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History of the Ford Escape

A look back at the story so far of the Blue Oval’s compact SUV.


Customers are flocking to small crossover SUVs in droves for their combination of all-weather performance and family function with improved cargo carrying capabilities compared to traditional sedans. Case in point, the Escape is now Ford's best-selling nameplate outside of its F-Series pickup trucks. Last year, 272,228 Escapes found new homes to better both the Focus (113,345) and Fusion (173,600). And throughout its lifetime, more than 4 million have been sold in the US.

It's a similar story at other automakers with Escape competitors such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4 all sitting at the top of each respective company's sales charts. Where today's Escape struggles against its Japanese rivals is that it's simply old in comparison having originally launched way back in 2013. The Nissan isn't much newer landing in 2014, but the Honda and Toyota were both completely redone over the past couple of years.

Thankfully, there's an all-new 2020 Ford Escape on the horizon packing a fresh design, powertrains and technology. But before the fourth-generation model lands in showrooms this fall, let's take a quick look back at the history of the Blue Oval's compact SUV.

2001-2007 Escape: The beginning

The 2001 Ford Escape.


The first Escape arrived on the scene for 2001 with Ford working with Mazda to develop the compact SUV. Slotting below the full-frame Explorer in the lineup, the unibody-based Escape came standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder churning out 130 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Those looking for more giddy-up could option a 3.0-liter V6 with 200 ponies and 200 pound-feet that worked with a four-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive was standard, but both drivetrains could be equipped with a Control Trac II four-wheel drive system.

At launch, the Escape was offered in XLS and XLT trims. The base XLS featured standard air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, CD player and remote keyless entry. More premium XLT versions came with upgraded aluminum wheels in place of steel examples, antilock brakes, sunroof and seven-speaker audio system.

Over at the Mazda showroom, the Tribute was the result of the development partnership and essentially an Escape doppelganger. The four-cylinder and V6 drivetrains were shared along with a large portion of the interior. While exterior styling was also similar for the most part, the Mazda did wear its own fascias to set itself apart from the Ford slightly.

A midcycle update for the Escape arrived in 2005 with a new 2.3-liter four-cylinder making 153 horsepower replacing the 2.0-liter as the base engine. A 2.3-liter hybrid powertrain also joined the lineup and was capable of getting the Escape up to 25 miles per hour on electric power alone and claimed the title of the world's first hybrid SUV. With front-wheel drive, the EPA estimated the hybrid to return 30 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Visually, 2005 also brought new fascias on the outside, while the cabin received reworked seats, gauges and increased storage.

The refresh also helped give birth to the Mercury Mariner, which was a slightly more luxurious offshoot of the Escape. Styling touches that differentiated the Mercury from the Ford included a waterfall grille, bumpers and wheels. The cabin mostly carried over from the Escape with the exception of a two-tone color scheme and more premium trim finishes.

2008-2012 Escape: A heavier refresh

The 2008 Ford Escape.


The second-generation Escape that arrived for 2008 wasn't a ground-up redesign. Along with its Mazda and Mercury cousins, it still sat on the same platform as the previous model and offered a carryover drivetrain lineup. What customers could see on the outside and inside, though, was new. The exterior design was toughened to look blockier and more substantial after the Explorer and Expedition of the time. The more squared-off theme also carried into a cabin that offered improvements to build quality and storage.

A revamped powertrain lineup did eventually arrive for 2009 with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 170 horsepower becoming the standard engine in place of the old 2.3-liter. The 3.0-liter was also updated to produce an additional 40 horses to bump total output to 240. Both engines were joined by a new six-speed automatic gearbox to help improve fuel economy over the outgoing four-speed unit.

The hybrid also got massaged with a larger 2.5-liter engine. Together with the continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive, the Escape Hybrid received an improved EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 34 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

On the technology front, Ford Sync became standard on range-topping Escape Limited gas models and the Escape Hybrids in 2009. The following year, the tech feature menu was further beefed-up with Ford MyKey and trailer sway controls getting added as standard features, while active park assist became optional.

2013-2019 Escape: Finally, all-new

The 2017 Ford Escape.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

After more than a decade of being based on the same platform, the Escape was properly redone from the ground-up in 2013. The new underpinnings were longer and wider than the old model and featured a look that was completely different from any Escape before. Gone was the boxier appearance and in came sleeker sheetmetal.

Drastic differences were clear inside, too, with flowing dash design and the arrival of the MyFord Touch infotainment setup. Premium features such as a panoramic sunroof, navigation, park assist, blind-spot monitoring, remote engine start and Sony sound systems were all offered.

Three engine choices were available including a familiar 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque powering entry-level S versions of the third-generation Escape. Midrange SE and SEL models stepped up to a 1.6-liter turbocharged four delivering 178 horses and 184 pound-feet. Top Titanium models received a 2.0-liter turbo four that brought 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque to the party that replaced the V6 in the lineup. All engines worked with six-speed automatic transmissions.

Unlike previous Escapes, a hybrid model wasn't offered during this generation that will end its run after the 2019 model year.

2020 Escape: The hybrid returns

The 2020 Ford Escape.


Along with new drivetrains, a reworked suspension and a roughly 200-pound weight loss thanks to the use of more high-strength steel, Ford is promising the most athletic driving Escape to date with the fourth-generation model. A 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder serves as the base engine churning out 180 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque with cylinder deactivation. The 2.0-liter turbo four remains the range-topping gas option with 250 horses and 275 pound-feet. Both will be connected to a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

Returning for the Escape lineup is not one, but two hybrid offerings. The new hybrid system features a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine with a continuously variable transmission. Ford is estimating a net system output of 198 horsepower and an electric-power-only top speed of 85 mph. A plug-in hybrid will also be available with 209 horses and targeted electric driving range of more than 30 miles.

Visually, a trapezoidal grille inspired by the Mustang, faster windshield rake and sloping roof give the new car a sportier appearance. The sleeker look also pays dividends in aerodynamic efficiency. 

Sales of the gas and hybrid versions of the 2020 Ford Escape are slated to begin this fall with the plug-in hybrid following next spring. For complete details on the make be sure to check out our in-depth preview of the all-new compact crossover SUV.

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