AUCKLAND, NZ. Ford is stepping into the highly-competiitive small Sports Utility Vehicle market with the Escape which is now on sale.
The Escape will go head-to-toe with an accomplished set of rivals - including Toyota's new RAV4, Honda's clever HVX and Suzuki's Vitara - for a slice of the urban jungle runabout market.
The Escape is a compact, traditionally-styled wagon that in many ways looks like a scaled-down Ford Explorer.
But it's a generation more modern than the current Explorer and drives more like a car than a truck.
It is, in fact, very much in the modern style of four-wheel drive wagon.
It has a monocoque unitary body rather than a body mounted on a separate frame. That helps lower weight, and allows crumple zones to be incorporated.
It has four-wheel independent suspension for improved ride and sharper handling.
The only motor offered is the 3.0-litre 24-valve Duratec V6 which produces 150kW at 5900rpm and peak torque of 266Nm at 4700rpm.
The Escape's Control Trac II full-time 4x4 system has a switch to select 4x4 Lock which sets the system into a 50/50 torque split between the front and rear wheels.
The full time 4WD setting allows the vehicle to determine the torque split to the rear wheels.
Ford will sell the Escape in two versions, the $45,500 XLS and the $47,950.
The XLS has standard air-conditioning, power locks and windows, ABS anti-skid brakes and 60/40 fold-flat rear seating. The XLT adds a large centre console, alloy wheels, AM/FM stereo with a centre console-mounted six stack Compact Disc player, cruise control, cargo cover, cargo net, and power exterior mirrors. The XLS has an in-dash single-Compact Disc player.
The car will seat five adult.
A low sill height and wide door openings make the Escape easy to get into and out of.
The tailgate has a flip-up glass section for loading supermarket shopping or other light loads without raising the tailgate itself.
The Escape is 4415mm long, 1825mm wide, 1775mm high and rides on a 2620mm wheelbase.
Ground clearance is 200mm. Angle of approach is 28.5 degrees, and angle of departure is 22.0 degrees.
Maximum cargo volume is 1792 litres and maximum cargo area length is 1528mm. The fuel tank holds 61 litres. The Escape can tow up to 1600kg.
Safety quipment includes dual airbags.
Ford emphasises the ride comfort and agility provided by the all-independent suspension system. Both were shown to advantage during the drive programme on the model's launch in the Eastland.
On the tighter-than-tight, winding and climbing gravel roads of the infamous Motu Road, the Escape showed outstanding agility and scampered comfortably over heavy corrugations. On the demanding sealed highway into Gisborne it showed car-like grip and stability at speed.
The rack-and-pinion steering provides good feel and is quick and direct.
The four-speed automatic transmission's gear selector lever is column-mounted. I grew up driving cars with manual column shifts and if they're peoperly-designed they work well.
The Escape's long lever can ne shifted manually and incorporates an Overdrive-off switch in its tip.
Unusually for a US-designed vehicle, the indicator stalk is on the right-hand side of the steering column.
The right-side mounting probably stems from the Mazda design input.
Mazda builds NZ market Escapes in Japan.