The Blue Oval's most popular crossover SUV is all-new for 2020. We've got all the details, from features to pricing.
Chris PaukertFormer executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Ford's Escape first arrived on the scene in 2000, and at the time, the entire compact SUV segment consisted of just five other vehicles. Times have changed, though, because the all-new 2020 Ford Escape is wading into a segment that now has almost 30 models vying for whatever white space can be found. It's the industry's largest and hottest segment, so it'll take nothing less than a very good vehicle to rise to the top. At the 2019 New York Auto Show, the Blue Oval revealed its attempt to claim the top of the mountain for itself: the 2020 Ford Escape.
Watch this: 2020 Ford Escape is a citified slicker SUV
Riding astride a new, stiffer platform and spanning longer, lower and wider than its forebearer, the 2020 Escape range arrives bristling with a rich suite of new powertrain tech, including electrified hybrid models with and without a plug. The new Escape line -- better known as the Kuga in Europe -- will also bring with it a cluster of new convenience and safety tech, all aimed at taking on segment titans like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4, as well as charismatic outsiders such as the Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester. In its upper trims, Ford even hopes to pick off a few luxury nameplate shoppers who might 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 of being commoditized. That's when everything starts to look the same, and where buyers gravitate to whatever product is cheapest, spurring incentive wars and killing 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 plans to launch a new companion model with much more traditional SUV proportions and attitude. The unnamed model, known colloquially as the "Baby Bronco," 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 Jeep Cherokee, 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
itself tried a similar strategy in the mid-to-late 2000s with the original
and Patriot SUVs. That effort wasn't particularly successful, mostly because neither of the vehicles were particularly competent. 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's Mustang and even a little bit of the GT supercar 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 Focus Active softroader 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 sadly having discontinued the Focus in the US and with the Fusion sedan 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.
2020 Ford Escape brings car-like looks to New York
Underneath the new skin of this Louisville, Kentucky-built crossover SUV, 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 Fusion PHEV. 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 calm mode), 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.
All 2020 Escapes will ship with Ford Co-Pilot360, 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 of next year.
For starters, the base 2020 Ford Escape S will start at $24,885 ($780 more than 2019), plus $1,095 for delivery. Yes, the new model is more expensive, but it also features more standard equipment, including the aforementioned Ford Co-Pilot360 safety gear, wifi hotspot, drive modes and so on.
The Escape's most popular trim, SE, will start at $27,095 plus delivery, an increase of just $595. The SE trim includes important 'livability' improvements like an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, 17-inch wheels and LED accents.
Stepping up to the SE Sport ($28,255 plus delivery) adds the larger hybridized 2.5-liter engine paired to a CVT, plus the digital gauge cluster, black exterior detailing, and so on.
The second-highest-trim level, Escape SEL, starts at $29,255 plus delivery, $810 more than last year. For that outlay, you get 18-inch alloys, a heated leather steering wheel, hands-free foot-activated liftgate, sport seats with memory function, fog lamps and backup sensors, among other features.
If you really feel like splashing out, the top-shelf Ford Escape Titanium will run you $33,400 before destination fee and options. It comes standard with the 2.5-liter hybrid powertrain, and is distinguished by features like 19-inch wheels, B&O premium audio, laminated glass, voice-activated navigation, leather seats and lane-centering and park assist ADAS features.
Unfortunately, pricing has not yet been revealed for the Escape's late-availability plug-in hybrid models.
It'll likely be a few months before we get the chance to drive the all-new 2020 Ford Escape family. For now, check out our spec comparison with other popular compact crossover SUVs below, and check back here at Roadshow for all the latest news and reviews.