There’s an old, huge factory shell down in the Richmond Shipyards in the East Bay across from the San Francisco skyline. Its hangar-like dimensions were built by Henry Ford about 100 years ago so his fledgling motor company could build Model A’s for sale on the west coast.
With its history anchored in Dearborn, Mich., the cavernous brick and glass structure was a natural venue for Ford to introduce the 2013 Ford Escape for a two-day ride and drive event.
The new Escape is a major focus (no pun intended) for Ford this model year. One of three vehicles sold by Ford is a crossover or midsize SUV such as the Escape and the Fusion. To keep that trend going, Ford did a major redesign of the Escape for 2013 with new specs inside and out.
The automaker invited crews of automotive journalists to San Francisco and handed out Escapes for a long drive from Richmond up through Marin County and back down through The Fog City to give the Escape a proper shakedown.
Starting at $22,470, the 2013 Escape will come in four classes – the entry level E, the SE, the SEL and the kitted out Titanium edition. Depending on your preferences and your price point, you can can choose from a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine (168 horsepower), a 1.6 liter EcoBoost engine (178 horsepower) and a 2.0 liter EcoBoost edition (240 horsepower).
For those of you who don’t speak Ford’ian, EcoBoost engines are smaller power plants that add a turbocharger to push more horsepower out of a lighter engine. The good news is that reduced weight can mean better fuel economy – though the 2013 Escape’s fuel economy numbers are still to be determined.
The bad news is adding a turbocharger to an engine piles on one more component that can go wrong. In fact, it often seems the turbocharger is the first thing to go on a car when the warranty expires – but that just might be my own bitterness talking there. There are no reports of any problems emerging so far from Ford’s fleet of EcoBoost engines. Time will tell how they bear up over the years and miles.
As for my ride, I took out the 1.6 liter EcoBoost version. You might wonder why since I’ve always shown an understandable preference for more speed and power in the past. In this case, I was curious if the smallest engine in the Escape line could handle the Bay Area roads – assuming that, if the smallest engine could swing it, the up-class set-ups would have no problem.
The route took us across the rolling hills and winding turns of Lucas Valley Road (past the secret Skywalker Ranch compounds) and over to the foggy banks of Bodega Bay (where Alfred Hitchcock shot The Birds). Then, a quick shot down the 101 Freeway brought us across the Golden Gate Bridge, past The Presidio and into downtown. I added a personal detour to Lombard Street to see how the steering would handle the curviest street on Earth.
At every stage, the 2013 Escape felt smooth and stable. While it might seem a little underpowered in passing situations, the small EcoBoost engine had no problem maintaing speed on hilly terrain. The six speed automatic transmission was shift and forget, while the handling never felt top heavy – as some smaller SUVs might.
To update the external styling, Ford built in a new signature grill with large side scoops housing fog lights and a sleeker, tapering window arrangements from head to tail.
The Escape also includes a nice new gadget I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of in future – the gesture controlled lift gate. If your hands are full as you approach the tailgate, a simple kick in the air beneath rear bumper will open the gate as long as the key fob is in your pocket.
Pay attention because that’s a glimpse of a very near future in which gesture controls make life easier while distancing our hands from our vehicles.