The challenge with building and selling a car is making sure the base model is as compelling as a fully loaded example. That is, admittedly, a mighty challenge. Automakers need to turn a profit, and the latest and greatest technologies are expensive – not everything can come standard.
The refreshed 2023 Ford Escape is, like every other car, highly stratified. But after a week driving a fully loaded ST-Line Elite, complete with a newly class-leading tech suite, a powerful turbocharged engine, and a competitive active safety system, I’m worried the gap between the haves and the have nots of the Escape line is a bit too wide. From $37,000 on, this is a compelling compact crossover, with more power and better tech than competitive models. The problem is that below that price point, the Escape is left to trade on its slightly updated looks and a cabin that still trails the competition.
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|Quick Stats:||2023 Ford Escape ST-Line Elite|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4|
|Output:||250 Horsepower / 280 Pound-Feet|
|Efficiency:||23 City / 31 Highway / 26 Combined|
|Cargo Volume:||37.5 / 65.4 Cubic Feet|
Gallery: 2023 Ford Escape
- Exterior Color: Atlas Blue Metallic
- Interior Color: Ebony With Red Stitching
- Wheel Size: 19 Inches
If Ford took the Edge’s fascia and gave it a light squashing with a hydraulic press, you’d have the front of the 2023 Escape. To be honest, it’s impressive how different this car looks relative to last year’s dopey Macan-ish face, although there’s something out of proportion with the refresh. The hood is too long and the face too high and small to really feel natural. And my ST-Line Elite’s grille-spanning lightbar feels like an attempt at chasing a trend. Changes at the back are far milder, with a small tweak to the styling of the taillights.
But to be frank, the exterior wasn’t where the Escape needed help. The cabin was far and away the weak point on last year’s car, and it’s only partially better now. Material quality is up across the board – injection-molded plastic remains the star of the show, but it’s softer and feels more solid. There’s better detailing, too, on the doors and seats especially.
But elements like the strip of faux carbon-patterned plastic on the dash are especially egregious. And anyone hoping for the Bronco Sport's excellent use of color and texture here will be disappointed. Space Gray, black, or black with red stitching are all that’s going on in the Escape. But the reduction in buttons, inclusion of a 13.2-inch touchscreen, and the ST-Line Elite’s abundant use of red contrast stitching at least makes the Escape look more interesting for 2023.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Ford Escape
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
- Cargo Capacity: 37.5 / 65.4 Cubic Feet
Few of the changes Ford made in its Escape facelift had any bearing on the cabin. The seats remain comfortable – flat, broad, and welcoming with unobtrusive bolsters that provide just enough support. Life in the second-row bench is fine for two adults on a lengthy road trip, owing to the sliding seat, although the overall measurements are unchanged.
My ST-Line Elite tester with its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder isn’t the best for noise, vibration, and harshness control, but it’s certainly passable (and earns some points for outgunning most of the competition). The new Escape is available with up to 19-inch wheels (fitted standard to the Elite), but the 55-series rubber is substantial enough that the Escape’s manners are good on a variety of road surfaces.
|Interior Dimensions:||Headroom, Front/Rear:||Legroom, Front/Rear:||Cargo Volume:|
|Ford Escape||40.0 / 39.3 Inches||42.4 / 40.7 Inches||37.5 / 65.4 Cu FT|
|Chevrolet Equinox||38.2 / 36.9 Inches||40.9 / 39.9 Inches||29.9 / 63.9 Cu Ft|
|Honda CR-V||38.2 / 38.2 Inches||41.3 / 41.0 Inches||39.3 / 76.5 Cu Ft|
|Kia Sportage||37.8 / 38.0 Inches||41.4 / 41.3 Inches||39.6 / 74.1 Cu Ft|
|Toyota RAV4||37.7 / 39.5 Inches||41.0 / 37.8 Inches||37.5 / 69.8 Cu Ft|
- Center Display: 13.2-inch Touchscreen
- Instrument Cluster Display: 12.3 Inches
- Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: Yes
The previous Escape had a pretty comprehensive tech suite, but the 2023 model is on an entirely different level, particularly on higher-end trims. An 8.0-inch display running Sync 4 is standard across the board, but the highlight is the new 13.2-inch touchscreen, which is standard on the Platinum and ST-Line Elite and optional on all but the base model (and downright affordable on those products, too).
The screen is gorgeous, with sharp graphics and bright colors. But it feels modern in other ways, too, thanks to the thin bezels and the way it minimizes physical controls. That’s normally something I’d complain about, but the screen is responsive enough and the impact on the overall design positive enough that I’m willing to forgive it here.
Beyond the new touchscreen, high-end trims also feature a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that’s as high-def as anything out there. Unfortunately, Ford merely replaced the physical gauges and productivity screen rather than really doing something interesting with the digital cluster. A cluster-spanning map still isn’t available, and aside from a different skin for the gauge dials, this is mostly a set-and-forget item. My tester included a head-up display, but it’s small and requires a glass screen that pops out of the IP. It feels like a very cost-induced compromise, especially in 2023.
- Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter I4
- Output: 250 Horsepower / 280 Pound-Feet
- Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
The Escape’s powertrain lineup is unchanged from 2022, although as is Ford’s modus operandi nowadays, the number of configurations is down. The turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder is only available on the bottom three trims. The turbocharged 2.0-liter is standard equipment on the ST-Line Select and above and is only available with all-wheel drive. The hybrid powertrain and its 2.5-liter engine are available on all but the base model and with front-wheel drive only. And Ford has broken the plug-in-hybrid model out into its own range-topping trim (rather than the three available last year).
My ST-Line Elite tester carried the 2.0-liter, complete with 250 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It’s a brawny engine that few rivals – the Mazda CX-50, mainly – can match. Low-end shove is strong, accompanied by a steady whistle from the turbocharger under the hood, with predictable and progressive throttle response. The eight-speed automatic, the lone gearbox for gas-only models, knows how to stay the heck out of the way with smooth, predictable changes.
Handling is not the Escape’s strong suit, but aside from the aforementioned Mazda, that’s true of all the alternative compact CUVs. The steering has a small dead zone and demands little effort, but the suspension can’t respond as readily to sudden inputs. That said, high-speed stability is good, with the Ford demanding little fiddling at highway speeds.
- Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 2 (Hands-On)
- NHTSA Rating: Not Rated
- IIHS Rating: Not Rated
Every Escape comes standard with some version of Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 suite, although not every trim is equal. The ST-Line Elite comes loaded for bear, though, with the only option being active parking assist (part of the Premium Technology pack). Unfortunately, Blue Cruise is not among the items on hand – it’s not even available on the current Escape, despite being fitted to this car’s posh cousin, the Lincoln Corsair.
- City: 23 MPG
- Highway: 31 MPG
- Combined: 26 MPG
- Base Price: $28,000 + $1,495 Destination
- Trim Base Price: $39,955
- As-Tested Price: $43,800 (est)
Prices for the 2023 Escape start at $29,495, including a $1,495 destination charge, and it’s about $10,000 from that base model to the 250-hp ST-Line Elite I drove. A $40,000 compact crossover is hardly uncommon nowadays, although I don’t think many cars in the class justify that lofty price tag. The range-topping gas-powered Escape’s tech suite, active safety gear, and powerplant help its case, though.
Traditional rivals Honda and Toyota arguably exceed the Escape on the safety front, but they lack the all-around tech goodness here, with smaller, lower-def screens. Korean entries from Kia and Hyundai come close, but only the hybrid models crest 200 hp and the performance can’t hold a candle to the 2.0-liter Ford. In top-end form, the Escape is a far better value than its $40,000 price tag might indicate.
Unfortunately, I can’t see a scenario where the Escape holds up to scrutiny below that pricey figure. The ST-Line Select with the $3,700 Technology Pack #2 is the most affordable mix of power, tech, and safety gear, and it still carries an out-the-door price of $37,735. That’s certainly more palatable than $40,000, but it feels like Ford has structured the Escape in a way that leaves sub-$35,000 customers with last year’s crossover in this year’s clothes.
Escape Competitor Reviews:
2023 Ford Escape ST-Line Elite AWD