- Excellent engine - punchiest in class
- Excellent infotainment and sound systems
- Well-tuned safety systems
- Not the dynamic benchmark it once was
- Torque steer is attrocious
- Flat, short and uncomfortable front seats
Ford is a company on the revamp. Formerly ‘the Falcon car company’ and now ‘the Ranger car company’, Ford’s transition away from local manufacturing has brought it to a unique position in the market where its Ranger ute is regularly the second best selling car in the country, and the Mustang – its second best seller – outsells the rest of the range combined. In danger of selling two products locally, the company is revamping the rest of the range. Enter the 2021 Ford Escape Vignale.
The previous generation Ford Escape was an also-ran in the medium SUV segment. Very much the king behind the wheel, the previous Escape – or Kuga, as it was known before its mid-life update – evidently lacked appeal in the showroom as rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 outsold it more than ten-to-one. But Ford hasn’t given up and instead, has given the world a brand new Escape that’s reportedly more grown up, more luxurious and more refined than ever before. Is it? Let’s find out.
Price and Equipment: 7/10
While the 2021 Ford Escape range is priced from $35,990 drive away, we tested the top-spec Vignale – it’s pronounced vin-yah-lay, if you’re wondering – which is a more serious $46,590 plus on-road costs (around $51,000 drive away) in front-wheel drive form – the AWD is $3,000 more. That puts it in range of other top-spec medium SUVs, including the Mazda CX-5 Akera (from $51,735 drive away) and Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI (from around $57,000 drive away).
Standard equipment is pretty extensive. Kit includes 19-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting, keyless entry and start, heated and auto-folding mirrors, leather upholstery, a 10-way electric driver’s seat with memory functionality, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, digital radio, satellite navigation with live traffic reporting, a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, a 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system, wireless phone charging, a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display, a heads-up display, a panoramic glass roof, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel and windscreen, automatic parking functionality and a hands-free power tailgate.
Standard safety kit is positive as well with six airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian/cyclist detection and evasive steering assist, forward collision warning, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, driver attention monitoring, adaptive cruise control and Matrix high beam functionality for the headlights.
Options are limited to $650 premium paint and $500 20-inch alloy wheels. Does it want for much? Well we’d like the centre screen to be a bit larger, and it should have safety kit like a 360-degree parking camera and reverse auto braking. But aside from that, the Vignale is very well equipped – it’s just that the $8,600 jump from the lesser ST-Line (which has the same drivetrain) is hard to swallow.
But compared with rivals, the Escape is good value for money. A CX-5 Akera is not much more for entry cost and although you do get kit such as a 360-degree camera and Nappa leather upholstery with cooled front seats, the standard powertrain is a lacklustre 140kW 2.5-litre non-turbo engine – buyers must spend almost $55,000 on the 2.5L turbo petrol for the same car with a bit of spunk behind the wheel, and even then, the Escape does feel quicker.
Performance & Fuel Economy: 9/10
If you’re looking for a unique selling point with the 2021 Ford Escape Vignale, here it is. Comfortably offering the best performance in the medium SUV segment, the Escape’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine produces a strong 183kW of power and 387Nm of torque. It’s matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and power is sent to either the front- or for an extra $3,000 on the Vignale, all four wheels.
With a 0-100km/h sprint time of around 6.5 seconds, the Escape is certainly a mover. But its mid-range punch is arguably more impressive than its outright speed – punch it in any gear, a quick downshift happens and you’re off! Combining that with the smooth and quick-witted eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission and we think the Escape’s drivetrain is best in class. The best part is that if you can’t afford the top-spec Vignale, it’s standard on every 2021 Ford Escape for now. Talk about power to the people!
As for fuel economy, Ford claims 8.6L/100km combined and we got 9.8L/100km on a combined cycle. If you do purely urban driving, we’d strongly consider the incoming plug-in hybrid as it will comfortably use above 13L/100km – but on the flip side, it happily drank under 6L/100km on highway trips, proving that such a powerhouse can be pretty efficient. Like the Tiguan, the Escape must be filled with minimum 95RON fuel.
Really, our only faults with the drivetrain are the annoying rotary knob used to select the gears – it’s cumbersome to use, especially when performing a three-point-turn – and that the transmission can exhibit occasional low-speed clunks when travelling at speed.
Ride and Handling: 7/10
The previous-generation Ford Escape was easily the best driving medium SUV, with a connection to the driver that rivals just didn’t come close to offering. It’s typical of pretty much every European-developed Ford product ever since the first-generation Focus hit the market in 1998, though unfortunately, the sparkle isn’t quite as strong with this generation of the car.
The handling is actually pretty good, if you’re the type to take your SUV out on a Sunday morning for a spirited drive. Its grip and agility are great but the steering, traditionally a Ford strength, is strangely feel-free, which is noticeable as soon as you start driving. It’s still preferable to the heavy set up in the Mazda CX-5, but it can’t hold a candle to the previous Escape. Ultimately, the steering is what connects drivers to the road and for some reason it’s difficult to judge how the Escape will respond when told to turn.
Anther dynamic problem is the ride. It’s just too crashy and under damped in Vignale spec and takes away from the luxury vibe that the Vignale badge tries to give out. The suspension’s reaction to even smaller bumps is just too large and a series of larger bumps can have you jumping up and down like you’re riding a pogo stick. We hear that the suspension on the ST-Line is much better with quicker reactions and a tighter feel.
If we were buying an Escape, we would definitely choose the optional all-wheel drive system (+$3,000) – it’s more sure footed in wet conditions, and it’s a solution to the most annoying thing about the Escape: torque steer. Putting so much power to the front wheels alone results in torque steer in many cars, especially hot hatches, but unlike a lot of those cars that have clever tricks up their sleeves such as limited-slip differentials, it rears its ugly head a lot in every day driving.
While the 2021 Ford Escape Vignale is built in Europe for Australia, it unfortunately feels as though it was tuned specifically for Americans – there’s a degree of sportiness but it needs another layer of finesse to match the best in the class – or, even the last-generation car.
Interior and Practicality: 7/10
While the 2021 Ford Escape Vignale’s dynamic package is a downgrade compared with the last car, the interior is a definite improvement. It’s more conservative in its appearance with a less shapely design compared with the last car, but the material quality is an improvement and it’s more practical as well.
Centre of the 2021 Ford Escape Vignale’s cabin is an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, digital radio, satellite navigation with live traffic reporting, a reversing camera and even a front camera for tight parking situations – though not a 360-degree unit. Using Ford’s ‘Sync 3’ software, the system is quick, easy to use and the screen quality is excellent – we just wish the screen was larger.
Vignale-specific equipment includes excellent quality leather upholstery, faux wood trim, dashboard stitching, a 10-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat with memory functionality, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and a 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system. Leather aside, the quality is reasonable with a soft touch dashboard and door panels, though it is a touch plain in its design.
The interior is reasonably practical with nice-sized illuminated front cupholders, shallow but lengthy door pockets, a storage net on the passenger side, a reasonable centre armrest storage in the middle of the front seats and a deep wireless phone charging area ahead of the gear shifter.
The space on offer is pretty good as well – certainly more practical than the CX-5. Six-footers will be more than comfortable sitting behind another six-footer, while the rear seat of the Vignale also features a centre armrest, rear vents, heated outboard seats and a USB C and USB A charging ports to charge devices. The rear seat slides and reclines for greater comfort/boot space as well.
The boot measures 556-litres with the rear seats slid forward, and with them folded, 1,478-litres is on offer – comfortably larger than the CX-5’s 1,342L figure. A full-size spare lies underneath the boot floor and there are also a few hooks and tabs that you pull to fold the seats.
Aside from the somewhat plain ambience, the biggest issue with the Escape Vignale’s cabin are the front seats. Not only are they flat, but they’re quite short and they offer very little side support. Combine that with the awkward driving position and floaty suspension and the Escape could definitely be more comfortable behind the wheel – we hope that Ford of Europe can wave their magic wand over the car to give it the feel we would have rather expected from a mid-size SUV.
Service and Warranty: 8/10
Like other Ford products, the 2021 Ford Escape Vignale is equipped with a five-year/unlimited km warranty with a year of roadside assistance that’s topped up with a yearly annual service. Its service intervals are once yearly/every 15,000km, which is about average for the class – 5,000km longer than the CX-5.
Service pricing for the first four services/60,000km are $299 each, with the fifth coming in at $305 – $1,501 in total ($300 each on average). A Mazda CX-5 2.5L turbo costs $2,019 ($404 per year) over the same time period, though only to 50,000km – keep an eye out on cost if you travel a lot.
The 2021 Ford Escape Vignale DiscoverAuto Rating: 7.6/10
The 2021 Ford Escape Vignale is a generally solid entrant to the medium SUV segment that certainly deserves more buyers. Its strong 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is a definite highlight, as is its long equipment list with good value for money, classy infotainment system and more than reasonable practicality thanks to its roomy back seat and boot.
But there are some issues that need attention, such as the crashy ride, the strange steering, the awkwardly flat seats and the strong torque steer that keep the Escape from challenging the best in the class. But for a lot of people, there will be more than enough here, and in lower-spec ST-Line form, we think the Escape is very much worthy of consideration.