Ford has introduced an all-new Escape for 2013.
It hardly needed to.
The old Escape was the top-selling compact crossover in the U.S. in 2011, posting its personal best year, despite the fact that it was essentially an 11-year-old car.
But the competition in the segment is fierce as buyers flock to these affordable, versatile, fuel efficient vehicles, and the Escape’s main rival, the Honda CR-V, also received a recent makeover.
That being the case, let’s see how the top of the line models of each fair against each other.
Ford took a chance – though not a big one – by shunning the boxy little trucklet looks of the old Escape and embracing a softer, more car-like appearance. The 2013 model tapping into the same design language showcased on the Ford Focus.
The CR-V is less of a departure, and more of a refresh. While the body is all new, the shapes are very familiar, but a little sportier. Considering this is the direction the Escape aimed to move toward, little change is probably good.
The Escape is also inspired by the Focus-inspired here. The dashboard has a futuristic design that’d fit right in on the bridge of the Prometheus, and high quality plastics are used throughout -- many of them made from recycled or sustainable materials. The leather front buckets in Titanium edition tested here are terrific, but the rear seating area comes up short. It’s one of the smallest in class and legroom is tight.
One cool feature: there’s a storage bin under the floor on the rear passenger side. Not sure what it’s meant for, but you’ll think of something.
Owners of the last generation CR-V will feel right at home in the new one. Everything is right where you left it, but it’s all much nicer than you recall. Controls are well laid out and easy to use, and the back seat is very spacious. Perhaps even more impressive is the cargo area. It’s substantially larger than the Escape’s, with a very low lift over height and a unique one-touch feature for the rear seats that flips up the bottom cushion first then lowers the seatback creating a flat, deep floor.
The CR-V also has its gear selector sticking out of the dash, rather than on the center console. This gives it enough room between the seats for a bin large enough to accommodate a large handbag, while the Escape’s can handle a grande travel mug, at best.
Ford threw the kitchen sink under the hood and offers a choice of three engines, all with six-speed automatic transmissions. There’s a carryover 168 hp 2.5-liter four cylinder that’s only available in front-wheel-drive versions and likely relegated to rental car duty, and a 178 hp 1.6-liter turbo good for 33 mpg on the highway in two-wheel-drive models, 30 mpg with AWD. Mine was fitted with the same 240 hp 2.0-liter turbo available in the larger Edge and Explorer, which gives the Escape a 3,500-lb tow rating. It’s got a nice punch, but doesn’t feel quite as powerful as you’d expect from its specs.
As usual, the CR-V keeps it simple and comes with just one powertrain, a 185-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission combo that delivers 31 mpg on the highway in front-wheel drive versions and 30 mpg with AWD. It’s as smooth as ever, and suits the car well.
Apparently Ford has a very large house, because it threw a second kitchen sink full of gadgets at the rest of the Escape. There is an available blind spot warning system, cross traffic alert for backing up, a self-parking feature that identifies and steers the Escape into parallel spaces, and a power liftgate that can be opened or closed by swiping your foot passed a sensor located under the bumper for when your hands are full.
The Escape also has the latest version of the Sync-equipped MyFord Touch infotainment system. After more than a few complaints about the first edition, Ford simplified some of the touch-screen displays in an effort to make it easier to use. Unfortunately, it’s still a little busy for undistracted use on the move, but has one of the best voice control systems in the business. They should really think about changing the brand name to MyFord Talk, it might get the critics off their back.
For its part, the CR-V comes standard with a backup camera that offers not one, or two, but three different views. Wow! Also, the otherwise very straightforward infotainment system with navigation is Pandora-compatible.
As the ultimate small family cars, both vehicles offer rear seat entertainment systems, but while the Escape treats it as an accessory that can be ordered on every model, Honda bundles the CR-V into five trim levels and the rear seat entertainment and navigation systems end up being an either/or proposition.
If you just got a deal on one of the clunky old Escapes, the new one will make you angry. It’s night and day, assuming you prefer sunshine. The ride is composed, quiet and comfortable, if a little numb. Not much to get excited about here, but crossovers rarely are.
Unless, of course, they are CR-Vs. Honda kind of dropped the ball on the dynamics of its latest Civic, but not so here. The CR-V is as engaging to drive as you want it to be, with great feedback through the steering wheel and the kind of moves that make you anxious to get out of the mall parking lot.
Base price for the various models of each car available run from $23,120-$31,020 for the Escape and $23,325-$30,825 for the CR-V, with the loaded versions tested here priced at $36,030 and $30,825, respectively, largely reflecting the additional feature content on offer in the Escape.
It’s a tough call, but I’m going to have to pick the Mazda CX-5.
That’s right, I love good twist.
The truth is that both the Escape and CR-V are excellent, class-leading efforts, each with its own advantages. You want power and tech? Go for the Escape. Size and handling? The CR-V is for you. Either way, it’s unlikely that you’ll be seriously disappointed.
But as happy as I’d be with either of them, the Escape’s back seat is a touch too small for my personal tastes and I just don’t think I could bring myself to be the guy in the CR-V (yea, I’ve got image issues.)
The also-all-new Mazda CX-5 falls right in the midst of this pair. It’s not the most powerful car in the segment, but does get the best fuel economy. It’s short of features compared to the Escape, but blind spot warning is among them. As for handling, it’s a Mazda, zoom-zoom and all that good stuff. You can read the full review here:
In any event, what we have here isn’t necessarily proof that there aren’t any bad cars today, rather that the three newest ones in this particular segment are all very good.
Take your pick.
Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.