TOMALES, Calif. -- A convoluted section of the PCH -- California's Pacific Coast Highway -- follows the eastern shore of Tomales Bay north of San Francisco while passing through crossroads communities like Marconi and Marshall on the way to Tomales.
Coursing over humpback hills and cutting acute-angled corners to chase the ragged shore, this twisty asphalt strip seems like it was designed expressly to show off the road-hugging agility and sticky tire traction of Escape, Ford's crossover utility vehicle for the compact class.
Formatted with the two-box body of a four-door wagon, Escape rides on the chassis of a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car rather than a conventional wagon's rear-wheel-drive (RWD) truck platform.
A generous wheelbase length of 103.1 inches and a broad wheel track set up a long and wide foundation for stability when turning.
And, unlike some wagons with a solid rear truck axle and crude leaf springs, Escape carries four-wheel independent suspension components -- MacPherson struts in front and a double lateral and semi-trailing arm design in back -- which bring more control over the vehicle for a driver and more comfortable ride sensations for passengers.
As a result, Escape offers the easy-to-drive manners of a nice sedan.
More equipment goes into the 2008 editions of Ford's CUV.
The new gear includes EPAS -- electric power assist steering -- through a direct rack and pinion system. The all-electric device eliminates a conventional hydraulic apparatus along with the power losses of an engine-driven pneumatic pump.
It fine-tunes the overall steering feel but also boosts fuel economy scores.
Escape's issues of 2008 show more upscale appointments in the five-seat cabin, like an information display mounted on top of the dashboard and easy-on-the-eyes Ice Blue lighting washing instruments, console, steering wheel and door switches.
A new console set between the two front bucket seats holds two stow bins which may be extracted and mounted on the right and rear rims of the console to increase storage spots.
Bucket seats account for the first row, while a bench on the second row provides space for three with a backrest that splits and folds down to enlarge the cargo area, and that back bay with rear gate access has more useful room because a spare tire tucks beneath the deck.
Designers managed to drop the cabin floor but still maintain a reasonable chassis height for ground clearance. As a result, you don't have to hike up to climb aboard, but simply slip in sideways like you would enter a sedan.
Styling for the body of Escape is also new to forge a bolder, tougher look in a chiseled design with a sloping and stepped front hood, a high beltline and big wheels and tires as emphasized by flared wheel arches. The blunt new fascia up front contains restyled headlamp clusters which sweep up toward front corners and a fresh grille squared off at the center front with the finish in materials that vary with trim designation.
At the rear Escape's taillamps carry a clear band wrapping around corners and the big bumper has an integrated step pad for easy access to the roof deck when loading gear.
Regarding safety measures, the nimble driving attitude of Escape translates into an important active safety feature because this wagon when directed by an alert driver can move quickly through evasive maneuvers to avoid hazards on the road.
Escape's unibody structure serves as the first line of defense for passengers, surrounded by a safety cage rigged with force-deflecting energy management zones fore and aft plus reinforced side panels and doors.
Front riders have dual two-stage frontal air bags plus seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and buckle pretensioners, while in the rear there are anchors to tether a child's safety seat.
Side-impact air bags mounted on outboard front seats and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above front and back rows are also on tap as standard gear.
Equipment promoting active safety includes the quick rack and pinion steering and brakes tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control device with Roll Stability Control (RSC).
A safety option is Ford's reverse sensing equipment, which works with sensors in the rear bumper to detect solid objects in the reverse path of the wagon, then alert the driver through high-decibel audio beeps.
Escape the CUV divides into three equipment grades -- XLS, XLT and Limited, the latter with luxury touches like leather seats.
Base edition Escape XLS stocks an economical four-cylinder engine, Ford's Duratec 23.
With aluminum block and heads, the plant displaces 2.3 liters and makes 153 hp at 5800 rpm and a torque rating of 152 lb-ft at 4250 rpm.
The 3.0-liter V6 -- dubbed Duratec 30 -- generates 200 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque of 193 lb-ft at 4850 rpm.
An electronically controlled four-speed automatic transaxle works with either engine, but the four-pack lists the standard shifter as a five-speed manual.
All three trim variations offer the option of all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
The AWD mechanism is a smart traction system which distributes the engine's power between front and rear wheels selectively as changing conditions of road or trail may warrant -- the intent is to maintain a firm tire grip no matter what happens on pavement or dirt.
On dry pavement, all of the engine's power goes to the front wheels that also steer.
Having the front wheels both turn and steer -- when combined with the stiff unitized structure and lively suspension -- makes Escape uncommonly agile, but that's the big idea here.
The list of standard equipment looks good, beginning with air conditioning and power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, a tilting steering column, remote keyless entry and an audio kit with CD/MP3 player.
MSRP figures for Ford's compact CUV begin at $18,770 for the 2008 Escape XLS FWD.
Description: Compact CUV
Model options: Escape XLS, Escape XLT, Escape Limited
Wheelbase: 103.1 inches
Overall length: 174.7 inches
Engine size: DOHC 2.3-L I4, DOHC 3.0-L V6
Transmissions/speeds: I4: Manual/5, Auto/4, V6: Auto/4
Rear/front drive: 2WD (Front), 4WD (AWD)
Steering: Electric power rack and pinion
Braking: Power disc/drum, ABS/AdvanceTrac/RSC
Air bags: 2 (front), 2 (side), 4 (side curtain)
EPA mileage est. city/hwy. I4 M/5 2WD: 22/28 mpg, I4 A/4 2WD: 20/26 mpg, I4 A/4 4WD: 19/24 mpg, V6 A/4 2WD: 18/24 mpg, V6 A/4 4WD: 17/22 mpg
MSRP range est.: $ 18,770 to $ 25,520