Future CC Drive Report: 2020 Ford Escape SE – Upon Which My Parents Continued Their Downsizing

Part of the seeming approach with Ford’s new 2020 Escape has been how its more car-like appearance might better entice traditional passenger car buyers into a CUV.  Ford had better hope such a strategy works since they’re throwing in the towel on passenger car production and a failure here will be highly painful.

In some good news for Ford, it is now safe to say based upon one, single, solitary data point this approach has indeed worked, albeit indirectly.

Last summer my parents moved to my and my mother’s birthplace of Cape Girardeau, Missouri; not only does this mean they have vacated the State of Illinois after 50-odd years, it also reflects their downsizing from 18 acres to 0.25 acres.  At 76 and 72 years of age, it was a wise decision.

This is a screenshot from Google Earth.  It shows their current garage under previous tutelage in 2013.  While not the smallest garage imaginable (the house was built in the early to mid-1960s), just imagine the Caravan replaced with a 2011 Ford Taurus, that of the big-butt variety.  Then replace the Ford Ranger with a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500.  Finally, line the walls with my father’s Sizable Hoard of Ignored Treasures (S.H.I.T., for short) to get the full concept of how it is currently.

My mother made the observation that both vehicles, especially when combined with my father’s abundant S.H.I.T, gave exceedingly little room to walk between vehicles if both were parked inside.  As both have artificial joints (two knees for her, a hip for him), she is rightfully concerned about mobility in their advancing geriatric-ness.  Her concern was if either of them fell in the garage they would be trapped beneath one or both vehicles, unable to, uh, escape.

In a conversation last week, I reminded my father how some of the items in his S.H.I.T pile had been lingering for sixty (yes, sixty) years and should be allowed the opportunity to bring joy to someone else.  Neither my mother’s concern nor my reminder broke through.


What did break through was telling my father about a class-action lawsuit against Ford regarding the design of the water pump in various 3.5 liter engines, such as the one in their Taurus.  For those unfamiliar with this application, the water pump is driven by the timing chain.  While this works out great for packaging, water pumps generally don’t last forever.  Failures of water pumps in Ford 3.5 liter engines have contaminated the engine oil with coolant, quickly creating catastrophic to irreparable engine damage.

Their Taurus had 95,000 miles on it, a point in which some owners were experiencing (premature?) water pump failures.  My sister’s long-term boyfriend knows two people who have had engine failures in a 3.5 liter Ford due to such water pump failures.  Combine this with my warning Pop about his potential time bomb, and the Taurus went away.

So what did he buy?  Another Ford.

Let’s explore this for a minute.  Why did he buy another Ford?  Easy; there are only three automakers to him.  Chrysler doesn’t currently excite him and GM produced a 1962 Chevy II that threw a rod in October 1968, thus GM is simply an acronym for “Getta Mechanic!”.  That leaves Ford.  I have suggested various other brands over time but there’s always some reason to not consider them.

Remember, some things that may seem easy aren’t.  Yet life must be easy when one goes to a dealer and just purchases whatever turns their crank; it’s highly doubtful my father is alone in that behavior.

My mother was a half-step ahead of my father for this purchase.  When they got to the dealership the salesman asked what they were looking for.  My mother said “something smaller than that” while pointing to their Taurus, a car she has detested for the duration of their ownership.  For that matter, she wasn’t fond of the Ford Five Hundred that preceded it, nor the Mercury Grand Marquis before that, either.

The salesmen referred them to this 2020 Ford Escape SE with front-wheel drive and painted Magnetic.  Most interestingly, this Escape is powered by the standard 1.5 liter “Ecoboost” engine.  Does that sound familiar?  It should, given Ford has had a 1.5 liter available in the Escape for a while.  But the 2020 has a twist that Ford is seriously downplaying to the point of ignoring; this particular 1.5 is entirely different as it is a three-cylinder unit, not four.

Combing Ford’s website reveals no obvious statements about this being a three-cylinder engine.  Nothing on the window sticker discloses it as being a three-cylinder, either; it’s simply “Ecoboost”.  While this seems sneaky on Ford’s part, I do have to admit it; given the smoothness and power output one would never guess this to be a three-cylinder engine.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We (my parents, my wife, our daughter, and I) were going downtown, a distance of 5.5 miles, to meet the governor and to tour the governor’s mansion, a staple of the Christmas season in Jefferson City.  With the Escape blocking the garage, we simply decided to take it upon my mother handing me her keys.

One of the joys of life is getting into an unfamiliar vehicle for the first time.  It lets you see how intuitive the design of the interior is, gauge how well you like it, and experience something new.  For the most part, all the various controls of the Escape fell readily to hand despite their execution being somewhat different – not bad, just different.  Yet there was one little nugget than took a moment, something that seems as if it could have been avoided with a bit more thought.

After getting in and adjusting the seat and mirrors, I could not find the button to trigger the ignition.  Where could it be?  It seemed absent although “occluded” is a better descriptor.  It’s location was to the lower right of the instrument cluster, angled slightly toward the driver’s door.  My line of sight was blocked by the wiper stalk and steering wheel.  Once found, all was again well.

Our route to the mansion, which is quite near the capitol building, involved a combination of city streets and 65+ mph highways.  With five adult-sized people onboard, that 180 horsepower three-banger was at no loss for power.  While nothing to pin your body to the seat, it accelerated briskly up the ramp to the highway, effortlessly maintaining 70 miles per hour.  It felt eager and untaxed regardless of speed and never seemed to struggle in fulfilling the various demands put upon it.

The only thing of note is this three-pot does have a more nasal and raspy engine sound than I am accustomed to hearing.  However, I listen for such things; odds are a good percentage of Escape owners won’t notice it.  That might also explain Ford’s approach to marketing this engine, an approach I don’t agree with.  It’s not a matter of “buyer beware” so much as simple disclosure.

This trip was on a Saturday; my parents had purchased the Escape earlier that week on Monday, with it having accumulated right at 350 miles in that time.  By Saturday the only demerit either of them could give the Escape, other than the roominess of the backseat which will be rarely used, was the start/stop feature.

Ford’s marketing propaganda says its operation is seamless but that’s disingenuous.  With part of the trip being in the downtown area with its abundance of stop conditions, the Escape displayed what my father aptly described as “buck-jumping”.  Anytime the Escape even thought it might be coming to a full-stop, the engine shut off.  That was imperceptible, even on the tachometer.  What was not imperceptible was going to accelerate and hearing the “clunk” from up front and feeling the lunge from the engine trying to get with the program.

I showed my father the button to disable this feature.  I have no doubt he’ll use this more than he will the radio.

Which leads me to the radio.  I never turned it on.  Supposedly it’s got Apple CarPlay and Android Audio.  That’s nifty.  But my parents have a dumb phone and the two USB ports found within will undoubtedly remain virgins.  They do enjoy using the GPS and the map that shows a person on a map from an aerial view.  Everything else is a waste even though Ford allowed them the privilege of paying for items they would likely call fooferifolous gimmickry.

So far my mother loves the Escape.  She says the seats are the best they’ve had in something like thirty years (which would likely mean their 1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria or 1991 Dodge Dynasty) and said something along the lines of it being nice to simply slide into a seat, not drop and hope for a soft landing.  My father has a surprising affinity for it.  It even has my 95 year-old grandfather’s seal of approval as he said “this is a hell of a lot better than your last car”.

My only real concern is one indicative of CUVs and SUVs by their very nature, but it’s a concern with a diminishing magnitude in this particular case.  The storage room in the rear of the Escape is not plentiful.  Frankly, I’ve never been real impressed with the “storage” room of this type of vehicle unless the seats were down, an impression based on experience.  But since they now live in town, within fifteen minutes of most family, and are no longer traveling much for leisure, they will likely be putting very few miles on this Escape.  Their weekend luggage and a few Christmas presents filled up the rear storage to a point level with the top of the rear seat.

But hauling this much cargo will not be typical.  The Escape was one of four compact CUVs I was going to recommend to replace their Taurus.  There’s little doubt it will work out great for them.

Related Reading:

Their 2011 Ford Taurus

My father’s cars from 1959 through 1981

My father’s cars since 1983