The SUV experts at TheCarConnection.com drove the 2009 Ford Escape for this hands-on Bottom Line road test. Editors also read reviews of the 2009 Escape and compiled this conclusive profile of the big Ford sedan from that research. TheCarConnection.com adds comparison information where it helps you make a better buying decision.

The 2009 Ford Escape is an attractive and capable compact SUV, now with vastly improved performance. Headlining the list of upgrades to the 2009 Escape models is a new powertrain lineup.

A new 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine replaces last year's 2.3-liter and features Ford's intake Variable Cam Timing (I-VCT). The new powerplant boasts an 11 percent increase in horsepower, outputting 171 hp, while also getting 1 mpg better efficiency.

Last year's four-speed automatic transmission has also been replaced with a standard five-speed transmission or an optional six-speed transmission. The wider range of gear ratios and taller top gear of the six-speed help deliver better fuel economy yet maintain good acceleration. If you're looking for more force, the significantly enhanced 3.0-liter V-6 makes 240 horsepower, up 40 hp from 2008. It's easy to feel this 20 percent power increase. A responsive and fuel-efficient six-speed automatic is newly offered with either engine (standard with the V-6). Ford estimates that both the four- and six-cylinder Escape models are each at least one second quicker to 60 mph than 2008 models.

Fuel economy for the four-cylinder engine coupled with the five-speed manual transmission is 22 mpg city, 28 highway, while the V-6 gets a respectable 18 mpg city, 26 highway with the six-speed automatic. TheCarConnection.com's editors have also driven the 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid, covered separately with its own review, and recommend it for anyone searching for maximum efficiency.

The Escape does have on-demand four-wheel-drive capability, but the SUV is not suitable for real off-road performance, so don't let the 4WD badge fool you. It will, however, tackle big-pebbled gravel roads with aplomb. Its on-road handling manners are superb, thanks to a completely retuned suspension featuring new struts, shock absorbers, and sway bars.

The carlike 2009 Ford Escape still retains dimensions befitting a normal-size SUV compared to its growth-hormone-injected competitors. Unlike some SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, the Escape looks the SUV part from every angle. Inside there's ample room for four adults. The front seats are comfortable, and the view out the little SUV is well above sedan-roof height. The rear seats are livable, but the bottom cushions are hard and a bit short for adults. Total passenger volume is 99.4 cubic feet, smaller than some other compact SUVs such as the Honda CR-V.

Cabin materials were upgraded for 2008, including matte-metallic accents and a two-tiered instrument panel. The blue-green instrument lighting is extremely easy to read. There is, however, room for improvement. TheCarConnection.com's editors don't like the operation of the folding rear seats. The process includes removing the three headrests, folding the seat cushions forward, then unlatching each seatback. The result is a flat load floor offering 66.3 cubic feet of cargo area. However, it requires you pull out the headrests--but then what do you do with them?

An area where the 2009 Ford Escape excels is the variety of features offered and the vehicle's ability to connect to most any device. The SYNC interface system that Ford developed with Microsoft allows users to control most MP3 players and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones with hands-free voice commands. Sirius Travel Link, another option, provides navigation, plus real-time traffic, weather, and fuel prices among other features, and can be easily controlled by voice commands. Some Escape trim levels include LED-powered ambient lighting. The only feature Escape lacks is a factory-fitted rear-seat DVD player.

The 2009 Ford Escape is not only a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the SUV also earns five stars for front and side impacts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Escape comes equipped with Ford's Personal Safety System--a combination of seven safety technologies, including new dual-stage front air bags, side air bags, and a front passenger sensor system. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and electronic stability control are also standard.


The Bottom Line:

Though it looks decidedly old-school, the Ford Escape is a solid and stylish five-passenger, compact SUV that has been kept up-to-date.

The Car Connection

©2008 by The Car Connection™ All Rights Reserved—The Car Connection is a trademark of Car Advisory Network

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