Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rental Bliss: 2011 Ford Escape Limited

Ford's littlest truck has come a long way since the Bronco II. Driving a black-on-black Limited offered a few pleasant surprises.

The truck looks very sharp, with tasteful chrome highlighting the otherwise all-black exterior. Good looking by itself, it's downright gorgeous compared to older Escapes. The bubble styling and exposed plastics are gone, replaced by straighter lines and painted surfaces. The bumpers themselves are an attractive painted plastic, but are unfortunately extremely soft and easy to scratch. The rear hatch has handles built into the bottom edge, but they're not in an ideal spot to close the hatch from and otherwise there is no good place to put your hand without leaving a print on your chrome or paint. Besides those few quirks, the exterior of the truck is rather well done.

Inside it becomes clear that Ford has taken the truck upscale. The doors close with a solid-sounding thud, and the leather seats with optional heaters are very comfortable and offer good lumbar and lateral support. Piano black surfaces are everywhere, accentuated by the color-selectable accent lighting in the footwells and cup holders. There are a few sharp edges, including one knuckle-skinning mold edge in the center console, but otherwise the various seams and panels fit well together. There are many cup holders and nooks for gadgets, including Ford's trademark burrito tray in the middle of the dash, although most of the nooks are large and shallow making it difficult to keep things in place.

There is ample headroom and getting comfortable is easy, although the lower dash hangs so low as to make reaching the pedals more difficult than it should be. Rear visibility is hampered by the absolutely massive rear seat headrests. Ford has done a good job muffling the road and wind noise and coupled with the light steering, spunky 3.0 liter V6 engine, and great exhaust sound it's easy to get going faster than intended. Slowing the truck down is no problem as the brakes are adequate, and there is surprisingly little body roll.

After spending a week with the truck, it was difficult to give it back. City driving was made pleasant by the punchy engine and comfortable interior, and long trips were effortless. $27,000 is a lot to ask for a small SUV, but Ford seems to have packed theirs full of appeal and it would be hard to come away disappointed.