We Drive It: The Ford Escape ST Line Elite AWD – A Surprisingly Fun, Tightly Wrapped Package

We Drive It: The Ford Escape ST Line Elite AWD – A Surprisingly Fun, Tightly Wrapped Package

If there is one format of modern automobile that seems to have by and large turned against its operator, it is the compact crossover SUV. Honestly just putting the words together is enough to make one want to run into the other room, right? Compact crossover SUV. In so many ways we’re typically talking about little more than a small car that’s got a little more ground clearance, maybe it has all-wheel-drive, but it doesn’t have the bones to actually go off-roading, it does not have the size to really be a utility vehicle and it typically has the interior charm of an Eastern European holding cell. Why say all this? Because that has largely been my experience with this class of modern car. Wheezy little engines that buzz and scream all while delivering tepid acceleration. Rubbery steering that transmits nothing back to the driver, and the overall feeling of being an Uber driver in your own life. That’s what these have been, by and large for years.

Because of the above stated experiences, I did not have the greatest of expectations when it came to cruising around in this Ford Escape ST Line Elite AWD model. Now, my previous experiences in ST badged Fords had all been positive. Their tuning both on the chassis and powertrain side of other models like the Focus ST back in the day, the Edge ST-Line, the Explorer ST, and others were on point and fun. But as I have witnessed first hand from other companies, the “factory tuning” angle can fall off significantly in looks and feeling when it meets a vehicle that falls on the cheaper end of the buying spectrum. My jaded self was expecting that with this Escape.

Well, color me surprised. Instead of all the horror I have previously shared and lamented, I was greeted to a 250hp mated to an 8-speed automatic, a really nice thick steering wheel with actual weight to its operation, a chassis that was shockingly fun to actually push around corners, very solid braking, and and interior that was far, far beyond what most in the class have to offer for the $41,000 asking price.

While this is BangShift and the definition of “fast” around here tends to sway far more to the hardcore side of things, this Escape, for a compact crossover SUV is fast. 6.9-second rated 0-60 time means that at full throttle the little 2.0L EcoBoost engine is making sweet noise and the transmission is making very nice crisp shifts through the first several gears on the way to highway speed. Torque steer was very, very mild, a testament to the torque vectoring and tuning that the Ford engineers have done with the platform. Honestly, within the first half hour of getting into the seat of the Escape ST-Line, both my sons and I were all kind of shocked at the experience we were having.

The interior is lacking in overall coloration as everything is black but the red stitching throughout is a cool and sporting accent to it all. A little more variety in here, especially on what is basically the top trim level would certainly go a long way to breaking it up,  but given the driving experience, if they are trying to sell me on this being a little more “racy”, I suppose I can buy it. As you can see the centrally mounted touch screen is easily accessed and while it kind of just grows out of the dash as opposed to having a clean integration, it was not a deal breaker for me because of its ease of use. Analog buttons are available for HVAC controls, which is always a huge win in our book. Like pretty much everything in every car ever, absolutism is bad. All buttons and no screen? Bad. All screen and no buttons? Bad. Screen and some buttons? Good. Gear selection is made with the Ford dial which you can see on the console here.

The thick steering wheel is great and the first indication you are not in some dud of a little CUV that will feel as though it is sucking your soul as you take it across town. The wheel really made me engage with the ST and do so in a fun way. You WANT to clip and apex with this thing in your hands, you WANT to feel the chassis load and work pulling onto the highway when you have your mitts wrapped around this sucker. It’s part of what makes driving anything fun and thankfully, the ST bring this to the table as well. Digital dash display was clear and easy to read. Of course we dig physical gauges, but we were happy to at least have digital representations of those tucked nicely behind the wheel.

Interior room was on point in the Escape. With two sons that are both over six feet tall and one over six foot five, we learn very quickly what they fit in and what they do not. They both were in here with little to no complaint. I do think that the larger of the two would not be his most comfortable on a long road trip but I do not count that as a strike on the Escape but we have often found less interior leg space in other vehicles in this same class of competition. The sporty and interesting stitching carried over to the rear seats for a nicely finished look.

Of course utility is part of the game here and the storage space area in the Escape is seemingly large enough to do anything you’d normally do with a car. Of course dropping the rear seats expands that by more than double, but even with the seats up, this thing is plenty right sized for groceries, light runs to the local home improvement store, and whatever “normal” stuff happens on a week to week basis. If you need to haul six kids and also move gravel, tow an excavator, and provide camping for two in the back, this ain’t it, but if you are a “regular” family or owner without needs that aren’t extraordinary with frequency there’s plenty to work with here.

Here’s the real star of the show and his buddy. I’m talking about the ripper of a little 2.0L EcoBoost engine that makes 250hp and is mated to an 8-speed transmission that is down there somewhere, I promise. THIS is what makes the ST actually legit on the side of this Escape. You can roll your eyes all you want about calling a CUV a “performance” CUV but when you drive many of them, as I do, and one like this comes along, it’s a revelation. The Escapr ST is to this class of SUV what the Shelby GLH was to the small cars of the 1980s. It takes something staid and plain and makes it memorable and fun.

In closing, I didn’t just enjoy the Ford Escape ST-Line Elite AWD, it has landed on my short list of cars to consider for the next Lohnes family wheels. The driving experience is that good, the value at $41,000 list price is that good, and frankly I have not driven another car in this class that has made me do anything other than seek a quick way out of it or search in vain for some redeeming quality to espouse.

Ford has done a fine job in making a practical, fun, and fast transportation vehicle here. It can be as docile as you want it to be, it can be highly economical but consider this. You can take this thing to the drag strip and in the right conditions, it will run high 14-second elapsed times all night. With a small bit of tuning? This little monster can be in the 13s and it would be perhaps the coolest sleeper in the world at that point.

It’s a tight package and its loads of fun. Two thumbs up.


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