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2021 Ford Escape/Kuga: Smart Looking, Globally Viable, Although Not Perfect

When the tour of an automobile gives you a favorable overall impression, remember this: really good things are not invented overnight, even if those who sell them may try to tell you are looking at an “unparalleled and unprecedented achievement” (OK, perhaps we have exaggerated a bit here).
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The 2021 Ford Kuga/Escape represents the third generation of the model series. Beyond this, the car incorporates a vast experience of the brand in terms of all kinds of compact (subcompact, in the U.S.) family vehicles.Approach
During the late nineties, after the compact Ford Focus squeezed pretty much everything in terms of utility, dynamics and style from the potential of its class, a natural question emerged: is it possible to get even more from this size of vehicle? First, they tried to make it taller. The Focus C-Max, showing a typical compact multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) shape, was presented in 2003 and didn’t meet the expected success.

However, it is easy to understand why an MPV is not a very appealing scenario for most customers: obvious visual heaviness, relatively small fragile wheels, (intuitively) significant risk that the family will ask the captain to load/unload tons of stuff at any trip and, last but not least, dynamically uninspiring appearance (in fact, we buy automobiles to go from A to B faster, aren’t we?). Proof that they noticed this at Ford, the first generation of the Escape/Kuga was introduced in 2008 boasting a crossover-SUV design with a pronounced dynamic expression. A decade later, the Escape/Kuga was thriving, while the C-Max was discontinued – both were using similar technology and, besides, the practical virtues of the MPVs and crossovers are quite close. Everything clear now?Ambiance
Definitely, an attractive scenario! The project’s management decided to present the Escape/Kuga as a high-tech product rather than a practical device. Everyone should be satisfied to get in control of an advanced complex vehicle - assumption that proved to be correct. The practicality, coming as a collateral benefit when looking from this perspective, is anyway appreciated.

The cockpit of the 2021 Ford Escape/Kuga leaves very little to be desired in terms of ergonomics and we think they did it this way on purpose. While it is easy to spot the separate zones of the multimedia and heating/ventilation controls and to identify without problem all the buttons and functions, the multifunctional steering wheel looks impressively complex (Boeing fitted their 787 with a much simpler yoke, for instance). Interesting: spending time to learn to extensively use this steering wheel will not impact the usability of the vehicle itself, yet the interest of the owner for what the car has to offer will be maintained high. Also impressive: the wide range of graphics available for the instruments cluster.

The finish of the interior looks decent, but the quality of the materials is not the same everywhere. Adding money to buy a superior trim level can always help here. No reasons to complain about the passengers’ space, the seating conditions are pretty good for this size of car. Only one regret: the bench in the second row is divided only in two segments. A three-segment bench would have been a top practical argument. At 411 liters, the trunk volume is not something special, but it’s OK for the car’s segment.Thrust
The Ford Escape/Kuga is promoted as a particularly dynamic exponent of the compact/subcompact crossover-SUVs around. Its design and its roadholding confirm the idea, yet pretending this automobile has absolutely the best dynamic capabilities in its class will trigger complicate debates. Let’s stick to the essential: negative comments could hardly be formulated concerning the stability and comfort of the model. A certain driving sharpness is also there, the car demonstrates a praiseworthy agility for this class, but sportiness would be too much to say.

Anyway, the engineers from Ford have given a solid confidence to this platform since they equipped it with quite powerful engines. The base version of the Kuga has a gasoline-fed turbo mill with a 1.5-liter displacement - in Europe, it develops 150 PS/148 hp, while the U.S. version provides 181 hp/185 PS. The middle layer of the European engine range includes three diesel variants: 1.5 liters (120 PS/118 hp) and 2.0 liters (150 PS/148 hp and 190 PS/186 hp) diesel engines – unavailable in the U.S. Also unavailable there: the 2.0 MHEV (Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle, 150 PS/148 hp, manual gearbox), which can be considered a frugal gasoline-fed automobile with more than decent performance. Now, what the Americans can buy and the Europeans can not: a gasoline-fed turbo 2.0-liter engine (255 PS/250 hp).

At the top level, available both in Europe and in the USA, the hybrid powertrain of the 2021 Ford Escape/Kuga is composed of a 2.5-liter gasoline engine and two electric motors. The hybrid Escape/Kuga can be bought in FHEV (Full Hybrid Electric Vehicle) or PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) versions. The power figure for this propulsion system: 225 PS/221 hp. The PHEV can be driven in zero emissions mode for about 35 miles (56 km).

There are four driving modes available, offering the possibility to make the best use of your fuel depending on the situation: EV Auto, EV Now, EV Later and EV Charge modes. When the battery reaches its lowest state-of-charge, the system automatically reverts to EV Auto mode. AWD is standard in its case. Those expecting the kind of punch specific for a maximum power of 225 PS/221 hp might be disappointed by the lazy answer of the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT, employed both in the FHEV and PHEV).Acquisition
In Europe, the basic trim called Trend looks decent and its pricing starts at €26.950. It includes the Ford SYNC 3 Light multimedia system with AppLink and an 8 inches touchscreen. At €28.750, the Cool & Connect trim offers the SYNC 3 with Ford Navigation and AppLink on an 8 inches touchscreen. Yet, the really nice trims are the Titanium (€33.050) and Titanium X (€35.550) with 17-inch alloy wheels, digital instruments cluster (12.3 inches), ambient light, keyless access and automatic climate control and others.

The Titanium X also has a 10-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat. The ST-Line (€34.750) insists on a sporty appearance, while the Vignale (€38.300) has an obvious premium touch. Our opinion about a good deal: carefully add some options to the Titanium and it becomes a really pleasant car. Regarding the engine: the MHEV and the diesels won’t disappoint regarding the torque characteristics and the performance while their prices are still at a decent level.

In the USA, they tried to keep things rather simple. There are four trim levels, called S, SE, SEL and Titanium. The lowest price asked for an Escape S 1.5 EcoBoost is $26,130 – unlike in Europe, this car has an 8-speed automatic transmission in its standard configuration. It also has an elementary version of the SYNC Communications & Entertainment System with a 4.2-inch LCD screen. More devices can be found on the next couple of trims, the SE (starting from $27, 855) and SEL (from $30,450).

However, there are three packages that can make the life onboard significantly better. Adaptive cruise control and a traffic-sign recognition feature join the optional Co-Pilot360 Plus package; a hands-free power liftgate and memory settings for the driver's seat and exterior mirrors are now part of the Technology package; and a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a keyless-entry keypad, and LED exterior lighting are now on the list of features in the Convenience package. All this stuff is standard for the good-looking Titanium trim ($ 34,545),  the Titanium Hybrid ($37,000) and the Titanium 2.0 Turbo AWD. Also standard in its case: the 10-speaker B&O Play audio system, in-dash navigation, and a 12.3 inches digital instruments cluster. A pop-up head-up display is optional.

Except for budget protection, the basic 3-cylinder engine is not something desirable under the hood. It sounds rather rough and is shows its limits when the car is loaded. The 2.0 turbo with its 5.7 seconds from 0 to 60 mph gives full satisfaction regarding the performance, but the hybrid is less thirsty and somewhat cheaper. Yet, we still don’t like its eCVT transmission. A final choice? We’d say the SEL 2.0L EcoBoost ($32,750) is worthy of the financial effort. In its case, the dynamic image of the car gets a proper factual reflection and it is quite well equipped. In case you want to save some $3,300, it is feasible by choosing the 1.5L EcoBoost engine.Instead
This class offers plenty of mainstream and premium alternatives. The direct competitors of the Ford Escape/Kuga are cars like the Chevrolet Equinox, the Citroen C5 Aircross, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Seat Ateca, Skoda Kodiaq, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue, Opel Grandland, Peugeot 5008, Renault Kadjar, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Venza, VW Tiguan.

 
 
 
 
 

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