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New name, new look, new price. This family-friendly Ford is changing things up.

Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Ford Escape with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Victoria.

Prince, John Mellencamp, Snoop Dogg and Melbourne. They all changed their names but then thought better of it and changed them back again. Smart decision, too. Actually, Melbourne never changed its name back again and it should have because it was originally called Batmania, and that is freaking awesome – who wouldn’t want to live there?

Ford’s done something similar with its Escape SUV. See, from 2001-2012 there was the Ford Escape, which was replaced by the Kuga, and now Ford has changed the name to Escape.

Along with the new name there are a stack of other changes to the car which makes this a fairly major update, and in an ultra-competitive mid-sized SUV segment containing talented rivals such as the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson the Escape needs to keep pace.

We drove the entry grade Ambiente front-wheel drive (FWD) petrol, the mid-spec Trend all-wheel drive (AWD) diesel and the top-of-the-line Titanium AWD with the diesel engine.

So has Ford done more than just give this SUV an identity crisis? What’s been removed from the cabin that almost reduced me to tears of joy? And what’s the rattle?

ford escape 2017 review

Design

More than a name change the Escape has a new face. The Kuga's large lower grille and thin-strip top grille have been swapped for the enormous gaping mouth now worn by the rest of the updated Ford family. It's a much tougher look that works well on all Ford's cars and SUVs. The headlights are narrower and sleeker, the Titanium grade gets distinctive LED DRLs.

Those fog lights have been swept back and now give the impression of smaller overhangs. Moving down the side of the car those doors are unchanged from the Kuga and coming around the back the tail-lights have been redesigned - they're larger and squarer.

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The Escape's cabin is a far more pleasant place now that 387,251 buttons have been removed from the dash.

There are new alloy wheels, too, with different finishes.

The Escape is the same length as the Kuga at 4524mm, the same width at 1838mm, has the same 2690mm wheelbase, and the same front and rear overhangs of 924mm and 910mm respectively. Those dimensions make it 49mm longer than a Hyundai Tucson and about 20mm wider. Compared to the popular Mazda CX-5 the Escape is 16mm shorter, while the RAV4 is 81mm longer.

The Escape's cabin is a far more pleasant place now that 387,251 buttons have been removed from the dash. I have no idea what most of those buttons did and removing them seems to have had no affect on the car's operation, but my migraine has gone now thanks to a cabin that is serenely clutter free. Thank you Ford for taking my angry letters seriously.

For the massive nerds like me out there you might like to completely alienate yourself at BBQs by telling everybody there that the base spec FWD drive car with the auto weighs five kilos less than the equivalent Kuga.

ford escape 2017 review

Practicality

The Kuga's rear doors open wide and the entrance is large making it easy to get in and out. The height off the ground is enough for good visibility but should be low enough for most to slide into their seats without high jumping. The kick-open tailgate (standard on the Titanium) worked for me every time.

Legroom in the back seats is good and even at 191cm I can sit behind my driving position on all but the top spec Titanium Escape. Yup, you read right. The fancy fold-down aeroplane style tray tables which only come standard on the Titanium when returned to the upright position (as they say) reduce knee room by about 10mm and that's the difference between me sitting comfortably or with my legs mashed into the seat back.

All Escapes are five seaters, although I wouldn't want to sit in the middle of the back row between two clones of me – not unless they washed first.

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The Escape's luggage space is the same as the old Kuga's at 406 litres. That's not that great. The Tucson has a 488 litre boot and that Korean rival isn't as long either, remember.

Storage in the cabin is good, with four cup holders (two front, two back) and small bottle holders in all the doors. The manual handbrake has been replaced with an electronic one and that frees up space in the centre console which has been redesigned with a larger storage area under the armrest.

Price and features

There are three grades of Escape – the Ambiente, the Trend and the king-of-the-range Titanium. With its list price of $28,490 the FWD petrol Ambiente with a manual gearbox is the most affordable Escape money can buy. That's an increase of $240 over the Kuga. The same car with the automatic transmission is $1500 more and stepping up into the AWD will need you to part with another $3000 on top of that.

The Trend now comes in FWD, which is great because it lowers the entry fee into this grade to $32,990 and that's with a petrol engine and auto transmission. If you'd like that with AWD it'll cost $3000 more and there's a diesel AWD Trend as well, for $38,490.

The flagship Titanium can be had with a petrol engine for $44,990, or diesel for $48,490.

ford escape 2017 review

All grades of Escape come with an 8.0-inch display, sat nav, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, Ford's new Sync3 media system that has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, a leather wrapped steering wheel, front and rear fog lights, and a stainless steel exhaust. The Ambiente and Trend get cloth seats, the Titanium gets leather.

If you haven't driven a Kuga or Escape before, the first thing you're likely to be surprised by is the shape of the windscreen and the great visibility through it.

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The Titanium also gets a nine-speaker sound system, the kick open tailgate, a panoramic sunroof and proximity unlocking as standard.

For $1300 a 'Technology Package' adds advanced safety equipment such as AEB, blind spot and rear cross traffic warning. It's verging on outrageous that the Titanium doesn't come with this safety gear as standard but the pack used to be $1600 on the Kuga and it's well worth getting. Also be aware that this package is not available on the base spec Ambiente.

Engine and transmission

There are three engines – a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol (110kW/240Nm in the manual and 134kW/240Nm with an auto), a 178kW/345Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol and a 132kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.

The manual gearbox and dual-clutch automatic are both six speeds.

Fuel consumption

Ford says you should see the FWD Ambiente with the 1.5-litre drink at an average 6.3L/100km for the manual. A FWD Trend with the same engine and auto will need 7.2L/100km while the AWD Trend with the bigger 2.0-litre should consume 8.6L/100km.

All petrol engines run on 95RON and have a 60-litre tank.

The diesel is frugal at 5.5L/100km and has the same capacity tank as its petrol siblings.

Driving

If you haven't driven a Kuga or Escape before, the first thing you're likely to be surprised by is the shape of the windscreen and the great visibility through it with minimal impact from the narrow and curved A-pillars. Rear visibility is also excellent thanks to a large back window.

The ergonomics of the cabin are good too – the steering wheel, shifter and pedals feel the right distance away, the seats are supportive and comfortable, and the dash is low.

I've driven the FWD Trend on another outing and, if you don't need AWD, this is the pick of the Escape line-up. AWD isn't vital, but it helps maintain traction on wet tarmac as well as gravel.

The AWD-only diesel is the torquey one of the bunch and is better for towing – its braked towing capacity is 1800kg, while the petrol FWD is 1500kg and petrol AWD 1600kg.

ford escape 2017 review
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There was a degree of body roll in the corners which suggests the SUV is set up more for comfort than breaking any hill climb records.

I've also driven the 2.0-litre petrol and it's excellent for smoothness with plenty of grunt which is missing from the 1.5-litre.

Most of this launch was spent in the 2.0-litre diesel in the Trend and Titanium grades. Ride is soft and composed, while handling isn't bad although there was a degree of body roll in the corners which suggests the SUV is set up more for comfort than breaking any hill climb records.

The dual-clutch is a smooth shifter and performed well.

There are places where quality doesn't feel as good as it should. Shutting the door in the base spec Ambiente with the window down caused what appeared to be the window inside to rattle. My Ford at home does this, too, but it was built in 1951.

The plastics on the rear window sills are hard – but this is quite common on many cars. The touch screen is also difficult to touch because it's hiding quite deep in its little cave.

None of this stops the Escape from being an easy and enjoyable SUV to drive.

Safety

The Escape scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. It would have been good to see AEB and other advanced safety equipment across the range, especially as its rivals are beginning to do so.

There are two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether anchor points across the back for child seats.

Ownership

The Escape is covered by Ford's three year/100,000km warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12months/15,000km. Servicing for the FWD Trend is capped at $260 for the first three years, then $475 for the fourth and then back to $260 for next three years.

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Verdict

The new Ford Escape is more than a renamed Kuga, but it retains many of the old car's great attributes such as the comfortable ride, easy to drive nature and a great level of standard features. Then there are some welcome improvements, such as the uncluttered dashboard and 2.0-litre petrol engine.

That said, there's still room for this mid-sized SUV to be better.

Does the new Ford Escape have the looks and good manners to keep up with its tough rivals? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

This story originally appeared on CarsGuide

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