The Ford Escape first arrived on the scene in 2000, and at the time, the compact SUV segment consisted of just five other vehicles. How times have changed, though, because the all-new 2020 Ford Escape is wading into a segment that now has almost 30 vehicles vying for whatever white space can be found. It's the industry's biggest, hottest segment, so it'll take nothing less than a very good car to rise to the top. At the, we're seeing Ford's attempt to claim the top of the mountain for itself.
Riding astride a new, stiffer platform and spanning longer, lower and wider than its forbearer, the 2020 Ford Escape range will arrive bristling with a rich suite of new powertrain tech, including hybrid models with and without a plug. The new Escape line -- called the Kuga in Europe -- will also bring with it a cluster of new convenience and safety technologies, all aimed at taking on segment titans such as the, and , as well as charismatic outsiders such as the and . In its upper trims, Ford even hopes to pick off a few luxury nameplate shoppers who would otherwise be shopping for modestly specced models wearing premium badges.
Starting with its most obvious new development, styling, the 2020 Escape's streamlined look is the direct result of how overcrowded the compact crossover scene is becoming. The dramatic ramping up of segment entrants has meant record industry profits, but some companies, like Ford, see dark clouds on the horizon.
With so many options headed to market, Blue Oval execs are worried that models in the Escape's segment are at risk for being commoditized. That's when everything starts to look the same, and where buyers gravitate to whatever product is cheapest, killing automaker profit margins in the process. As Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's executive vice president of Product Development and Purchasing, told the media in a sneak-peek session in late March, "The key to avoiding the tyranny of commoditization is to have a very compelling, differentiated position in the marketplace."
The markedly more organic look of the 2020 Escape is therefore one half of a bold new two-pronged strategy Ford will use to attack what has become one of the industry's most important segments.
Baby Bronco brother
As a bookend to this slipperier, more modern 2020 Escape design, Ford has confirmed that it will launch a new companion model with much more traditional SUV proportions and attitude. The unnamed model, known colloquially as the "," is slated to be revealed later this year. It's expected to feature greater ride height, a more upright greenhouse and increased off-road capability, all while sharing most of its underpinnings with this new Escape.
The idea is that this mystery SUV will appeal to the rough-and-tumble outdoorsy types who might otherwise cross-shop a, while the sleeker Escape will appear to city dwellers by offering a more contemporary aesthetic. By not releasing middle-of-the-road designs, Ford believes it can tap into more passionate buyers who are wiling to pay more, thus avoiding commodification and the poor resale values that tend to come with it.
Ironically, the original 2001 Escape took a similar design approach, looking as boxy and vertical as a traditional body-on-frame SUV. You may recall that Jeep itself tried a similar strategy in the mid-late 2000s with the original Compass and Patriot SUVs. That effort wasn't particularly successful, mostly because neither of the vehicles was great. The compact SUV segment may also not have been large enough to sustain two such models at that time, either.
In any case, this fourth-gen Escape's urbanized, lower, wider and longer look won't appeal to everyone, and that's on purpose. The new design is a long way from the boxy and upright traditional SUV look of the first- and second-gen Escape, and it's actually different from the outgoing iteration, which has been on sale since the 2013 model year.
Ford claims the new design's face is inspired by today'sand even a little bit of the in its lower fascia. To my eyes, the latter assertion in particular takes more than a bit of artistic license. To me, the 2020 Escape looks decidedly carlike from most views -- more so than just about anything in its class. In fact, if someone told me this was the we were supposed to get before Ford took a cleaver to its future North American car plans, I would've believed them. None of this is to say that the Escape is a bad-looking vehicle, just that it's catering to a somewhat different buyer. What's more, with Ford now having discontinued the Focus in the US and with the Fusion soon to depart, the Escape's hatchback-like looks may provide a palatable way to keep customers who prefer traditional passenger cars in the Blue Oval fold.
Underneath the new skin of this SUV, built in Louisville, Kentucky-built, there's a new platform designed with electrification in mind. The lion's share of 2020 Escapes will likely leave dealers running on just three cylinders: There's a new 1.5-liter turbocharged I3 standard on S, SE and SEL trims. The new engine is estimated to produce 180 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, albeit running on 93-octane fuel. Paired with a mandatory eight-speed automatic transmission, this engine can tow 2,000 pounds, but more remarkably, it can actually run on just two cylinders to save fuel.
In an interesting strategic move, Ford will actually make a new fourth-gen hybrid powertrain standard on SE Sport and Titanium models, though the latter will also be available with a gas-only 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder.
The hybrid relies on an Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter four paired with an electronic continuously variable transmission for maximum efficiency. Ford quotes total system output at 198 horsepower in front-wheel-drive spec, and says that an electric-only top speed of 85 miles per hour is possible before the internal combustion engine kicks on.
That aforementioned 2.0-liter turbo engine that's optional on the top-trim Titanium model is estimated at a healthy 250 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque (also on high-octane fuel). Ford says the new powertrain will make the fourth-gen Escape about 10 percent quicker than the 2019 model with the 2.0T. It's also rated to tow a class-competitive 3,500 pounds, enough for a trailer toting a couple of ATVs or a small outboard boat.
A new, smarter all-wheel-drive system is optional, and it features an axle disconnect feature for improved fuel economy when the extra traction isn't called for. Between its slippery bodywork, smarter AWD system and reduced weight of around 200 pounds across the board, fuel economy could see a meaningful increase in this generation, but we'll have to wait until the EPA estimates are released.
For the first time, the Escape will also get a plug-in hybrid option, a system derived from that of today's. For this front-wheel-drive-only model, Ford is quoting 209 total system horsepower, but the automaker says it's targeting an electric-only range of 30-plus miles. The Escape Plug-In Hybrid's lithium-ion battery will power up on a Level 2 charger in around 3.5 hours, or 10 to 11 hours when plugged into a conventional 110-volt Level 1 outlet. Ford is targeting a bladder-busting total range of over 550 miles for this powertrain.
If there's one main area where the outgoing third-gen Escape was feeling its age, it was the inside. This new 2020 Ford Escape looks like it'll rectify that in a hurry, with better materials, a more contemporary aesthetic and gobs of available new tech. Those new features include a standard rotary shifter, an optional all-digital, 12.3-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster (with minimalist), and a drive mode selector (Normal, Eco, Snow and Sand, Sport and Slippery). Other available niceties include USB-A, USB-C and wireless charging, heated seats and steering wheel, as well as a 6-inch head-up display that uses less costly retractable combiner tech. Lamentably absent from the options list are cooled seats, a 360-degree surround-view camera, and a rear-seat reminder.
Most models will have Sync 3 infotainment with an 8-inch touchscreen, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. A 575-watt, 10-speaker B&O premium audio system is optional, too. Available FordPass Connect allows for a suite of remote commands through your phone, including remote start, remote locking and vehicle diagnostics.
Despite a lower overall height, Ford says the Escape's cabin and cargo space have both improved, suggesting that the new model's seats may sit slightly closer to the floor than before. A new sliding second row allows for the prioritization of people or things and the company notes that a full-size dog crate can now be accommodated in the cargo hold. Cargo space is listed at 37.5 cubic feet in EcoBoost models or 34.4 cubic feet for hybrid variants. With the second row seats folded, space expands to 65.4 cubic feet (60.8 for electrified models). Those are class-competitive figures, though it's worth noting that most rivals offer more max cargo capacity.
(To dig into more by-the-numbers comparisons with key competitors, the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4,and Nissan Rogue, .)
All 2020 Escapes will ship with Ford CoPilot360, the Blue Oval's name for a suite of advanced driver assist systems including blind-spot assist, lane-keep assist, automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams. Adaptive cruise control and lane-centering tech will be optional, as will a new one-touch self-park system and Evasive Steering Assist.
Avoiding 'the dreaded C Word'
Will the new 2020 Escape successfully avoid what Ford's Thai-Tang called "The dreaded C word" -- commoditization? Will it be a big success? It'll take a while to know for sure. Like its predecessors, the new Escape seems destined to sell hundreds of thousands of units annually, but the quality of the sales themselves, as measured by incentives and actual transaction prices, will be the only way to tell if Ford's effort to reenvision and reposition this model has been successful.
The 2020 Ford Escape is slated to arrive in dealers nationwide this fall, but if you want a plug-in hybrid model, you'll have to wait until spring 2020. Pricing will be released closer to the range's on-sale date.
Originally published April 2.
Update, April 18: Refreshed for New York Auto Show debut with new pictures from the show floor.