We say Ford, but the first Escape had a whole lot of Mazda in it. You might remember that the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute both came out at about the same time, and that the SUVs shared just about everything with each other. The Escape and Tribute’s CD2 platform was itself based on the Mazda GF platform found on the 626; the Tribute had a Ford powertrain option, and they looked closely related in their styling. It’s not exactly a bad thing to have a lot of Mazda in a Ford, and one could make the argument that Mazda’s chassis tuning helped it out.
Both brands’ vehicles were introduced for the 2001 model year, and while the Mazda was discontinued after a decent run through 2011, the Escape continues to thrive today. What you can’t get on the Escape anymore is a manual transmission, which was paired with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 130 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque at the model’s launch. Ford also offered a 3.0-liter V6 making 200 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque with an automatic transmission for the Escape. The boxy, butch styling introduced on the first Escape wore off over the years, and the 2020 crossover essentially completed the full transformation into car territory. That initial styling direction started to make its turn early after the Escape refresh in the 2005 model year. Both the Escape and Tribute started to get a little curvier then, but a couple other bigger updates happened around that same time, too.
Ford introduced an Escape Hybrid for the 2005 model year, and this variant caught fire. This vehicle ended up being the cause of a patent-sharing accord with Toyota, since Ford engineers realized their hybrid tech might have conflicted with Toyota’s patents for hybrid technology it used in the Prius. Toyota got diesel and direct-injection engine technology out of the agreement with Ford. The original Escape Hybrid has held up well over the years, with final sales totaling 114,000 hybrids in the model’s lifetime. It claimed 30 mpg city and 28 mpg highway in front-wheel drive form — an all-wheel drive model was also made available that dropped 2 mpg in both categories.
Mercury released its own version of the Escape in 2005 called the Mariner, which attempted to differentiate itself by aiming a bit further upmarket. The Mariner got different styling to make it look more premium and had a higher-grade, two-tone interior. There was also a Mariner Hybrid that was essentially the same as the Escape Hybrid underneath. Fun fact: There was also a Mazda Tribute Hybrid that was produced in extremely low numbers between 2007 and 2009.
Ford gave the Escape its first full overhaul for the 2008 model year, but it still sat on the same platform as before. Styling got chunky, and Ford tried to play off the Explorer and Expedition for inspiration. In typical Ford fashion, the powertrain refresh came a year after the new looks. The 2009 model year saw the addition of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 170 horsepower as the standard engine. Ford found a bunch more power in the 3.0-liter V6 that brought output up to 240 horsepower. Both these engines were now paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission, but the manual was still available with the four-cylinder. The Escape Hybrid was given a larger four-cylinder engine (2.3-liter to 2.5-liter) and efficiency was also improved to 34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway.
This generation of Escape kept rolling off the assembly line into 2012 before Ford gave us the biggest design change yet to the Escape for the 2013 model year. It eschewed the rugged look from the past decade in favor of a slick, distinctly European design. We saw the addition of EcoBoost engines to this model, making 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter turbocharged versions available. The 2.0-liter ended up making the same 240 horsepower as the old V6, but more torque at 270 pound-feet. Ford is introducing the 2020 Escape with 250 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque from the top-of-the-line 2.0-liter turbo engine, so things haven’t changed that much in the power department. An extremely mild tune would normally net a bigger power gain than Ford has pushed out of this powertrain over the past seven years.
Ford ended up dropping the Escape Hybrid for this redesign, because it had eyes on the C-Max being its volume hybrid model. We can all see how well that worked out for the Blue Oval, and now we’re back to an Escape Hybrid for 2020.
The Escape itself has been a wild sales success story for Ford, and we’ll expect that to continue. It hasn’t sold fewer than 200,000 vehicles in a year since 2010, and reached a peak of 308,296 vehicles in 2017. Crossovers in general have only become more popular over the years, and folks have clearly taken to the latest generation of Escape. Ford has taken the car-like approach and doubled down for the just revealed fourth generation. Check out our full breakdown of the new model here, and how it compares to the rest of its compact crossover competitors here.