Redesigned 2017 Ford Escape Eludes Enthusiasts

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2017 Ford Escape Home

Nothing beats a day out of the office for a press drive. Recently we escaped our corporate confines for a drive through the Santa Monica Mountains and along California’s coastline in the redesigned 2017 Ford Escape. Now that I’ve gotten the obligatory “escape” play on words out of the way, let’s get straight to how this thing drives.

When I drove the 2016 Ford Escape last year at a Ford event, I was impressed. Like, really impressed. After exiting the vehicle, I stood around for 10 minutes to tell the Escape product manager “thank you” for designing such a driver-oriented product.

When I drove the redesigned Ford Escape this year, I was compelled to thank the Ford PR team for inviting us to their lovely press launch, but this time I would not be thanking any product manager. While the redesigned 2017 Ford Escape is better than ever for average drivers looking for practical transportation, this new crossover will escape the short lists of enthusiast drivers. Whoops, there’s that play on words again.

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In our drive loop through the Santa Monica Mountains, the Escape felt planted and capable, as any new vehicle should nowadays, but the steering felt tuned for people who want to drive while they have a donut in one hand, a coffee in the other, and a knee doing all the steering. The steering lacks sharpness, and truly feels designed to be forgiving for those who want to steer with their knees when their hands have “more important” things to do … like grabbing for that next artery-clogging Dunkin Donuts fat bomb.

This is discouraging news for enthusiasts, but for typical consumers, this is the beginning of a love story. With the earlier 2016 Escape, you had a vehicle that encouraged sporty driving. The 2016 Escape felt like a fine-tuned European hot hatch with a high driving position. That may sound interesting to gearheads, but even those with 5W-30 in their veins should consider this: if you’re buying a compact crossover for a hormone-soaked teenaged child, do you really want them to be encouraged to drive in a sporty manner? No, you want them to drive like an octogenarian, and remain alive for dinner at six o’clock.

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I witnessed the new Escape’s driver-neutering effect on Automobile Magazine’s Jonathon Klein. We were drive partners at this event, and as a close friend of Jonathon’s, I have insider knowledge about his tendency to drive the wheels off anything with wheels. However, 30 seconds into the canyons, I asked Klein, “Why are you driving so slow?” He said, “This isn’t that kind of car.” For a second I felt like I didn’t even know the guy. I never thought I’d ever see Jonathon be boring behind the wheel, but in the 2017 Ford Escape, he was.

Klein is basically a 14-year-old boy who accidentally got a driver’s license, but the Escape transformed him into the 29-year-old married man he really is. Klein’s transformation is about as good of proof as any that this is a great vehicle to buy if you want your kids to be conservative behind the wheel.

It was no fun seeing a youthful friend turn into a bore right before my eyes. My spirit was slightly dampened by this, but to brighten the mood, my colleague Ed Tahaney got behind the wheel, and recommenced the canyon-carving. I took a seat in the back, and was pleased by the reclining second row and its impressive rear leg room. The back seat is the best seat in the 2017 Escape. While Ed was exploring limit-handling in the canyons, I could feel the Escape’s capable chassis dynamics popping through. That hot-hatch DNA is still in there; enough to bring some color back into Klein’s face. Unfortunately, only passengers will feel the Escape’s sportiness from 2017 and on.

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Not only has the driving experience been muted, but so has the styling. I think most people will appreciate the 2017 Escape’s conservative, grown-up redesign, but I feel the vehicle has lost some of its character. It looks more like a cookie-cutter driving appliance this year. Last year’s model looked like a sporty crossover.

But as Community Manager Joseph Yoon told me recently, “Driving dynamics don’t pay the bills, Manuel.” Joseph’s right. It’s sad for me, but true for the accountants at Ford. The 2017 Escape will likely sell better than the 2016 Escape because for the average buyer, it is a better vehicle.

This year it’s got more tech, more comfort and more practicality. That’s a win for the marketplace at-large, but for driving enthusiasts, Ford has left you behind with this redesign. Right now might be a good time to think about Ford’s real enthusiast offerings like the Mustang, Focus ST/RS or a Raptor.

An even better idea would be to start petitioning for a Raptor-based Bronco, which is basically what we do here every day at Ford Truck Enthusiasts.

Chime in with your thoughts on the forum. >>

Check out the 2017 Ford Escape in the gallery below.

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