In the late 1990s, it became clear that sport-utility vehicles were set to surpass minivans as the people mover of choice for most families in North America. Buyers were drawn to the passenger capacity, greater ride height and available all-wheel drive that were often characteristic of this newly popular class of vehicle.
While most SUV fans were enraptured by the plus-size dimensions of mid and full-size SUVs, there were still a significant number of drivers out there who were interested in the off-road and cargo capacities of sport-utility vehicles but wanted something that was a little easier to park and which would also fit in their garage. While cute-utes from Suzuki and Geo had been available for many years, they offered little in terms of passenger space or horsepower, leaving a hole in the market for a true compact SUV which could bridge the gap between practicality and excess.
Ford, suffering from lackluster sales of its Contour compact sedan, realized that it was in the perfect position to take advantage of this suddenly apparent SUV sub-genre. The company killed off production of the Contour, which by this time had become an albatross around the company's neck, and instead devoted the facilities which had been assembling the sedan to building a new sport-utility vehicle. Using the same platform as the outgoing automobile, the new 2001 Ford Escape boasted handling which had more in common with a car than a truck, as well as smaller exterior dimensions than the segment-leading Explorer.
The Ford Escape represented many firsts for the automaker. It was the first SUV they ever designed which wasn't built on one of the popular and rugged pickup truck platforms. It was also the first compact SUV on the market to be released with a hybrid power train, which Ford introduced mid-year in 2004. Ford also decided to steer clear from the serious off-road market, instead outfitting the Escape with an independent rear suspension and front-wheel drive, although all-wheel drive was available as an option. When taken together, the Escape's unique configuration was peculiar for Ford at the time but turned out to be one of the company's more popular SUVs.
The 2001-2007 Ford Escape has aged well, even in comparison to competitors like the Land Rover Freelander and Jeep Patriot. A used first generation Escape is still a serviceable option for drivers tired of driving a sedan but still desiring good cargo and passenger space in a practical daily driver. This article takes a more detailed look at the strengths of a used Ford Escape compact SUV.
2001 - 2007 Ford Escape
Most buyers who are interested in a small SUV expect a driving experience that matches their previous compact or mid-size sedan. They may not be looking for sports car performance but nor do they want a vehicle which numbly lumbers its way through traffic. The Ford Escape instantly sets itself apart from the other truck-based SUV's on the market through its responsive and satisfying handling. While the taller than normal ride height injects a bit of caution into quick corners, in general the Escape makes excellent use of well tuned, car-based suspension system. The optional all-wheel drive is better suited for on-pavement performance, as the system is quickly overwhelmed by rough trail conditions. This is an acceptable compromise, given that few Escape owners are itching to strike off into the wilderness with their SUV.
Early versions of the Escape come with either a 127 horsepower Zetec 4-cylinder engine or a much peppier 201 horsepower 3.0-liter V-6. At the end of 2004 and heading into the 2005 model year, the Escape received a new base engine in the form of a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder which generates 153 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque. The real story, however, is the inclusion of a hybrid option for this engine which can switch back and forth between using a battery-powered electric motor or the traditional gasoline power plant to turn the wheels. Performance is similar to that of the V-6, but fuel economy jumps to an exemplary 36 miles per gallon in city driving and 31 miles per gallon on the highway. The Escape hybrid typically commands a premium on the used market due to its higher initial sticker price.
While the interior of the Escape was incrementally upgraded over the course the first generation's lifetime, all version of the SUV possess a good combination of passenger room and cargo storage, with later models topping out around 70 cubic feet of 'trunk' space. The original versions of the Escape are larger inside than the Honda CR-V and compare well with the Toyota RAV4, making it a better option for families or those who find themselves frequently hauling a fair payload.
Convenient, fuel efficient and capable, the Escape has become an important part of Ford's SUV and crossover lineup. The 2001 - 2007 Ford Escape is a trend setter in the compact SUV segment, and the availability of a hybrid version makes it an especially rare value as a used sport-utility vehicle.