If I had a quarter for every time I’ve been flagged down in a parking lot and asked how I like my Ford Escape (this or its predecessor), I’ll bet I could pay for one of my nearly 400-mile fillups, even at today’s high gas prices.
That’s probably the first thing I like about it – consistently taking 25 miles to burn a gallon, and more likely so when running the air conditioner than when it might be putting itself in 4WD. And for someone who’s put more than 96 thousand miles on the car in less than four years, that’s a big thing to like. Part of the reason I rack up so many miles is road trips, but that mostly means watching the mileage reach right up to 30 mpg. I can prove it to you, because I track every fillup with the AccuFuel app on my iPhone.
The mileage isn’t why I bought an Escape, though. I came to the little SUV, reluctantly, from a Mazda MX-6. But I live in the woods, on a hill, with a gravel driveway. And while the Mazda gave me no reason to complain about traction, it required having the snow shoveled at least to where it could see over. The Escape has the same front-wheel-drive sureness of foot, plus considerably better clearance and the chance to kick in the back wheels. I have become reconciled, mostly.
It helps that the Escape handles almost as well as the Mazda. That’s saying a lot considering the difference in overall height off the road and my deep love for bounding over two-lane blacktop. I’ve seen other reviews of the Escape that celebrate the handling but complain about its acceleration. Those must have been Escapes with automatic transmissions, because I have no complaints about my five-speed manual on four cylinders (2.3L). And, as my having a manual transmission may suggest, I insist on acceleration. In fact, I don’t much care how fast I cruise, as long as I can get to cruising speed with that lovely rush of unity with the car. The Escape gives me that rush every time. I did not get to even try the Escape hybrid, my dealer said because they’d all been bought up by fleets. And I haven’t worried about it, because my usual kind of driving isn’t what makes hybrids green.
The manual transmission certainly contributes to the gas-mileage achievements. But I have to say, so do a couple of things I’ve learned over the years. The main thing is about air conditioning: If you’re going to use it, use it on max, where it recirculates rather than cooling and drying new air all the time. And I almost always use the AC at highway speeds, but open windows below that. I haven’t attempted towing, though this Escape’s rating to tow up to 1500 pounds was an attraction for the 2007 over my old 2001. I find it relatively easy to simply push the back seats forward for a short run with slightly oversized cargo, such as lumber, but a definite hassle if I have to clear space to tip up the seat cushions (they’re also removable) so I can fold the seat backs all the way down. That hassle is increased by the need to remove the three headrests and find someplace to store them. In fact, since I mostly drive alone, my back headrests live permanently under the front seats. I will, however, forever after demand that any vehicle that has a back seat allow me to fold it in 60/40 parts, now that I’m spoiled by my Escape.
One thing I dislike about this Escape is that its use of 4WD is outside my control or even knowledge (other than the occasional scent of warm transaxle, on the rare occasion when it’s really having trouble). My first Escape, a 2001 that I ran across the country once and up and down for innumerable trips, kicked on 4WD when it thought I needed it, but also allowed me to put it on before I started, say, wading out of my snowy driveway. In the 2007, my best sign that I have indeed benefitted from 4WD is that slight slip in gas mileage. Which brings me to my dilemma for the future: My Ford dealer told me that I was buying the last Escape model that would offer the combination of manual transmission and 4WD. (Because I’m not yet ready to contemplate a replacement, I haven’t checked whether the same applies to the Mazda twin, the Tribute.) In fact, by early in the calendar year, my northwest New Jersey dealer had to reach out to Pennsylvania to find me a 2007 with both features. That’s why I have the most common color for an Escape or, it seems, any smallish SUV and can’t rely on distance spotting to find it in a parking lot. My guess at this moment would have to be sticking with the manual transmission, because I know it’s making me love my Escape and forgive its size every time I get behind the wheel.