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A Crossover Hit

In 2000, Ford was looking to build a small crossover SUV for customers looking for something smaller than the Explorer.  At the time, Ford was partnered with Mazda.  The two companies co-developed a unibody crossover, which Mazda released as the Tribute and Ford as the Escape.  Both were available with either a Mazda-designed inline four or a Ford-designed V6. 

The Escape, released for the 2001 model year, blended many of the advantages of both a car and an SUV.  It had independent rear suspension and rack and pinion steering like a car to provide a smoother ride and better handling than truck-based SUVs.  It also offered a full-time all-wheel drive system that made it capable of light off-road duty. 

Unfortunately, early models were plagued with problems. The 2001 Escape was affected by 14 recalls, but luckily these numbers dropped off with each passing model year in the generation.  One of the recalls was for a short in the braking system that could cause an engine fire.  Fortunately, no injuries resulted from the defect. 

The First Hybrid SUV

One problem that has commonly affected SUVs is their high fuel usage.  With gas prices rising in the mid-2000s, consumers were looking for more fuel efficient vehicles.  Ford delivered with the Escape Hybrid for the 2005 model year.  The hybrid technology used for the escape is very similar to what’s used in the Toyota Prius.  Although Ford developed the technology independently, it recognized the similarity between its own developments and Toyota’s.  The two companies reached an agreement where Ford would license Toyota’s hybrid technology in exchange for giving Toyota some of its direct fuel injection developments. 

The Escape Hybrid won widespread acclaim.  The Environmental Protection Agency noted that the Escape Hybrid was 70% more efficient than the standard model.  The Escape Hybrid won the 2005 North American Truck of the Year award and was pressed into service as a taxicab in New York and other cities.  Some police departments also pressed the Escape into fleet use, making the name, perhaps, somewhat ironic. 

Further Refinements

In 2008, Ford released the second generation of the Escape.  Changes were more evolutionary than revolutionary.  The platform stayed the same.  I4 and V6 engines were still available although they were improvements over the originals.  Mazda and Ford parted ways by this point, so the four-cylinder was now a Ford unit.  Some improvements were made to the suspension.  Primarily it was the interior that changed.  Ford focused on increasing passenger comfort and adding features like a navigation system.  This helped Ford compete with more refined crossovers and pushed the Escape to the front of that market.  Hybrid models remained popular. 

The Latest Escape

While the second generation Escape was a refinement of the first, the third was a complete departure.  The third generation was based on Ford’s European Kuga model.  Where the first two generations had a boxy, truck-like shape, the third is more round and car-like.  To the chagrin of the many Escape Hybrid fans, no Hybrid option is offered in the third generation. 

Much like the first generation, the third has had its problems with recalls.  The first model year, 2013, was affected by 16 recalls—including one for an engine wiring problem that could cause power loss and stalling.  Again, these problems decreased with each successive model year. 

The new Escape has continued to improve on the Escapes reputation for comfort and usability.  Interior space has increased, as has the number of available featuresincluding park assist and a foot activated lift gate.  The Escape will probably continue to be a favorite for those seeking a small SUV with the convenience of a car.   

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