2023 Ford Escape First Look Review: Toughening Up a Soft Crossover

Few vehicles sharing the same basic platform are better differentiated than the Ford C2-based boxy, go-anywhere Bronco Sport and the urban-outfitted, lozenge-like Escape. Had they looked more similar, the former might have cannibalized the latter’s sales. Both are selling at or near capacity three years into the fourth-generation Escape’s model run, so Ford is toughening up the visage and demeanor of 2020’s somewhat soft-looking Escape.

Fresh Front End

Most of the manning up comes courtesy of a bolder new hood, which sits atop a more deeply sculpted grille flanked by a pair of LED-outlined “four-eyed” headlamps that look much more expressive (also a skosh BMW-ish). On upper trim levels, a so-called “coast-to-coast” LED light strip connects these headlamp DRLs, illuminating the gap between the hood and grille. A new fascia incorporating a faux skidplate completes the beefier makeover. Other exterior changes are minimal: new 17-, 18-, and 19-inch wheel designs, new LED taillamps, a false skidplate on the rear fascia, and the relocation of the hatch release from below to above the license plate.

New ST Line Trim

Further solidifying the Escape as the pavement-burner of the Ford C2 platform compact crossover lineup is a new ST Line package that blacks out all the main trim—grille, window-surround moldings, a large single-wing rear spoiler, etc. Even the 19-inch wheels go black on top models. Further downplaying the ST Line’s off-road ambitions are body-color wheel-arch moldings instead of dark gray. Inside, there’s red stitching and a flat-bottom steering wheel, though the seating material changes with different trim grades. That’s the cool thing about Escape ST Line—the look is generally available for about $995 more than an equivalent Escape built in any of the other trim series. That means the least expensive 1.5-liter Escape ST Line starts at $31,335. ST Line Select and Elite models feature content that aligns with the other trim levels. Ford expects half of all buyers to opt for the ST Line.

Other Trim Levels and Pricing

Gone are meaningless trim names like S, SE, and SEL, in favor of base, Active, and Platinum. That’s a basic and a loaded trim level bracketing one that offers several option packages to tailor the Escape to specific customer wants. The base Escape starts at $28,995, the Active (which doesn’t get a specific badge) rings in at $32,210, and the Platinum opens at $37,515 with the standard 2.0-liter AWD drivetrain; the conventional hybrid powertrain with front- or all-wheel drive is optional. The front-drive plug-in hybrid Escape tops the range as its own fully loaded trim level, priced at $39,995.

Functionally Carryover Powertrains

The 2023 Ford Escape continues to offer two gas and two hybrid models with outputs that, on paper, seem to be virtually carryover. But both the 1.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged three-cylinder and the 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder are essentially new engines, redesigned to comply with tightening emissions regulations. The hybrid and plug-in hybrid models use  the same 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder, with some minor tweaks to the output ratings attributable to a new method of measurement for this complex gas-engine/two motor-generator setup. The eight-speed automatic transmissions (EcoBoost) and planetary CVTs (hybrids) are unchanged, as is the optional all-wheel-drive system. The PHEV offers four EV modes: Auto, EV Now, EV Later, and EV Charge, with a maximum possible fully electric speed of 85 mph.

New Electrical Architecture

Ford’s latest electrical architecture, first seen on the Mustang Mach E and forthcoming Super Duty trucks, brings new functionality to the Escape, including the full cloud-connected Sync 4 infotainment suite, Ford Co-Pilot360 safety tech with intersection and blind-spot assist, evasive steering assist, reverse cross-traffic braking and brake assist, “OK, Ford”  and Alexa Built-In voice commands (with complimentary three-year subscription), and navigation with traffic rerouting capability. Perhaps more important is the new architecture’s ability to receive over-the-air upgrades to improve current features or add new capabilities. The 2023 Ford Escape gets upgraded screens, as well, with formerly optional cluster and central screens becoming standard, and the biggest central screen growing from 8.0 to 13.2 inches. The screens are all reconfigurable, and the upsized central screen incorporates all HVAC controls in a line of digital buttons that always remain visible along the bottom of the screen (base and low-level Escapes with the 8.0-inch screen retain the physical HVAC buttons just below the screen).

Is the 2023 Ford Escape Worth Waiting For?

With pricing up only about $315, the upgradable electrical architecture alone is worth opting for a ’23 model. The styling tweaks and ST Line appearance package look a lot better, and the bigger screen and decluttered dash are all worthy upgrades. These midcycle changes should help Ford’s fourth bestselling vehicle continue to sell strongly when it hits the road in early 2023. Will the Escape’s sixth-place standing in our MotorTrend Ultimate Car Rankings change? The updates don’t appear to address our primary complaints of lower-grade interior materials, an unsatisfying base engine, or the unsupportive driver’s seat, so we’ll have to wait to hold a comparison test of this highly competitive class next year to find out.

2023 Ford Escape Specifications
BASE PRICE$28,995-$39,995
LAYOUTFront-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE1.5L/181-hp/190-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 12-valve I-3; 2.0L/250-hp/280-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 2.5L/165-hp Atkinson-cycle DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 83-hp/NA-lb-ft (front) electric motors, 199-210 hp/206 lb-ft (est, comb)
TRANSMISSION8-speed automatic, cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT3,300-3,900 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE106.7 in
L x W x H180.5 x 74.1 x 66.1 in
0-60 MPH6.9-8.7 sec (MT est)
EPA FUEL ECON (CITY/HWY/COMB)22-44/31-38/26-41 mpg (gas, est); 117/93/105 mpg-e* (gas+elec, est)
EPA RANGE (COMB)408-582 miles (gas/+elec, est); 37 (elec, est)
ON SALEEarly 2023
*EPA blended-PHEV (charge-depleting) mode testing, with vehicles set to their default drive and brake-regeneration modes.

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