What is it?
The compact SUV segment is one of the biggest and most competitive in the market, with entries ranging from the Toyota RAV4 to the Chevrolet Equinox in the US. Ford's Escape has always been a solid and reliable performer, but one trading charm and comfort for yeoman functionality.
The redesigned Escape, virtually identical to the Kuga that Europeans will get, is a very different animal. As the latest model to be transformed by the company's 'One Ford' product strategy, it now shares the same platform as the Focus and C-Max, albeit stretched by four inches.
What's it like?
Compared with the previous, truck-like Escape, the new SUV is a bit lower, permitting Ford designers to sculpt a much more appealing body, more in line with the firm's current car range. Nose on, it is now more hot hatch than bluff 4x4, with a sweeping, almost coupé-like curve to the roofline while still maintaining good visibility.
Even more impressive is the way Ford has reworked the cabin. That's particularly noteworthy for Europeans used to the drab and somewhat confined cabin of the old Kuga. The new model is not only more spacious but also decidedly upmarket; our Titanium edition was finished in leather, with accents of chrome and piano black, making it easy to forget this is a 'utility' vehicle.
The new model gets a largely new powertrain line-up. In the US, the V6 and hybrid vanish, replaced by the two Ecoboost alternatives: a 1.6-litre unit delivering 176bhp and 184lb ft, and a 2.0-litre version bumping that to 237bhp and 270lb ft. Europeans will initially get 138bhp and 161bhp versions of Ford's 2.0-litre turbodiesel, which will have the option of a Powershift dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and a 148bhp 1.6-litre Ecoboost.
The bigger of the Ecoboost engines in our all-wheel-drive Escape Titanium proved smooth, quiet and capable, with a nice hint of throaty rumble under full acceleration. The overall drive experience is markedly improved when compared with both the old, truck-like Escape and the outgoing Kuga. It's markedly more fun to drive, with surprisingly nimble manners that belie our test version's kerb weight of 1720kg.