COAL: 2018 Ford Escape SE Sport – Not the Mustang I Wanted

2018 Ford Escape SE front view

As one might infer from the title of this week’s entry, I went to the dealership with a very different intention for replacing our Lincoln MKZ than what actually transpired. The experience is actually a good illustration of some reasons why Ford made its recent decision to discontinue making cars in favor of trucks and SUVs.

As with several previous leases, we were contacted a few months before the end of the Lincoln’s lease with an encouragement to “come on in and see if we can sell you a new car.” Since we were in no hurry to lease another car and were still 5 months from the end of the lease, we figured we’d have nothing to lose (other than oceans of time) by going to see what kind of deal they would make for us. I wasn’t exactly optimistic, though, since typical lease pull-ahead deals didn’t take effect until three months from the end of a lease, so I figured we’d go home and wait the extra 5 months. Worth a try, though.

I did some research and picked out several vehicles that we’d be interested in, and used the online Ford lease calculator to get a feel for how much each would cost me. I really liked the Fusion Sport (325 hp turbo V-6, AWD) but with the options I wanted the price was north of $40k with a high lease payment to match so that was out. Besides, it would essentially be like buying the same car again since the MKZ rides on the same platform. The Focus ST was another option – the dealer had a leftover 2017 model on the lot, so I figured that I might be able to get a deal on that one and its lease payment should be well below the Lincoln. It was a bit sparse on equipment, though – no satellite radio, no Apple CarPlay, etc. The Mustang Ecoboost was my first choice, though – a reasonably-equipped one was around $30k which (according to the Ford website) translated to a lease payment essentially the same as the Lincoln.

Of course, this dealership is still selling cars in very old-school ways. Even though I had specific stock numbers for cars I was interested in, I couldn’t get them to calculate estimated lease payments for each so I could narrow down my choice. As a result, we had to spend nearly 2 hours test driving cars since they wanted me to try the car first and then tell me how much it would cost. Also, this dealership’s methods for inventory control were, shall we say, behind the times? Finding a given car meant wandering the lot pressing the keyless entry remote’s panic button and listening for a horn honk.

2018 Ford Escape SE rear view

I liked the Focus ST as it was quite fun to drive (250 hp in a relatively small car). However, I’m not getting any younger and the car seemed a bit frantic to me. I figured that it would wear on us if we drove it every day. The Mustang was definitely my first choice – the Ecoboost engine offered plenty of power, the automatic transmission was responsive (too much traffic around here to really want a manual), and the interior was reasonably roomy (except for the salesman who was crammed in the backseat). The seating position was low but I could still get in and out of the car without having to take an aspirin first. Most definitely the one I wanted, even though they only had the Ecoboost available in black – I don’t like black cars, myself, but if the deal was right I’d make an exception.

We drove the Mustang first and then the Focus. When we were putting the Focus back in generally the same place we found it, my wife noticed the stock of Escapes lined up near the Focus parking area. She asked if we could test drive one of those, and I agreed, still figuring I’d be able to pull off the Mustang. My only request was that we would look at an SE with the Sport package (black wheels and grille, fog lights) as it looked the best. The one we drove came with the base infotainment system that had a laughably small screen positioned very close to the base of the windshield. The screen was probably 4-5 feet away from the driver and was the size of a deck of cards – not exactly an upmarket look for a car stickering at just under $30k. My wife really liked the Escape, though, just as she had three years ago when we were buying the Lincoln.

Now that we’d spent hours test-driving cars whose affordability was a major question mark, it was now time to talk numbers. The salesman seemed oddly reluctant to calculate lease payments for more than one car and we had to press him to do both the Mustang and the Focus. I had also told him repeatedly that the only way we were going to buy a car that day was if they would take the Lincoln for whatever the current payoff on the lease was – I could keep the car for another 5 months and turn it in without paying anything to make it disappear, so why pay something to make it go away early? So off he goes to calculate payments.

2018 Ford Escape SE side view

Of course, this payment calculation takes forever to do – amazing to me, since I could calculate lease payments online on the Ford site in a matter of seconds. It probably took somewhere around half an hour for him to come back with answers, which he’d printed on sheets of paper.

The answers I got did not make me happy – their initial offer showed me losing $2000 on my Lincoln, putting down a large sum of money for the Mustang, and still paying about $100 more each month for the Mustang than for our current car. I was not happy – I’d told him I didn’t want to lose money on my current car and wasn’t going to put any money down. I also asked him why the lease payment was WAY higher than what Ford showed on their website, and was met with a shrug.

The Focus wasn’t any better. The 2017 leftover model with very little in the way of equipment, which I’d expected to be just a bit more than my Cruze per month, turned out to be $50 more than the Lincoln per month. This was a total non-starter and I made my dissatisfaction known. He brought over the sales manager and tried to give me the hard sell, but I wasn’t budging. I found myself pulling the same trick my dad always did – lean back from the table and fold my arms to look stern. I told the sales manager that these lease payments weren’t going to work, especially since I could get the Chevrolet analogy (Cruze, Camaro) for a lot less per month. He said “We’d love to get you out of that GM car and into a Ford” which made me laugh out loud.

As they went back to try (unsuccessfully) to get the Mustang numbers down to something reasonable, my wife told me that if we bought the Mustang she wouldn’t want to drive it at all. This was something I’d never heard from her – she was usually good with whatever car I brought home, but she didn’t like something about that Mustang. That pretty much ended the Mustang idea.

Dashboard of 2018 Ford Escape SE

At this point, the salesperson is potentially seeing a sale walking out the door (not surprising, since he’d not actually secured any great lease pull-ahead deals or anything else to make us buy), so he asked if we wanted to talk about the Escape. This produced a positive response from my wife, so I went along with it. My only requirements were that we look at the SE sport package and we find one that had the Sync 3 infotainment system with the larger screen. They had one in stock so in old-school dealership style he hurried to go get it so we could be tempted by it well before we had lease payments in hand. Not going to work, man – especially since I don’t particularly like SUVs. I was still in the “I can leave now” mode, but my wife was more convinced we were going to get the Escape.

Their first payment proposal for the Escape showed us breaking even on the Lincoln but still paying $50 more a month for the Escape, a figure we’d already turned down at least once. I guess they weren’t listening. They finally asked the age-old question, “What can I do to sell you a car today?” Answering that question was a lot easier now that I was older and could really take it or leave it, so I made them a counter offer.

In the final accounting, we did bring home the Escape for essentially the same payment as the Lincoln, in a transaction that took nearly 6 hours start to finish with a missed lunch, for us to bring home a car that my wife really loves. I guess that’s what counts, since it’s her car.

So how is the current Escape to drive? The 1.5 liter 190 hp 4 cylinder is perfectly adequate but not amazing, the car is large enough to handle whatever hauling we need, and the handling is somewhat better than acceptable for a tall box. At the moment, just three months into our ownership, the fuel economy is what I would call mediocre – 20 mpg is something that I can get from my 30 year old Thunderbird SC. It does look pretty good – I am assuming that black wheels will end up being a fad that will probably play out by the time we trade it in, but it looks good now. It still comes with a key (a rather cheaply made one at that) – pushbutton start is available only on the higher trim models. My wife finds it hilarious that I always forget the key since my car has the pushbutton start. First world problems…

So, this brings the CC community up to date on my cars, and this will be my last COAL entry about a specific car. Next week I’ll sum up 40 cars over 30 years and see what I’ve learned. (Probably nothing, if you ask my wife…)