You’re looking at a confirmed, lifetime SUV hater. I never “got” them. I didn’t see them coming. If I’d have been at Chrysler when the company bought Jeep, I would have been in the group saying it was a mistake. Back in the 1980s, when hunters and Alaskans had all-wheel drive, I didn’t see the coming revolution that would put more than half the driving public in light trucks instead of cars.
I couldn’t imagine why a family would want a boxy, truck-based, uncomfortable space-wasting vehicle with the aerodynamics of a brick when they could have a much more practical minivan. What I didn’t reckon with, what I missed, was the deep antipathy men had to being seen as loser-cruiser wimps, and women had to being typecast as soccer moms.
Remember, the minivan was young in the 1980s, too. Although there was some precedent (the VW Microbus, most prominently) Chrysler in effect created a new category with the Chrysler Town & Country in 1984, selling 210,000 of them that first year. But by the end of the decade, there was a stigma attached to sliding doors and kiddie car seats.
But, after hating SUVs for almost 20 years, and publishing broadsides against them here, here, here and here (this is just a sampling, believe you me) I’ve decided to make my peace. No, not with all of them. I’ll hate Hummers forever. The Suburban is irredeemable in my eyes, and so is the Ford Excursion, the Nissan Armada, the Lincoln Navigator, and many more.
But I’m forced to acknowledge the rise of the car-based crossover, the demise of the truck-based SUV, and a new era of fuel economy and handling. So here’s a loose, one-handed salute for an economy car in SUV clothing, the 2013 Ford Escape EcoBoost.
Ford surprised me by abandoning its first hybrid, the Escape, for next year’s model (at right). The C-Max, offered in both hybrid (47 mpg combined) and plug-in hybrid form (95 mpg equivalent), will take its place. Why? Because with a more streamlined body, and an EcoBoost powertrain sitting on a Focus platform, the Escape rivals the fuel economy of the older hybrid version. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is turbocharged, delivering 178 horsepower and 184 foot pounds of torque. Expect a so-so 23 mpg in the city, but a very good 33 on the highway (26 combined). The 2012 Escape Hybrid manages 34 in the city, 31 on the highway (32 combined).
If you do a lot of turnpike driving, you’ll do better with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost, which benefits from grill shutters that are open at low speeds, then close to improve aerodynamics on the highway. This new Escape is 10 percent more slippery than the old model.
Ford isn’t even offered a six-cylinder 2013 Escape: That’s because the two-liter EcoBoost option offers 240 horses and 270 foot pounds, quite on par with the old three-liter V-6.
I took the Escape with EcoBoost on a long shakedown cruise, and found it easy to live with. Ford has dramatically overhauled and updated its car interiors, and the cheap plastic is gone, along with the out-of-date stereos. Now I can plug my iPod into MyFord Touch.
I’ve always found SUVs, even the big ones, cramped. But I could stretch out in the Escape, thanks to 3.5 more inches in length and 2.8 inches in wheelbase. There’s also a gain of three cubic feet of storage, handy for the moving-a-freshman-into-college run I have to undertake this week. We got four people’s luggage into the Escape without a problem.
SUVs always handled like trucks, either with heavy, unresponsive steering or with power assist that lightened it so as to lose all feel for the road. The Escape is now set up exactly like its European version, the Kuga, and reflects Continental-type preferences for faster, more responsive steering and an absence of body lean.
Some reviewers loved the Escape’s power liftgate (an option), but I found it annoying. It uses sensors that allow the loaded-down-with-bags you to open the gate by simply put your foot up to the bumper. Kind of clever, but if I can’t manually lift or lower a tailgate I probably shouldn’t be driving. Here's a video look at the Escape EcoBoost:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very, very unlikely to buy an SUV. Even one as competent as this one. I still don’t see the point. I don't go off road. I don't need all-wheel drive. I'm not worried about my identity. If I was proud to be a soccer dad, during the years my girls kicked balls on green lawns.
The C-Max plug-in hybrid, now, that one’s further along the crossover road to car territory. It will deliver me both a 550-mile cruising range (I love passing gas stations) and 20 miles of all-electric range. That one’s a contender for greenies like me.