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All-new design takes 2020 Escape upscale and back into top-tier compact-crossover contention

2020 Ford Escape
2020 Ford Escape

What changes will make the 2020 Ford Escape different?

Styling, size, cabin, and powertrains — most everything will change as Ford launches a fully redesigned version of its popular compact crossover for model-year 2020. The first all-new Escape since model-year 2013 will a have a more sophisticated look inside and out, greater passenger space, and more safety features.

Rumors abound about the details: hybrid and plug-in-hybrid versions are highly likely; if an optional third-row seat will be available is debatable. What’s certain is that the ’20 Escape will be part of a rapidly expanding Ford SUV family. It’ll join the smaller, new 2020 Focus Active subcompact crossover; the eagerly awaited Jeep Wrangler-fighting 2021 Bronco; and in short order, a set of sporty crossovers (including a pure-electric model) with looks and performance inspired by the Mustang. This, on top of the model-year 2018 introduction of the EcoSport subcompact crossover.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy a 2019?

Wait for the ’20 Escape if you want the latest design and technology. Buy a ’19 if you’re interested in a big discount on an aged but still entertaining crossover.

With the larger, more modern ’20 Escape, Ford aims to gain sales ground on compact crossover rivals such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Nissan Rogue. Although Escape has been the automaker’s second best-selling vehicle – behind only the F-Series pickup – demand slipped 12 percent in 2018 while the segment jumped an astounding 28 percent.

The redesigned Escape is based on Ford’s latest global small-vehicle architecture, called C1. The basic structure is already in use on Ford’s just-introduced Focus compact car. That car won’t be offered in the U.S., following the automaker’s cancellation of every car it’ll sell in America except the Mustang. It will, however, spawn the Focus Active, a second Ford competitor for smaller-than-Escape crossovers such as the Subaru Crosstrek and Jeep Renegade.

The ’20 Escape will be several inches longer than the 2013-2019 generation and will have a longer wheelbase. The distance between the front and rear axles, wheelbase is key to a vehicle’s interior spaciousness and should give the redesigned model significantly more passenger legroom. The outgoing Escape’s wheelbase was below the class average, contributing to its cramped rear seating. In overseas markets, where Ford sells Escape as the Kuga, the redesigned crossover will even be available with a small third-row seat, for seven-passenger capacity. Will that option be available to increase U.S. Escapes from just five seats? Only Ford knows.

Puny rear-seat accommodations are one knock on the 2019 Escape. So is some outdated safety tech, principally an autonomous emergency braking system with the capability to slow – but not stop – the crossover to mitigate a frontal collision. Still, the outgoing Escape handles quite well and is available with a spunky 245-horsepwer turbocharged engine and novelties such as hands-free self-parking. It also benefits from factory incentives so deep transaction prices have been averaging below dealer invoice. It’s worth a look, if you go in with your eyes open.

Note as well that the C1 platform will underpin a redesigned version of Escape’s upscale cousin as Ford’s premium Lincoln division replaces its current MKC with a new crossover renamed the Corsair. The ’20 Corsair will enjoy advances similar to those of the 2020 Escape but its styling will differ from that of the Fords, it’ll likely get more powerful engines, and certainly will have higher prices.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, completely. In place of the outgoing Escape’s busy lines are graceful curves and more athletic proportions. Much shorter front and rear sheetmetal overhangs help push the wheels to the corners of the vehicle, accentuating a “planted” stance. Spy shots of camouflaged ’20 Escape prototypes show a grille that integrates with the nose rather than dominating it. Relocating the Ford blue-oval insignia from the grille to the leading edge of the hood contributes to the cleaner look.

The prototypes also have an airier cabin greenhouse, thanks to a relatively low beltline. That window ledge leads to a nearly pyramidal rear-fender kick-up, which meets a tapering roofline for a trendy, floating-rear-pillar look. On some prototypes, a contrasting-color top emphasizes that affectation. Horizontal taillamps elongate to wrap into the rear fenders. Expect dual exhaust outlets to be standard.

Ford also goes for a less baroque treatment inside, spy shots revealing a dashboard with a fresh, architectural look. A rectilinear instrument binnacle houses what’s likely to be a configurable electronic gauge cluster for upper-trim models. The dashboard’s center stack is highlighted by a tablet touchscreen of generous proportions. Below are minimalist audio controls with sizable knobs for volume and tuning. Climate controls mirror that layout, with even larger dials and buttons. The passenger side of the dashboard is without ornamentation, featuring instead an unbroken horizontal element that, in spy shots, has a brushed-aluminum finish.

Expect the 2020 Escape model lineup to resemble 2019’s, probably starting with a rental-fleet-oriented S model and ascending through better-equipped SE and SEL trims, topping out with the flagship Titanium. Some reports suggest Ford might contemplate an enthusiast-oriented ST model, although odds are that it would focus true high performance on its coming collection of Mustang-inspired small crossovers.

Any mechanical changes?

Definitely, although some specifics remain hazy. No question the all-new substructure is designed to improve ride and handling. Expect better road manners compared to the outgoing Escape, which, even at its advanced age, remains competitive with newer class handling leaders such as the CR-V and Mazda CX-5. There’s room to upgrade refinement, however, and the ’20 Escape should better absorb bumps and be quieter overall.

Under the hood, expect more power and better fuel efficiency. The outgoing Escape’s all-four-cylinder engine lineup consists of a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter with 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque for the S, a turbocharged 1.5-liter with 179 horsepower and 177 pound-feet for the SE and SEL, and a turbo 2.0-liter with 245 horses and 275 pound-feet for the Titanium.

Few reports suggest Ford will retain the outdated 2.5-liter. Chances are good it’ll keep the turbo 1.5 at about the same output and reprise turbo 2.0, though improved to around 260 horsepower. There’s speculation it could offer the new Escape with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder with some 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. There’s debate about the transmission, too, with some sources saying all the gas-only Escapes will have a nine-speed automatic, others maintaining it’ll be an eight-speed. Either should improve engine response and fuel economy over the outgoing crossover’s six-speed automatic.

Electric-motor assist for a gas four-cylinder engine is almost certain. Expect the redesigned Escape to eventually offer both a conventional hybrid and a more expensive plug-in hybrid. The former is a better bet to be part of the 2020 Escape lineup, while the plug-in may come a year or so later. The hybrid would rely on regenerative breaking and coasting to recharge the onboard battery. The plug-in would capture an initial charge from the power grid and be capable of emissions-free driving on electricity alone for, say, 25 miles, before automatically converting to conventional-hybrid operation.

If a rental-oriented S model returns, it may come only with front-wheel drive. All other gas-only Escapes would offer a choice of front-wheel drive or extra-cost all-wheel drive (AWD). The hybrids may come with AWD standard, a dedicated electric motor at the rear providing power to the rear wheels. With the Bronco assuming Ford’s hard-core off-road-SUV responsibilities, the new Escape’s AWD system will again aim mostly to enhance all-weather traction on paved surfaces. Like the current system, expect it to automatically apportion up to 100 percent of the engine’s torque rearward when sensors detect front-tire slip. Ford could bolster it with rear torque vectoring as a dry-pavement handling edge.

Will fuel economy improve?

It should. Even though it’ll be larger, the new Escape’s more advanced substructure and expanded use of high-strength materials should mean little weight gain over its predecessor. Combined with the added efficiencies of an eight- or nine-speed automatic transmission and more up-to-date engine technology, fuel economy is likely to improve.

As a basis, EPA ratings for the 2019 Escape were 21/29/24 mpg city/highway/combined for the S model. SE and SEL with their turbo 1.5-liter rated 23/30/26 mpg with front-wheel drive and 22/28/24 with AWD. The Titanium and its more powerful turbo 2.0-liter rated 21/28/24 mpg with front-drive and 20/27/23 with AWD.

EPA ratings won’t reflect it, but the turbo engines would again benefit from a fuel-saving stop-start system that shuts them off when the Escape is stationary (leaving accessories running), then restarts them automatically when the driver releases the brake pedal. It should continue to work with laudable smoothness. Note that Ford says it used 93-octane gas to achieve full power ratings for the turbocharged engines and that it recommends 91-octane gas or higher for the 2.0-liter. Whether that protocol will carry over to the next-generation powertrains is uncertain.

Will it have new features?

Escape once was among the features leaders in this segment, and even the 2019 model offered a laudable range of comfort and convenience amenities. But it fell behind on the safety front. Ford has an obligation to correct that for 2020 by bolstering Escape’s autonomous emergency braking system. For ’19, the system could warn the driver of an impending frontal collision and could slow, but not stop, the Escape to mitigate a crash. Moreover, the system was available only as part of the Ford Safe and Smart package, a $935 option for the SE, SEL, and Titanium models.

Virtually every rival offered a system that could bring its compact crossover to a full stop to avoid hitting another vehicle or a pedestrian. That level of autonomous braking is increasingly standard on all compact crossovers and Ford should follow that example, equipping every ’20 Escape trim level with what is in effect the Safe and Smart Package. That would mean a good range of driver assists as standard, including adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, and lane-maintaining automatic steering correction. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert should also be part of the coverage, while an automatic-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a windshield-wiper de-icer are likely to remain optional for the SE and SEL and standard on the Titanium.

Ford probably will uphold Escape’s run of notable tech features. Expect the ’20 to be available with the automaker’s Sync Connect smartphone app that enables remote engine starting, door locking and unlocking, fuel- and tire-pressure monitoring, even a parked-vehicle locator. A power liftgate that opens with a wave of your foot beneath the bumper may remain a Titanium exclusive, as would hands-free perpendicular and parallel automatic parking.

Expect the S model to again come with a rearview camera, power windows and locks, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, a tilt/telescope steering wheel with buttons for audio and cruise control, and the basic Sync system of hands-free phone linking. The 2020 SE should again add a power driver’s seat, 60/40 split/folding rear seatbacks, dual-zone automatic climate control, and satellite radio. SEL and Titanium models are likely to again include all that, plus upgraded Sync 3 connectivity, leather upholstery, a power passenger seat, driver-seat memory, and upgraded audio. Look for imbedded navigation to again be standard on the Titanium and an option for the SE and SEL at around $800.

How will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll almost certainly increase, and while Escape should remain competitively priced, expect Ford to let the SEL and Titanium, in particular, drift upmarket. With the Focus Active and EcoSport appealing to budget-conscious shoppers, the new Escape can follow a trend in the compact segment, where base prices of upper-trim models regularly start above $30,000 and flagships are priced from $38,000.

Note that base-price estimates here include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $1,095 on the ’19 Escape. Estimated base price for the 2020 Escape S is $26,000.

With front-wheel drive, expect the 2020 SE to start around $28,400, the SEL around $32,500, and the Titanium around $36,000. Adding AWD to a 2020 SE, SEL, or Titanium should cost around $1,400.

When will it come out?

Look for a 2020 Ford Escape release date in September or October 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]