The 2021 Ford Escape is a compact crossover SUV with seating for five people. First introduced for the 2001 model year, the Escape entered its third generation in 2020 with a full redesign that included a new look, an upgraded interior, and new technologies. The Escape is a something-for-everyone crossover with multiple engines, the option for front-wheel or all-wheel drive, a roomy interior with plenty of space for cargo, and excellent safety ratings. Add in its good fuel efficiency and affordable starting price, and you have a crossover with lots of appeal. Pricing for the 2021 Ford Escape starts at around $25,000.
Crossovers walk the line between sedan comfort and SUV versatility. The Escape leans toward the former, including in its exterior design. Like a sedan, it’s easy to step into, even for those on the short side. There’s 7.3 inches of ground clearance, which is enough to manage a dirt road or a field-turned-parking-lot at the county fair, but not enough for serious off-road adventures.
The Escape has none of the boxy, utilitarian elements found in traditional body-on-frame SUVs that are hardier and more rugged — this isn’t that vehicle. The Escape’s more sloped roofline is reminiscent of a coupe and hints at its propensity for keeping its wheels firmly on the pavement. There, the Escape’s design shines with its compact sizing helping provide better handling than taller vehicles, especially at highway speeds.
Much as the exterior of the Escape is more sedan than SUV, so too is the interior of this crossover. The overall impression is one of simplicity. It isn’t overly fussy nor is it trying too hard to be rugged.
Most of the Escape lineup has an 8-inch touchscreen with SYNC 3. This includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Ford+Alexa, so there’s the key connectivity you want for your smartphone. The exception is the base S trim. It has only a 4.2-inch LCD screen with no option for upgrading the system.
Seating is supportive up front with enough bolstering to keep you comfortable without squishing those on the larger side. There’s room for three in the second row, but it’s realistically best for two adults on all but the shortest drives, due to limited shoulder room.
Rear legroom, however, is downright spacious with an impressive 40.7 inches to accommodate the six-foot crowd. There’s also a sliding second-row that lets you decide whether the priority is rear legroom or cargo capacity.
If it is cargo you’re going for, then there’s 37.5 cubic feet behind the second row or 65.4 cubic feet behind the first row with the second row folded. It’s a good amount of cargo space, but less than what’s offered in some competitors. The Escape is also up for towing as much as 3,500 pounds with the 2.0-liter engine or 1,500 pounds with the 1.5-liter.
The base engine for the Escape is a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine (181 hp/ 190 lb-ft of torque) paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. This is standard on the S, SE, and SEL trims. There’s a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive offered on all three trims. Optional on the SEL with all-wheel drive and standard on the all-wheel drive only Titanium is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (250 hp/280 lb-ft of torque).
Regular 87-octane unleaded fuel is recommended by Ford for both engine options with good fuel economy across the board. It ranges from a low of 26 mpg combined with all-wheel drive and the 2.0-liter engine up to 30 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and the 1.5-liter engine.
On paper, it doesn’t seem like a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine should be enough to power a crossover, but this one has no trouble getting the Escape up to speed. Whether you’re simply starting out from a stoplight or using a heavy foot on the gas to accelerate to highway speeds, it is up to the challenge. There is also a welcome lack of engine noise, so it never sounds like it’s working too hard.
While the 1.5-liter does the job, those who want a more responsive drive experience should check out the 2.0-liter. It’s a big jump from 181 to 250 hp and the additional oomph is noticeable when you’re behind the wheel. This engine delivers a sportier drive and there are even paddle shifters so you can take control of the transmission without having to do the fancy footwork required of a manual.
A drive-mode selector offers a choice of Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery, and Snow/Sand modes. Pick whichever works best for current road conditions or to simply tailor the drive to your personal preferences. These drive modes help improve handling in challenging conditions, especially in bad weather, as does the Escape’s low center of gravity. Take a tight highway on-ramp at speed and you won’t feel the Escape leaning overmuch into the corners.
The Escape delivers a stable ride with sure braking and sedan comfort. It’s not the fastest crossover on the block, but it delivers a good balance of comfort and performance.
The Escape starts at around $25,000 and tops out at around $36,500. It is offered in four trim levels with FWD and AWD:
- S FWD/S AWD (starts at about $25,000) – This is the base model with cloth seats, manual climate control, and 4.2-inch LCD screen for the audio system.
- SE FWD/SE AWD (starts at about $27,000) – Adds SYNC3 with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sliding second row, and 10-way power driver’s seat
- SEL FWD/SEL AWD (starts at about $29,000) – Adds upgraded ActiveX upholstery, remote start, and leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Titanium AWD (starts at about $36,500) – Adds B&O 10-speaker audio, leather-trimmed front seats, and dual-zone automatic climate.
There’s also an Escape Hybrid (Hybrid Electric Vehicle/HEV starting around $28,000) and a (Plug-in Electric Vehicle/PHEV with pricing to be announced), which we’ll cover in their own reviews.
If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price an Escape on Ford’s official web site.
We love the available sliding second-row seats. These seats move forward or backward by six inches, which makes all the difference when taller adults are sitting in back. Alternately, move them all the way forward and there’s more room for cargo in back. It’s a best of both worlds feature that makes the Escape a more versatile and comfortable crossover.
We’d go for the SEL (starting around $29,000). It offers front-wheel or all-wheel drive, your call depending on where you live, and the option for the more powerful 2.0-liter engine without having to pony up for the Titanium. There are also upgrades including a leather-trimmed, heated steering wheel and hands-free, foot-activated liftgate.
Every Escape comes with standard Ford Co-Pilot360. That means even the base trim gets safety features including pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking. Moving up through the model range adds more advanced safety features including active park assist, which helps make finding and maneuvering into parking spaces easier. While some safety features are reserved for top trims only, those included as a part of Ford Co-Pilot360 provide a solid foundation.
The Ford Escape holds plenty of appeal for busy families who need the versatility to carry their kids and all their stuff, but who don’t want or need a full-size SUV. Its more affordable starting price and good fuel economy help it fit within the family budget and its safety features help set mom and dad’s minds at ease. It’s also a great choice for those looking to downsize when the kids head off to college or for young couples who want more cargo room than what’s offered in a sedan.
There are lots of choice when it comes to crossovers and the 2021 Ford Escape offers a compelling argument for making it the one you choose. Two engines, the availability of front-wheel or all-wheel drive across most of the trim range, and a comfortable and versatile interior check all the boxes for why you buy a crossover in the first place.
A solid suite of standard safety features, an affordable starting price, and good handling add to its appeal in a crowded segment. We put the 2021 Ford Escape high on our list of recommended vehicles.
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