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If the Ford Explorer SUV is too big for you, the Escape provides a practical alternative.

2001 Ford Escape Road Test
Escape Claws

By Bill Roebuck

Ford, like most of the Big Three automakers, came late to the party with a small SUV, but it has done an excellent job with the design and assembly of its all-new 2001 Escape. The five-passenger Escape has two configurations; a 2WD or grippy 4WD, 2.0-litre, 130-hp, four-cylinder with a manual five-speed gearbox, or a 4WD, 200-hp V6 with a four-speed automatic transmission. The XLS is the base trim level, with the XLT variant offering many more standard features. It's the model tested.

The Escape, which underwent cold-weather testing at Thompson, Man., where temperatures reached 45 below, seems ideally suited for driving in Canadian winters, especially in the four-wheel drive configuration. The 4WD model, equipped with the Control Trac II system, has a switch on the dashboard to select either automatic 4WD or 4x4 lock modes. In automatic mode, the vehicle operates in front-wheel drive, applying power to the rear wheels if a loss of traction occurs. However, the system does not have a low-range transfer case for serious off-roading.

Another innovation Ford engineers used in its planning is one we think should be standard procedure for all automotive interior designers. They tested the placement of the controls using blindfolded occupants. It's a simple technique that other makers could use to avoid the nonsensical placement of controls in many vehicles. Drivers should be able to locate all important buttons and dials in a vehicle without taking their eyes off the road. We had no complaints about the Escape layout.

On the road, it delivers car-like road manners and performance, despite its somewhat rugged looks. The handling is taut and steering is responsive and light.

Even though this is Ford's smallest SUV in a six-vehicle lineup, the Escape's towing capacity is 3,500 lb (1,588 kg) with the V6 engine and the towing package -- enough to pull jet skis, snowmobiles or a small boat. Ground clearance is 8.5 in. With the rear seats folded down, the rear cargo space totals 63 cu ft.

Seating is roomy both front and rear, with excellent legroom and headroom. Second-generation air bags are standard for front passengers, and side air bags are available. LATCH-type lower anchors and tethers for child seats are standard in the rear.

Antilock braking is optional on the base model, as are air conditioning, and power door locks, windows and mirrors. If you want all the toys, the XLT is the version to order, and is the only model that allows you to order the optional leather seats.

Although the Escape is certified to LEV emissions standards and Ford boasts of its low fuel consumption, one drawback to the V6 model we tested was its heavy fuel use, a fact not untypical for any SUV. The four-cylinder engine should be more economical to operate.

It's notable that the Escape is a brother to the Mazda Tribute, which was named the 2001 Best New Compact Sport Utility by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) at its annual Car of the Year competition. Only a few points differentiated the two in the competition (in fact, our personal scoring at the testing event gave the Escape slightly higher marks than the Tribute).

The Escape (and the Tribute) have competent road manners with just the right amount of trucky ruggedness in their appearance. Prices range from $20,245 to $28,695, the lowest of this threesome.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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