Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

DEARBORN, MI – Ford takes its “One Ford” plan a step further by combining its Escape and Kuga cross/utility vehicles, previously two distinct models sold in different regions of the world, into a new, sleeker production model.

The plan, meant to leverage Ford’s economy of scale and global engineering and design staff, has resulted in common vehicles being sold in international markets, including the Focus and Fiesta.

Mark Fields, president-The Americas, says the plan couldn’t have been launched at a better time.

“Consumer preferences around the world are actually converging,” he tells WardsAuto at a recent media event here. “When you look at that and marry it to our own company strategy around going global, it’s paying dividends.”

The new Escape and Kuga will be the tenth and eleventh vehicles, respectively, to be based on Ford’s global C1 platform.

Unveiled today at the Los Angeles auto show, the North American ’13 Escape will retain the Kuga name in Europe and other regions where it is sold.

“There’s a lot of brand familiarity, so we’re keeping the same names,” Fields says.

The small CUV takes design cues from both the Vertrek concept unveiled at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and the more-stylish Kuga.

“That’s really our approach these days; make them as close as possible to the concept car,” Fields says of the new, small CUVs.

Gone is the boxy, more-traditional styling from the previous generation, replaced by a sleeker design that Ford says is 10% more aerodynamic than the outgoing Escape.

When the original Escape launched in 2000 as a ’01 model, Ford defended its traditional SUV styling, saying that’s what customers wanted, despite the success of so-called “cute utes” at the time, including the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

Times have changed, Fields says, and small-CUV customers want more out of their products.

“What (customers) told us is, `As you have updated the rest of your lineup and used design as a key point, we’d like to see that in this vehicle,’” he says. “The market is changing and design is becoming more important as a differentiator.”

Despite the styling changes, Ford has made a point of keeping cargo space similar to that of the outgoing model, citing the ability to haul things a top purchase point among consumers.

The new Escape (and Kuga) boasts 68.1 cu.-ft. (1.9 cu.-m) of cargo space behind the first row and 34.3 cu.-ft. (0.9 cu.-m) of room behind the second row, slightly more than the outgoing model.

The new, lower-to-the-ground design translates into a low “liftover” height of 27.0 ins. (68.5 cm), which Ford says will make cargo-area access easier.

In a nod toward fuel economy, Ford does away with the 3.0L V-6 offered in the current-generation Escape, instead offering a powertrain lineup limited to 4-cyl. engines.

The ’13 Escape will be available with either a 2.5L normally aspirated 4-cyl., or 1.6L or 2.0L direct-injected turbocharged 4-cyl. EcoBoost engines. All engines come mated to a standard 6-speed automatic transmission.

Power ratings for these engines have yet to be released, but at the media event here Ford officials say the 1.6L EcoBoost will produce 173 hp and 170 lb.-ft. (230 Nm) of torque, while the 2.0L will make “well over” 237 hp and 250 lb.-ft. (339 Nm). The carryover 2.5L is rated at 171 hp and 171 lb.-ft. (232 Nm) of torque.

“Our initial estimates are 80%-90% of sales will be EcoBoost engines,” Fields says. “We don’t know which one will have more volume, but we’ll put them in the marketplace and see.”

The new Escape comes with a bevy of technologies, most of which Ford says are not offered on competitive CUVs. Technologies include:

  • An available hands-free power liftgate that is activated by a kicking motion under the center of the rear bumper.
  • Updated Sync and MyFord Touch infotainment systems that feature a new look the auto maker says will make phone, navigation, entertainment and climate controls easier to use.
  • Ford’s active park-assist system that guides the vehicle into a parallel-parking spot using only the gas and brake pedals.
  • A sensor-based Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert. BLIS sounds an alert when a vehicle is detected entering a blind spot. Cross-traffic alert warns if traffic is detected approaching from the sides.
  • Ford’s patented Curve Control system, which automatically slows the vehicle when it’s cornering too fast, and Torque Vectoring Control, which helps guide the vehicle through a turn.
  • A new intelligent 4-wheel-drive system that analyzes data from 25 external signals, including wheel speed, accelerator-pedal position and steering-wheel angle, to assess road conditions and make appropriate adjustments.

Fields declines to reveal volume expectations but says the success of the Escape is of great importance.

“In terms of sales volume, I think it is our second-highest in volume sales,” he says. “You have Fusion in there as well, but it’s a big player and we expect it to continue to be a big player.”

Escape U.S. sales through October were 206,896, up 31.4% compared with year-ago, according to WardsAuto data.

Following its world debut in Los Angeles, the new vehicle will head to Europe, where Ford says sales of compact CUVs have grown 200% since 2000.

The European version will be revealed in March at the Geneva auto show as the “all-new” Ford Kuga. The auto maker says the Kuga will share the 1.6L EcoBoost with the Escape but otherwise will have its own powertrains, including diesel offerings.

The Chinese market also will see the all-new Kuga next spring, Ford says.

bpope@wardsauto.com