Youth triumphs in all things automotive, just as it does in the wider world. So, after a new model debuts, we've come to expect a freshening in year three, a special edition in year four, and an all-new model after five years.
Not so at Ford. The Escape, for instance, was introduced in 2001 and by all rights is due for a full overhaul. But instead, it's getting a face-lift plus. Think of it as a face-lift plus a tummy tuck and a butt-lift. Its appearance is completely revised, but much of what's underneath remains the same.
Luckily, the Escape has good bones. The 2008 Escape retains the previous model's neutral handling balance, stiff structure, and good ride, because it also retains its chassis. The revised exterior is more masculine than the first-generation design. Once you climb aboard, you'll notice the clean, modern, and quiet cabin, which has plenty of interior room even four-up.
Engines and transmissions carry over: either a 2.3-liter four or a 3.0-liter V-6 that is coarse and painfully slow off the line. The four-speed automatic's long, widely spaced ratios may help fuel economy, but we wonder whether any SUV really needs to hit 89 mph in second gear.Speaking of fuel economy, the 2008 Escape is one of the first vehicles to reflect the new EPA test procedures. So while on paper the EPA numbers have decreased from last year, Ford assures us that the improved aerodynamics beget slightly better fuel economy in the real world.
Standard features include an auxiliary audio jack, a revised restraint system (new seatbelts, air bags, and steering column), split rear seats that fold flat, and a rollover-mitigating stability system on all but the Hybrid model. For the first time, the Escape is available with Ford's excellent touch-screen navigation system, featuring one of the industry's best Sirius satellite radio integrations.
Ford has reduced base prices by an average of about $1000, ensuring that the Escape remains a competitive small sport-utility vehicle, even if it is a little long in the tooth.