Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Road Test: 2009 Ford Escape Limited 3.0

Psst ... anybody wanna buy a 1993 Ford Mustang Cobra with a full 2009 Ford factory warranty, more passenger and cargo space, higher ground clearance, fewer attentive once-overs from the coppers, and 18 city/26 highway?

Head over to your local Ford dealer and pick-out a cherry 2009 3.0 liter FWD Escape with the new 240 hp mill hooked to FoMoCo's state-of-the art 6F35 6-speed tranny. Same power-to-weight ratio as the that 93 Cobra and an extra cog to help put the power down, all wrapped up in a mommymobile cute-ute masquerading as a macho Super Duty up front.

Pay no attention to the SnakeStang faithful who are snickering at the autohermaphroditic possibilities right now.

Sure, a 2009 Ford Escape 3.0 is exactly like a 1993 Ford Mustang Cobra ... failing only to match it in torque, tires, suspension, and attitude ... but seriously ... try a roll-on drag race with said Cobra in said Escape, taking care to be a professional driver on a closed test circuit. You can count on not being too embarrassed one bit (except for looking like the little boy in D.H. Lawrence's The Rocking Horse Winner – more on that later).

Your UnHumble Car Czar test drove an Escape Limited 3.0 FWD model in Black Clearcoat pimped-out with:

  • 17-inch chrome-clad alloy five-spokers .
  • The Limited Luxury Package (Dual-temp climate, heated seats, mirrors, and deet deet deet deet deet reverse-sensing system).
  • The Moon & Tune Value Package (Some fat guy drops his pants and sings you a song. Plus a one-touch open/close roof, 320-watt Audiophile sound system hooked up to a 500-watt Whether-You-Want-It-Or-Not SIRIUS® satellite receiver, six months free).
  • The Cargo Package (Roof rack cross bars that you'll want to scrap in favor of a Yakima rack. Also an under-the-load-floor wet-stow cargo bin so you can pretend to be Bear Grylls, offloading your adventurer boots in a protected compartment of your four-wheeler after a muddy death-defying excursion from the local metropark trail).

So-equipped you get leather, power everything, plus some of Ford's new "Neat! Look What We Can Do" SYNC® technology, which allows you to:

  • Talk to your Bluetooth telephone through the audio system (discouraging carpooling, which would let all your buddies in on your phone calls ... and discouraging not carpooling, because, well, you look like a loon gabbing phonelessly away in an empty car as you creep through freeway gridlock).
  • Play music from your Bluetooth device through the audio system (because having the choice of six CDs, several hundred terrestrial and extraterrestrial radio stations, and All the Music In The World via your USB storage option is never enough. As a bonus you get an ear massage from a stern-but-hot-sounding babe who reads you Severe Lawyer Language at up to 320 watts every time you activate a new SYNC® system feature).

I believe the lawyer babe, who was warning me not to fiddle with her buttons while driving as I was driving through a crowded school zone (I think ... seems to me I saw the yellow of school busses and rainbow colors of Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go backpacks flash by in my periphery), is the best reason to own a new Ford vehicle with SYNC®. She definitely sounds like a repressed Vassar chick wearing Sarah Palin glasses and absolutely nothing under her gray flannel bizsuit.

And she's stern.

Very stern.

If you're familiar with the first-generation Ford Escape, you're not at all familiar with Gen II. Gen I hooked an eager-but-low-ambition 200 hp engine to an abrupt, lurchy-up-the-mountain 4-speed tranny and turned the zigging and zagging over to one of the best hydraulic steering systems ever to send a Ford carving down the serpentine other-side.

In 2009 Ford hot-rods the 3.0 with some breathing and compression work, producing a normally-aspirated power-to-displacement masterpiece whose forward motion is conducted by a thoroughly-modern 6-speed maestro ... but then passes directional duty to the same dreadful "electronic steering" system that's creeping into most cars these days.

If you can get past steering feedback that really, really feels like the "flop left/flop right" of an amusement park bumper car you will find this newest Escape does a pretty good job of following orders. If you're a regular Gran Turismo player and have resigned yourself to the tactile feedback know-nothing of a PlayStation controller, you may not mind Ford's new FlaccidSteer® technology one bit.

The point is, this little sport wagon will go where you point it faithfully, though not like that eager brown-noser sitting in the front row of the classroom: more like the Prozac-drugged one drawing pictures of vampires in the back.

What the new Escape does better than turn is not turn. See, the electronic steering system you're gonna hate for feedback you're gonna love for the built-in yaw damper (Pull-Drift Compensation in Ford parlance), which boosts electric steering assist to correct for crosswinds and crown curvature as you motor down the road. That's a godsend for a tall-but-lightweight vehicle like the Escape, which in the previous yaw-all-you-want generation kept one sawing at the wheel all-trip-long on breezy days. This Ford gets down the road straight as an arrow.

If the other onboard stability control nannies start to bug you, here's a little secret: you can turn off just the traction control and return a certain amount of pre-Orwellian imperfection to your road-going life.

It's hard to discern this from the owner's manual, where some lawyer or possibly complete moron spends three pages playing peek-a-boo with the interrelationships of the stability control/roll control/traction control systems. Those three pages are spent telling you that pressing the AdvanceTrac with RSC® "Off" button in the center console will result in the symbol of a skidding car lighting up on your dashboard, and that pressing the AdvanceTrac with RSC® "Off" button again will make the skidding-car light disappear.

Push the button again and the skiddy car light goes on again. Push the button again and the skiddy car goes off again. And so forth.

Read those three pages over and over if you'd like, trying to discern TCS from ESC from RSC from EEE-EYE-EEE-EYE-OH, but the bottom line is that pressing the AdvanceTrac with RSC® "Off" button for the first time after starting a mechanically- and electronically-sound 2009 Ford Escape will turn off traction control, period, in the forward gears. In reverse you keep traction control after pressing the AdvanceTrac with RSC® "Off" button for the first time but lose stability and roll control (for reasons that aren't explained in the manual and that I can't otherwise fathom).

Plus, it will make a skiddy-car light go on on the dashboard.

If you're shopping for a right-sized sit-tall wagon that does pretty good MPGs and hauls butt – if most-happily in a straight line – this is your ticket. Your early 90s Mustang Cobra fronting a Toby Keith Ford Truck Man snoz on Lynette Scavo's maternal mayhem-mobile, channeled through a cammy factory-blueprinted three liter that growls from five grand up like a race-ready 302 under the right foot of Parnelli Jones.

Your UnHumble Car Czar's 3.0 FWD Escape Limited took 6.7 seconds to hit 60 with the best brake-torqued, non-tire-smoking drag strip launch manageable with the AdvanceTrac with RSC® "Off" button, um ... "on." Count on low 7s with a rolling start: the first lazy loping kickdown from low-speed part-throttle is a killjoy. Probably some Car and Driver hot shoe will wuff a 6.3 some day (and then complain about the test average MPG).

Loads of even mundane vehicles can accelerate faster in 2009, but did I mention this kind of performance isn't too far off the mark of a 1993 Ford Mustang Cobra?

OK ... thanks to the lazy tranny, let's say 'bout the same grunt as a same-era GT?

Ford's new 6F35 6-speed is usually in the gear you want when you're not flooring it, which is a good thing, because all you get for gear selection is an "I'll think about it" overdrive cancel button on the left side of the gear lever and a "LOW? I'LL SHOW YOU LOW!" "L" via the shift lever itself that does nothing but throw a gas-swilling high-rpm tantrum.

The tranny is supposed to "learn" whether you're Mr. Mario or Miss Marple and adjust its shift aggressiveness accordingly, but sometimes my test rig seemed educated, sometimes not. Most of the time under full throttle my Escape's nose-bobbed between shifts like one of those 25-cent-a-ride mechanical rocking horses at the Piggly Wiggly, so maybe it's still "learning" my driving style.

Howz 'bout some paddle shifters and gear-holding logic, Ford, so I can destroy your EPA results, pretend I'm Jenson Button, and not sound like a tool when I'm slowing down for a cloverleaf sans wussy brake lights?

Mario aspirations aside, Miss Marple will like this latest iteration of Ford's best-selling ute just fine. The structure is stouter than pre-2008 Escapes, meaning smaller side windows, less visibility (hey, that's what the Reverse Sensing System is for), and a silky, smooth, quiet ride that's at least three times silkier, smoother, and quieter than before thanks to retuned shocks, thicker carpeting, and acoustic window laminates, among other trickery. It's an altogether different experience: your father's Caddy under-the-influence-of-Marple and your neighbor's 90s Stang when Mario's on the job.

Mario or Marple, the details to seal the deal on this best-ever Ford Escape: classy piano black interior motif with soft-touch-everything; mood lighting (choose blues, greens, pinkish purples and more to light-up your foot wells and cup-holders at night ... oh my); automatic lights/delay/battery saver; message center compass and outside temperature that actually work, and a complete front-to-side passenger compartment airbag canopy. Oh, and of course Sindi the Sado from SYNC® Legal ... and that little light-up skid car that lights up when you push the skid car button and disappears when you push the skid car button again.


2009 Ford Escape 3.0 Limited Plusses:

  • Family-friendly ute that weighs less than some modern sports cars

  • 60s muscle car oomph

  • Best-in-class quality and safety ratings

  • 18/26 EPA MPG

  • Self-centered steering

2009 Ford Escape 3.0 Limited

  • Tranny tuned for MPG ... floor it and you'll find "MPG" rhymes with "Wait 'n See"

  • Bright chrome Super Duty snoz causes pale Escort wagon-driving retentives to slow down, just daring you to tailgate

  • Mr. Limpet Steering

  • Highest available windshield wiper speed is half the speed you need

Test Data: 2009 Ford Escape Limited 3.0 FWD Six-Speed

0-60 mph: 6.7
1/4 mile: 14.9 @ 93.7
Top Speed: NA
Skidpad: .78 g
60-0 braking: 124 ft.

Non-atmosphere/wind/incline-corrected data taken on an 82F day with a G-Tech Pro, yellow legal pad, and practically no other deference to objective road test discipline whatsoever.



  1. Finally!I know how awesome this new Escape is!

  2. I knew this Escape was wicked!I've already beat mustangs!Cant wait till they come out with some performance upgrades!I recently installed a flowmaster exhaust..thats about the only thing available right now!THIS IS THE ULTIMATE SLEEPER!

  3. All the car mags called the earlier Scapes the
    "pocket rockets" of their day too. My '05 has a catback, short ram intake, and 93 octane tune flashed on the ECU. About 240 hp. Can't wait to try an '09, even with the 5 spd. tranny!

  4. I'm taking mine to the drag strip on July 2nd.So we'll see how accurate these times are!They gotta be close,cause this thing is a freakin rocket!I'll keep ya posted,can't wait!!!

  5. Well,I took my 09'to the strip,and it didnt run a 14.9!I ran a 15.6,15.5,and my last pass a 15.47@88.90mph!Not too bad,but I installed a JET performance chip and a flowmaster cat-back exhaust system!So,I dont know where the 14.9 came from that this guy tested!

  6. WOW!Still NO COMMENTS!!!

  7. And he's right. If your opponent has you pinned, the truth is NONE of that stuff you see in all of the Kodokan Illustrated and other judo books really works. {I said that and God did not strike me dead. See, I'm still here. Typing.} Best escape rooms