fully featured infotainment system with satnav, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
But it rides on steel wheels with hubcaps and I’m yet to find a compelling reason to get excited about Android Auto, especially in a car that already comes with satnav.
In terms of safety, Ford seems to be stuck in the past.
Much of the more advanced safety gear like auto emergency braking (AEB) is not available at all with Ambiente or part of a $1300 option pack with other models.
What it’s like to drive depends on what you’ve got under the bonnet.
The line-up is overly complex with a 1.5litre turbo petrol engine, 178kW 2.0-litre turbo petrol and 132kW 2.0litre turbo diesel engines.
But, in an effort to get the price down, the 1.5 comes in two states of tune, further complicating the decision making process: 110kW and 134kW (albeit both deliver the same 240Nm of torque).
We had a crack at the entry 110kW front-wheel drive Ambiente with a six-speed manual and the 178kW top-of-the-line all-wheel drive Titanium with a six-speed auto.
Both feature auto engine stop-start to save fuel at idle, but as you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of difference in the way the two cars perform.
Getting into the car for the first time, the interior looks a bit grey and drab in typical Ford fashion, with an overly elaborate dash layout.
Hooking up the phone is lightning fast but the computer screen shines brightly like a beacon and we could not find a way to turn it down.
The cabin is very quiet with comfortable front seats, but rear seats that are thin and straight-backed, with legroom that is squeezy. The boot is a good size and hides a space-saver spare.
The steering feels dull and lifeless and the car itself feels heavy in the front end.
The suspension is tailored towards comfort rather than roadholding, but it still handles well enough for an SUV with some bounce on secondary roads.
The 1.5-litre turbo feels more than adequate, but you can be caught out with the manual if you let the revs drop below 2000 rpm; off boost it lacks get-up-and-go.
The larger 2.0-litre engine with 345Nm of torque offers very strong, responsive performance in comparison, with paddle shifts to change gears manually.
If we had the money, it’s the one we’d buy.
Verdict: The Titanium is an eye-catcher with strong performance from the larger engine, but it’s a big ask.
Ford needs to sharpen its pencil on the entry model and throw in alloys and auto braking if it hopes to make buyers take notice.