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2016 Ford Escape review: Escape adds Sync 3 to its roster of excellent tech and engineering

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Typical Price: $27,490.00
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The Good With its 2-liter Ecoboost engine, the 2016 Ford Escape gets more power than the typical small SUV. Its responsive steering and comfortable ride make for an excellent driving character. The new Sync 3 infotainment system offers the quick interaction of mobile electronics, an intuitive layout and app integration.

The Bad Minor quibbles only, but fully optioned the Escape can get pricey. With the 2-liter engine and the all-wheel-drive option, fuel economy averages in the low 20s. Built-in online destination search would be nice.

The Bottom Line The 2016 Ford Escape exhibits all the practicality of a small SUV and offers an excellent driving experience, with get-in-and-go ease. The new Sync 3 infotainment system responds as well as any tablet or smartphone, and its AppLink feature promises interesting future capabilities from third-party developers.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.4 Overall
  • Performance 7
  • Features 7
  • Design 8
  • Media 8

Review Sections

When Ford redesigned the Escape for the 2013 model year, it came out with an impressively modern small SUV benefiting from the latest Ford technologies. Less beneficial was MyFord Touch, however, the ambitious infotainment system that proved sluggish and cluttered.

The 2016 Ford Escape retains all the goodness of its last update, but scraps MyFord Touch in favor of Sync 3, a wholly redesigned and reengineered infotainment system up to this car's overall modern appeal. With Sync 3, the 2016 Escape impressed me top to bottom, making for a comfortable, versatile driver with most of the high-tech amenities I could desire.

2016 Ford Escape
Ford's Escape model offers good interior space and a comfortable driving character. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Those amenities came at a serious price, though, as the loaded Escape in Titanium trim that I drove came to $36,330, a big jump over the Escape's base price of $23,995. The extra cash brought in a more powerful, efficient engine, all-wheel drive, automated parking, leather-covered seats with power adjustment, a powered liftgate and that aforementioned Sync 3 infotainment system. You can probably find a suitable permutation of options in the middle of that price range.

UK and Australian buyers won't find the Escape in their local Ford dealer's lineup, but they will find the Kuga, which is essentially the same car. The base price for the Kuga comes to £20,995 in the UK and AU$27,490 in Australia, but Ford has not said when Sync 3 might be available in those markets.

Pricey power

Before I detail the wonders of Sync 3, the engine and driving experience needs some space, as they make the Escape a very practical car, suitable for a variety of uses. Although a small SUV, the cargo area is a full 34.3 cubic feet, with good depth and height. And that's behind the second-row seats. Fold those down and you're looking at 67.8 cubic feet. And in Titanium trim, I could make the powered liftgate open by just kicking my foot under the rear bumper. It's one of the Escape's neat tricks.

Adding to this Escape's price was the 2-liter Ecoboost engine, which uses direct injection and a turbocharger to produce 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers outstrip the competition, and I appreciated the ready throttle response, giving the Escape more than enough pep for passing and merging. In fact, the Escape's midtier 1.6-liter Ecoboost engine's 178 horsepower better matches competitive cars, such as the Honda CR-V .

2016 Ford Escape
Among the Escape's three engine options, this 2-liter turbocharged produces more power than is typical for the segment. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

That 2-liter engine was a good match for the Escape's six-speed automatic transmission, which shifted quietly and quickly, making for a smooth driving experience. Because every car needs some sort of sport setting, apparently, the shifter's "S" position maintains slightly higher engine speeds. In the Escape, this sport mode is not particularly useful, but a manual shift mode, controlled with a rocker switch on the shifter, could come in handy for heavy load or low traction situations.

The all-wheel-drive option in the Escape works automatically, with no driver controls such as a differential lock. That means front-wheel-drive bias with torque sent to the rear wheels as needed. It also brings the EPA average fuel economy down to 23 mpg, a 2 mpg loss over the front-wheel-drive version with the 2-liter engine.

What was a truly pleasant surprise with the Escape was the ride quality. While short of luxury, the Escape's suspension makes for very smooth driving, damping out vibration and jolts from rough pavement. I drove the Escape over a particularly challenging section of road, with deep undulations through a set of turns, and it did an admirable job absorbing that rising and falling terrain. After each crest, it settled back down rather than bouncing up and down.

2016 Ford Escape

The six-speed automatic transmission includes an unnecessary sport mode.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

And while I really liked the responsive steering feel, which reacted instantly to my inputs, the Escape feels a little top-heavy in the turns. Not surprising for a small SUV, the cabin sway kept me from pushing it hard through sharp turns. Ford equips the Escape with a vehicle stability program, of course, and also a corner braking system, which applies light braking to the inside wheels in a turn to help the car rotate. That corner braking system may help, but I can't say I felt it come into play.

Touch response

Adding to what has been a well-mannered, practical small SUV, Sync 3 gives it a dashboard electronics platform equal in responsiveness to any tablet or smartphone on the market. Running on a Texas Instruments dual-core processor, onscreen buttons reacted instantly to my touchscreen inputs. More impressive, I could drag the map screens around, even when they were full of complex 3D-rendered buildings. I haven't seen that level of responsiveness from any other car-based navigation system and, as the maps are stored locally, I didn't have to wait for a data connection to fill in the screen, like I would with a smartphone app.

The layout of Sync 3 is smart, too, with a persistent menu car across the bottom of the screen giving me quick access to navigation, audio, phone and apps. That's similar to the UConnect system in the Jeep Cherokee .

Ford streamlines destination input with a single box for entering addresses, cities, or searching for points of interest, similar to using a maps app. However, Sync 3 doesn't do online search, so I ran into an instance where it did not have a listing for a newer local business that I was able to find on my phone's app.

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