2013 Ford Escape Compact-SUV

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There are new cars that look like the ones they replace, and then there are new cars like the 2013 Ford Escape.
There are new cars that look like the ones they replace, and then there are new cars like the 2013 Ford Escape.

The old Ford Escape was a likable-enough little brute, if a bit of a tin can.

In the clunker buy-back program, during the desperate days of the financial crash, that Escape was one of the most popular vehicles that people traded up to, particularly in the light truck category.

However, with this fresh, new version, Ford has entered an entirely different dimension of compact SUV.

The 2013 Escape is a vehicle that we actually want, not one we feel we should make do with. It might even seduce some happy RAV4, CR-V and Tiguan owners.

It’s surprisingly sophisticated. (Many new Fords are; it’s just that I’ve still got the old Escape in my head.) The styling, especially its long nose and overbite face, has a touch of upper-class Brit to it, just like today’s Explorer, Focus and Fusion. And who doesn’t like how Jags, Range Rovers and Astons look? On the inside, though, it’s pure American Moderne: all synthetic materials, save for leather seat covers, presented well and apparently put together well, and comfortable and functional. The cabin and cargo area are larger than in the old Escape and there’s no more metallic echo. This is a nice place to inhabit.

I have “issues” with the optional InSync voice-command system, which doesn’t seem to hear me, but I’m content with the various buttons and knobs instead. I did learn to use MyFord Touch, mostly to control the stereo and satnav; I don’t care to get text messages in my car. (I’m that old.) And the attractive layout, colors and typeface on the computer screen impress me.

Then there’s the available hands-free liftgate: Stick a foot under the back bumper and, if the electronic key fob is in your pocket, presto! A genie unlocks and opens the hatch so we can dump a double armload of groceries or hockey gear into the cargo bay. The same process closes the hatch. It’s clever and convenient, although a few times I had to wave my leg around like a tango dancer.

Ford will also equip the Escape with active park-assist, which cancels out our parallel-parking phobias, and my favorite safety features, blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring. These things all work well, at least in decent weather.

Such features put the Escape out front, tech-wise, but if you check all these boxes on the order form, prepare for the same sort of learning curve demanded by a new smartphone.

Happily, the 2013 Escape’s over-the-road demeanor requires no extra study. Bearing in mind that it is a compact crossover “truck” and not a sports sedan, the Escape is satisfying to drive. The structure is stiff and feels gratifyingly solid, and little wind or tire noise gets inside.

This is a top-line, $36,000 “Titanium” 4WD model, so it has Ford’s 4-cylinder 2-liter Ecoboost engine, good for 240 horses and even more torque. This translates to about 25 miles per gallon overall and a tow rating up to 3,500 pounds, as well as decent acceleration and quiet highway cruising. For better mileage but less power, a cheaper 1.6-liter Ecoboost engine is available. A third engine option is a non-turbocharged 2.5-liter four rated at 168 horsepower. All come with the same 6-speed automatic transmission and a choice of front-wheel or “intelligent” all-wheel drive, which can send up to 100 percent of the power to either axle, as determined by slip sensors.

There’s no hybrid Escape, which makes us wonder if a small, high-efficiency diesel might be in the works. (35 MPG!) On the subject of being green, Ford says the entire vehicle is 85 percent recyclable.

Never mind what we were told in the election campaign: It wasn’t union contracts that sank Detroit, it was that Detroit was making crap cars and bad decisions. Their labor obligations just ran Ford, Chrysler and GM out of money sooner, which (among other things) forced them to sit up and start building cars we really want to own. Such as this Escape.