Based on an all-new platform, the Ford Escape sits on an all-new platform with unibody (monocoque) construction, following a trend in the industry where the small 4WD SUVs (sport utility vehicles) use construction similar to a passenger car’s rather than the more traditional separate chassis. This type of construction offers weight savings, greater rigidity and sharper handling. The Escape was developed in collaboration with Mazda which is part of the Ford Group.
“We initially looked at a number of existing platforms in the global Ford stable but quickly decided that trying to use them would have meant too many compromises for the ultimate Escape customer,” recalled Keith Takasawa, the Escape’s Chief Engineer, who began working on the project codenamed U204 in late 1996. “So we started from a clean sheet of paper to design a platform that would meet the functional and safety needs of our target customers.”
The styling of the Escape shows many cues from its bigger brother, the Explorer (the world’s best-selling 4WD), but has a more rugged look up front with aggressive wheel lips stamped in the sheet metal, wide body cladding and integrated bumper guards. In size, it is about the same as the Honda CR-V and Land Rover Freelander and slightly larger than the new Toyota RAV4.
Initially, there are two engines available – a 95.6 kW/130 bhp 4-cylinder Zetec engine and a 147 kW/200 bhp 3.0-litre Duratec V6. While the latter engine is primarily intended for the North American market, the Zetec engine will be used for the Malaysian-assembled version as the V6 engine capacity would be a deterrent to many buyers due to the higher roadtax and insurance premiums.
Manual and automatic transmissions are available and with strong preference for automatics among Malaysians, Ford Malaysia will offer this transmission which has electronic controls for smooth and efficient operation.
As with most passenger cars, the Escape has independent suspension for all four wheels which promises comfortable ride and good manoeuverability. Power-assisted rack and pinion steering is standard.
The 4WD System
The drivetrain can be front-wheel drive only or use the new Control-Trac 4WD system. The Malaysian version will get Control-Trac which offers 4WD only when needed. Conceptually like the RealTime 4WD system in the Honda CR-V, the Control-Trac system provides the driver the option of two different setting – “4×4 Auto” and “4×4 On.” The first setting allows for the vehicle’s on-board computer to determine the torque split to the rear wheels according to the amount of slip sensed. The “4×4 On” setting splits the torque 50:50 between the front and rear wheels – like a locked centre differential – to give maximum traction in the most slippery conditions.
From the foundation of its unibody platform to its comprehensive list of safety features, the Escape has been designed with safety as a priority. Its construction has been carefully designed to channel the energy created in a frontal crash and spread it out over a larger area of the vehicle. The front fender reinforcement helps to direct the energy load of a crash between the lower rail frame and an upper path that goes through the roof. Standard high-tensile steel door beams also help protect passengers during side impacts.
Second-generation dual front airbags are available but it is not certain if they will be offered as standard in Malaysia. In some markets, front-seat dual side air bags are also available as options. Buckle pretensioners combined with load-limiting retractors are standard on the front seat belts. In a crash, these devices automatically take up slack in the belts, reducing the risk of chest injuries in severe collisions.
Ford claims that the Escape’s interior package is the most spacious in the small SUV class at 3.79 cubic metres. It has been designed for maximum comfort, convenience, passenger roominess and cargo flexibility. Entering and exiting the vehicle is aided by the vehicle’s low sill height and wide door openings.
The dashboard is reminiscent of the Explorer’s with a somewhat vertical presentation and a distinct centre module where the audio and a.c. controls are located. Attention to detail led the development team to make certain the Escape is customer-friendly. One major point: lift-over heights had to be low to provide easy access to the roomy cargo area. The designers also made sure that the centre console was large enough to store everything from handphones to a standard woman’s handbag. The result is a very versatile vehicle that will appeal to men and women – with or without children.
Initial reviews of the new Escape done by journalists in UK and the USA indicate that this new Ford has all the potential to be a hot-seller, with its handling and ride comfort having received praise. We can’t wait to test it ourselves…