For the new Ford Escape, economy is the name of the game. Considering the high price of gas in the past year, and the expected return to those highs, SUV sales have been suffering in favor of smaller, more economical vehicles. The 2009 Ford Escape is positioning itself as a middle ground between the SUV and the fuel-efficient compact, offering good fuel economy with the extra space that an SUV affords.
For Ford, the approach to a more efficient Escape was not to cut the engine size. In fact, the four-cylinder engine option increased in size by 0.2 liters with an extra 18 horsepower, up to 171, and the 3.0-liter V6 is still available, with an extra 40 horsepower over the previous version, up to 240. What makes the new Escape more efficient, and nets it an estimated 21 mpg city / 27 highway for the four-cylinder engine, is a combination of new aerodynamic components and engine tuning.
There is a new front chin spoiler and spoilers for the rear wheels, and those wheels are now equipped with 16-inch Michelin tires that have a lower rolling-resistance than the previous tires. The combination allows the new Escape to cut through the air more easily, thereby reducing fuel cost, and maintain higher speeds with less power, again reducing fuel cost. Both the four-cylinder and V6 engines run on an Atkinson cycle (which burns less fuel and is commonly used in hybrid engines). Also, while in past editions of the Ford Escape the four-cylinder engine was only available in the base-level trim, it is now available in every option. This allows those who want (and can afford) some extra luxury to still reap the benefits of a four-cylinder engine’s fuel costs.
The four=speed automatic transmission has also been replaced in favor of a six-speed automatic. The revised gearing of the transmission means that several gears can be devoted to initial acceleration, while the fifth and sixth gears can be refined to provide the most efficient possible highway speed driving.
The combination of all these features, as well as a hybrid version of the vehicle, will make the Escape a serious contender to the small SUV segment, which has previously been dominated by the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4.
As far as practicality goes, the Escape is what you’d expect from a small SUV (also called a CUV, for Compact Urban Vehicle). The Escape won’t help you climb mountains, but it will give you the flexibility of a decent amount of cargo room paired with fuel economy that is better than some larger sedans. Ford estimates that the four-cylinder option will be a big hit for the new Escape and will likely account for 45% of the model’s sales. Considering the mpg rating offered by that engine though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the four-cylinder make up far more than half of the new Escapes.