---- — The word coming from the West Coast is that certain Ford vehicles are now highly prized by trend watchers. Those are the California people who care more about the image they project – what other people think of the car they drive – than they care about how well that car serves them.
No doubt they’ve noticed that Ford’s trio of top-sellers – the Focus and Fusion passenger cars and the Escape crossover wagon – look good on a driver. All three models are artfully sculpted in a bold and contemporary style. The small Focus looks pert, perky and ready for action. The middle-sized Fusion appears skillful and seriously kinetic. The Escape, a compact, five-passenger utility vehicle available in front- and all-wheel drive, is fluidly shaped and handsomely proportioned. It wraps the practical, haul-it-all usefulness of a sport-utility vehicle in a trim, tidy, and curvaceous body.
But as insecure, image-obsessed drivers on the Pacific coast just catch on to the fact that those models are cool, Merrimack Valley motorists are already there.
That’s especially true of the Ford Escape. Of the three trendy cruisers, Escape is the top seller at Regan Ford in Haverhill.
“We sell one every day,” noted Joseph Cullinan, sales manager at the dealership.
Now remember, we’re not talking about bread, milk or eggs. These are automobiles. They’re big-ticket items. A model selling at a rate of one a day from a community dealership adds up to a very big success.
What’s more, Cullinan reports that the Escape’s popularity comes from more than just its good looks. Sure, people like its appearance both inside and out, he said. The cabin of the Ford Escape echoes the same confident, lead-the-way stylishness as the exterior. You see that front and center, in the equipment and controls clustered in the middle of the dashboard. A big pod keeps entertainment and communication features consolidated in one, easy-to-reach and easy-to-view module that floats like an island on the surrounding dashboard, which is sensuously rounded and recessed. Beneath the pod, climate controls nest in a wide, sloping extension that drops down to the shift lever between the front seats. The slant of that extension from the dash – rather than a straight drop to the floor – gives a cockpit-like feel to the front seats. It also enables the climate controls to look up at you at an angle so they’re all the easier to operate.
But as much as drivers are drawn to the outside and inside appearances of the model, they appreciate the Escape for the overall quality they find in the vehicle, according to Cullinan. He sees that as a culmination of Ford’s long-running campaign to elevate superior quality as a defining characteristic of its vehicles.
The fuel efficiency of the Escape is another popular characteristic, he said. It’s all the more appealing because people don’t have to sacrifice an engine’s authority to get it.
Cullinan said that’s the benefit of another Ford initiative: to maximize the use of engines designed according to an engineering approach it calls EcoBoost.
Using turbochargers and other advanced fuel-handling methods, EcoBoost engines are specially configured to wring big-engine power out of smaller engines. That gives them the advantages of both: small-engine efficiency with the on-demand responsive of a larger motor.
In the Escape, “the EcoBoost engines give people good power and good gas mileage at the same time,” said Cullinan.
Ford’s EcoBoost campaign has gained so much acclaim that many shoppers now come in asking for the engines, Cullinan said. Some others, unaware of the EcoBoost approach, want to try the Escape with a six-cylinder motor. But Ford doesn’t sell the model with a six. Instead it offers the wagon with a choice of two EcoBoost four-cylinders.
“When they drive the four-cylinder EcoBoost, they’re shocked at how much power it has,” Cullinan explained.
A basic, front-wheel-drive Escape comes with a conventional four-cylinder engine. But around here, most drivers choose an Escape with all-wheel drive, which brings them the option of the two EcoBoosts.
The smaller one is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 178 horsepower. With Escape’s standard six-speed automatic transmission, the engine yields a fuel-economy rating of 22 miles per gallon in city driving, and 30 mpg on the highway, when paired with all-wheel drive.
The larger EcoBoost engine option, at 2.0 liters, delivers 240 horsepower, and a fuel-economy rating of 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, with all-wheel drive.
A third factor behind Escape’s popularity is the advanced technology available in higher-level versions of the model, Cullinan said. One noteworthy example is the automatic liftgate in back. Using motion-detection methods, the rear hatch opens when a person waves a foot beneath the bumper – as long as the person has the car’s key fob. Another example is a parallel parking system that steers the wagon into a parking space automatically, as the driver works the gas pedal and brake.
With all of its attributes and a range of prices that makes Escape affordable to a variety of shoppers, the model attracts people from across the driving spectrum, Cullinan said.
“We get everyone from young couples to retired people looking at the vehicle,” he said.
Regan Ford is likely to now see any Californians transplanted to the Merrimack Valley also looking at the Escape, once they learn what people back home are driving.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.
2014 Ford Escape
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5- passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive compact crossover utility vehicle
Price range: $22,105 to $31,705 (plus options)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles roadside assistance
Base engine: 2.5-liter I4
Power: 168 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 170 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 mpg city; 31 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 106 inches
Length: 178 inches
Width: 72 inches
Height: 66 inches
Weight: 3,598 pounds
Fuel capacity: 15.1 gallons
Turning circle: 38.7 feet