By Tom Crosby
The Ford Escape was completely made over in 2013, setting sales records and continuing to be America's best-selling sport utility vehicle. Understandably, for 2014 there are only minor changes.
Ford's MySync, the company's interactive voice connection that includes smartphones, and a rear-view camera, are now standard on all three 2014 trims: S, SE and Titanium. (The SEL was discontinued.)
The S only has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, while the SE and Titanium come with turbocharged 1.6-liter four cylinder engines that can be upgraded to a 2.0-liter for extra oomph.
Our test drive was with the SE with front wheel drive (all-wheel drive is an option) and the 1.6-liter engine with eco-boost that gets the Escape's best mileage. A 1,000 mile-plus highway trip got 28 mpg at speeds hovering around 70 mph. Better mileage occurs around 60-65 mph.
The five-passenger small crossover is built on the Ford Focus sedan platform but that doesn't affect the responsive handling or comfortable ride on the Escape's suspension system incorporating front and rear stabilizer bars.
The Escape's look -- rising beltline, sharply raked windshield, flared fender arches, side contours and gaping center trapezoidal grille -- is pleasing to the eye. Our options included a $1,340 convenience package that improved the rear camera's sensing system, MySync functions and perimeter alarm; $495 for Ford's unique power liftgate that lets you swipe your foot under the rear bumper to lift hands-free the door to the ample cargo area, and $795 for the MyTouch navigation 8-inch dashboard screen action.
Total price tag remained less than $30,000.
No tires were smoked from the starting line but there was plenty of horsepower for the highway and acceleration, with some minor lag, for the direct-injection, turbo-charged engine.
A manual button on the center console shifter can be used when wanted. A comfortable driver cockpit mitigated fatigue even after hours behind the wheel and the technology interfaces helped the modern, upscale feel. Brushed aluminum accents set off shapely interior contours.
The MySync system had one flaw: not always understanding verbal address commands for navigation. However, MyTouch, which required some experience to manipulate smallish controls, yielded correct input. Rear seats fold flat and a touch of a button drops head restraints. Blue gauge needles and ambient lighting provide a nightly space-age glow.
Safety features include side air curtains, keyless entry driver door keypad, rollover controls and above average government and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash ratings.
LIKES: Mileage, ride, handling, quiet, profile, comfort
DISLIKES: Voice recognition
BOTTOM LINE: The popularity of the Escape will grow with high-tech features, design and mileage.
FACT FILE: 2014 Ford Escape SE FWD
Base price (w/destination fee): $26,445
Curb weight: 3,515 lbs.
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Length: 178.1 inches
Width: 72.4 inches
Engine specs: 1.6-liter, 4-cyclinders, DOHC EcoBoost
Horsepower: 178-hp at 5,700 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft at 2,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic w/manual option
EPA Rating: 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway
Range: 15.6-gallon tank, regular
Performance: 0-60 in just over 9 seconds
-- Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.