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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2020 Ford Escape SE Sport AWD Hybrid Review

Mark Savage
The 2020 Ford Escape SE Sport AWD Hybrid brings increased gas mileage and an updated look to the classic Ford Escape.

Let’s be clear, a lot of people have purchased Ford Escapes over the years. It is one of the most popular compact SUVs on the market and for 2020 it’s majorly restyled, making it slightly lower and wider.

Its new nose looks a lot like a Porsche Macan, which one would think should help sales and at least mentally plant the seed that this is a sportier SUV than in the past. And maybe it is in some ways because it offers four engine choices, has adjustable ride control and a revised suspension system with vibration absorbing rear subframe mounts.

I’ve read that it handles better and rides better, but that’s not entirely my experience with the tested black SE Sport AWD hybrid model. What it has is good seats, a nice interior and excellent fuel economy.

READ: 2020 Ford Explorer ST AWD Review

First, this isn’t a plug-in hybrid (that’s coming soon), but this one stores energy via regenerative braking and when the SUV coasts. There’s a dash readout to clue you in and encourage you to tromp lighter on the accelerator. I was amazed that in a 212-mile week of driving, a full 95.8 miles were run on electric power. Bingo!

That’s why I got 40 miles per gallon, a laudable rating for any SUV. Heck, the EPA says you may do even better, rating Escape at 44 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.

Credit Mark Savage
The Escape's new nose mimics that of the Porsche Macan giving the Escape a sportier look.

While gas mileage is good, the acceleration from the hybrid is modest, as you may expect. Some might call it pokey in Normal or Eco drive modes. Thankfully there is a Sport mode that helps give the Escape more immediate power, but even at that it’s slower to respond than most small utes.

For the record, the test Escape had a 2.5-liter iVCT Atkinson cycle I4 engine with hybrid system. It’s rated at 200 horsepower. Power links to the wheels via an electronic CVT transmission. Unlike most hybrids, there is a noticeable electric motor and gearing sound to Escape’s hybrid. That’s especially noticeable when you back up as the vehicle whines so much that people who rode in the Escape asked if the sound was normal. It is, here!

The ride, despite the improved suspension, remains very trucklike, meaning firm and sometimes rough. Our pot-hole laden Midwest roads vibrate the interior and shake passengers more than I’d like. This isn’t an old Jeep.

Handling is good though, the SUV corners well and the AWD gives it plenty of grip even on wet roads. And this model bumps up from 17-inch to 19-inch tires and fancier aluminum wheels. But the steering effort is much heavier here than in the Subaru Legacy I just drove and even felt heavier than the earlier Lincoln Corsair, which is virtually the same size as its cousin the Escape.

Credit Mark Savage
The Escape's interior features black leather seats and a 8-inch infotainment screen.

Good news though, the Escape now comes with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 safety group, which includes blind-spot warning with cross-traffic alert, pre- and post-collision assist with automatic braking and pedestrian warning along with front-collision warning.

The test ute added a premium package for $3,295 which added the larger 19-inch tires, plus fancier wheels and most importantly an adaptive cruise control system. That also includes stop/start to save fuel.

On the convenience side the package adds a power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, and voice-activated touchscreen navigation system.

Inside, the black ute had a black textured dash and doors with soft-touch material that made it feel a bit more upscale than past Escapes. Seats were a perforated black leather and the overhead headliner was tan. Escape’s console is textured matte black with a bit of gloss trim by the 8-inch infotainment screen. All trims from this SE on up have that larger screen, the base S model just having a 7-incher. Trim on the door inserts and door handles is a handsome satin chrome.

I liked how the info screen worked and all the buttons and dash controls here were easy to figure out, however, the push-start button is somewhat hidden behind the steering wheel, so a bit hard to see initially.

Credit Mark Savage
The Escape uses energy storing technology to get a 44 mpg city and 37 mpg highway rating from the EPA.

Escape’s interior is roomy and comfortable. The seats are supportive and would feel comfy on a long drive, plus are powered up front and also heated. Escape’s redesign puts more emphasis on rear seat room too. The seats are comfy there too, plus the rear seats will slide back and forth a couple inches, meaning more legroom for back seat folks when you’re not hauling much in the cargo area.

A reminder, that rear hatch is powered, and the giant panoramic sunroof overhead is a nice touch too. One other concern though is the climate control when on its automatic setting. It does not seem to want to pump much warm air to your feet, so it’s best to crank up the fan speed manually on a cold morning and redirect most of the air to the foot wells.

Escape has always been relatively modestly priced. This unit lists at $30,850, including delivery, which is well below the average cost of a car or crossover these days. Likewise, after adding its premium package this settled at $34,245, again, a nice value.

There are many choices of trim levels and engines in Escape now. The base S with its 1.5-liter EcoBoost 181-horse engine lists at $27,580 with delivery. There’s also a 2.0-liter I4 EcoBoost available. It makes 250 horsepower. Then there’s the hybrid model that goes up to a Titanium level, the top-level gas-only model listing at $37,880. A plug-in hybrid model is due out shortly.

So, there are many choices coupled with attractive pricing and looks that make an Escape worth putting on your shopping list. But remember to test drive various compact utes and crossovers to make sure it meets all your needs.

Overview: 2020 Ford Escape SE Sport AWD Hybrid

Hits: Nose looks like Porsche Macan, good hybrid gas mileage, AWD, roomy and comfy seats. Rear seats slide for more legroom, good infotainment screen, big sunroof, smart cruise, heated seats, power hatch and solid safety offerings.

Misses: Modest power, heavy steering effort, trucklike stiff ride, obvious electric motor noise, start button hidden behind wheel, heat doesn’t warm feet well.

Made In: Louisville, Ky.

Engine: 2.5-liter iVCT Atkinson/I-4 hybrid, 200 horsepower

Transmission: ECVT, automatic

Weight: 3,706 lbs.

Length: 180.5 in.

Wheelbase: 106.7 in.

MPG: 44/37, 40.0 (tested)

Base Price: $30,850 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $29,760

Major Options: Premium package (R19 tires, power liftgate, panoramic vista roof, voice-activated touchscreen navigation system, 19-inch machined aluminum wheels, adaptive cruise w/stop & go, $3,295

Test Vehicle: $34,245

Sources: Ford, Kelley Blue Book

Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
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