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January 21, 2004

Review: 2004 Ford Escape V6

There are several ways of waking up in the morning, from the unpleasant blare of an alarm clock to the stimulating aroma of breakfast cooking in the kitchen.  A leisurely breakfast is all fine for the weekend, but for rush-hour workdays, a quicker solution is warranted.  That's where coffee usually comes in: one gulp and when the caffeine warms up the veins, so too does the brain.  Now what of us who are not partial to hot Java?  We discovered something just as effective: seeing a bright yellow compact SUV parked in our garage did the trick.

The SUV in question is the 2004 Ford Escape.  How is it different from last year's?  If the blazing paintwork doesn’t get your attention, then perhaps two small inscriptions the front fenders will: V6.  This means that under the stubby hood is not an anemic 2.0-liter but a full-strength 3.0, garnished with double overhead cams and 24 valves.  The Duratec engine is good for a potent 206 bhp and 276 Nm, compared to the 2.0's 130 bhp/183 Nm.

Climb into the cabin and even if you haven't driven an Escape before, you'll feel right at home.  That's because the leather seats are as soft and comfortable enough to double as living room furniture. They're American-sized, too, so you won't feel shortchanged when it comes to seat width and thigh support.  Switches, gauges and operating levers are all easily decipherable even if you let the owner's manual gather dust in the glovebox.  A power moon roof, unique to the class, incorporates a wind deflector to lessen the wind noise and turbulence when the glass is retracted.  Our favorite "barbecutie," Michelle Branch, can breathe out of the Escape's 4 speakers all day long and still sound quite good from the typically robust Ford sound system.  She only has two CDs out, so there are four more slots to fill in the no-magazine dash-mounted changer.

The Escape only seats five, but there's plenty of luggage room aft of the second row.  That row also folds nearly to the floor in a 60/40 split.  The swing-up tailgate with separately-opening glass hatch makes an easy task of loading stuff into the back, while cubbyholes and a cargo net help keep them in place.

With that bright yellow slash of hood in front of us, we could hardly wait to fire up the big six and drive off through the weekday urban skirmishes.  At first we noticed little of the engine upgrade.  Feather the throttle, and the Escape accelerates with acceptable power delivery, just like the 2.0.  Then we kept our eye on the tach; the engine was barely above idle, shifting at 1600 to 1800 rpm. Start feeding the beast more fuel and it begins to growl.  A blip to 3000 rpm and you can leave most traffic behind.  Go all the way to redline and you have one quick SUV.  Factory data for the U.K. Escape V6 posts the 0-100 km/h time at 10.2 seconds.  We somehow doubt that because it felt much quicker; we're guessing less than 9 seconds on a good day.  To overtake in the 2.0, you'd need to exercise at least three bodily parts: brain to calculate if there's enough road space, and if there's not and you decide to do so anyway, your pair of cojones.  With the 3.0, it's much simpler: right foot will suffice to squeeze the Escape into any small gap in traffic.

Repeated flexing of that foot will eventually exact a penalty, because energy after all cannot be created from nothing.  It was almost a certainty that the V6 will gulp more gas than the inline-4.  We registered 5.5 km/liter, less than the 2.0's 6.5 to 7 km/liter.  Loss of 1 to 1.5 km/liter but an upgrade to warp speed from impulse power?  For us, that's an acceptable tradeoff.  What's not is the V6 version's greatly reduced range.  The fuel tank remains at 62 liters, which means that it can only go about 275 km before the gauge dips below one-fourth.  After two days with the Escape, we had to refill its tank.  Three days after that, fuel warning light flashing, we were back at it again. With this vehicle, the fuel pump will soon become your best friend—and the way gas prices are going, your most accursed enemy as well.

The issue of range aside, nearly all of what's good in the base version has been retained.  The supple front and rear independent suspension still provides an indulgent ride while keeping the vehicle firmly planted on uneven surfaces. This car won't do a lot of mudplugging, but it will stay moving even on rough soil and gravel.   Normally, the rear wheels take up some of the torque if the fronts start to spin; a switch on the dash can lock the transmission in four wheel drive mode.  The front disc / rear drum brakes feel soft initially but turn out to be easily modulated and quite effective in bringing the whole thing to a halt.  The Escape regularly bests other compact SUVs in braking distances.

The 3.0 V6 is the Escape as it should have been from the start.  Now it feels every bit as enjoyable as its bigger siblings.  Roomy interior, generous equipment, softly burbling engine, and effortless acceleration from any rpm.  With some cars you might want to get up early, just to enjoy the drive.  With the Escape V6, there's no need for that—it does the waking up when you get behind the wheel.  Even if you pick another color instead of yellow.

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