We make money from advertisers and affiliate partners. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
2023 ford escape elite awd

For years, American car manufacturers were playing catch-up to their foreign competitors, but in the last decade or so, the big three have come quite close to parity with their European and Asian peers. This pattern seems to repeat itself with each new car category too; Toyota led the hybrid push and it took companies like BMW to show what a luxury EV looked like. Sports Utility Vehicles have been around long enough that we're past that phase and into the cycle of incremental "fashion" updates with an occasional major redesign, often to fit a bigger infotainment screen into a dashboard layout. Mid-size SUVs are in that category where just about every manufacturer has been selling both a two-row and three-row version for years. When did the Ford Bronco show up? Or the Jeep Cherokee?

Ford introduced its Escape SUV in cooperation with partner Mazda with the intention of offering something a bit smaller than the Explorer (which itself is the smaller version of the Expedition). Mazda offered the same vehicle as its Mazda Tribute, with the same drivetrain and interior components. While the Ford Escape continues to be a key part of the Ford vehicle lineup, Mazda replaced the Tribute with the smaller CX-5 in 2012, likely finding it too big for its key overseas markets.

Ford offered me a week with the 2023 Ford Escape AWD ST-Line Elite and I was definitely curious to get behind the wheel of this car that has a cousin-once-removed relationship to my own Mazda CX-5. Turns out that the Escape is a very nice, smaller SUV for people who don't need as much room as the bigger Ford vehicles. Mine was in Cinnabar Red Metallic with an Ebony Leather Trim/Red Stich interior:

2023 ford escape awd 1

You can see that the Cinnabar Red looked a lot more brown than red, but with a richness and depth that a traditional brown wouldn't have offered in the sunlight. For 2024 this color has been replaced by a much brighter red called "Rapid Red Metallic" which is more eye-catching. The Escape is 181″ long x  74″ wide versus the Explorer at 198" in length and 78" in width and the Expedition at 210" in length by 79.9" wide. While these sizes might not seem dramatically different, the vehicles all have a different sense, and the Escape is bigger than the popular compact utes like the Toyota Rav4, the Honda CR-V, and the Mazda CX-5. It is nonetheless the smallest SUV in the Ford lineup too (the Edge measures 188" long by 76" wide).

What might surprise people is that it offers a peppy drive with its 2.0L Ecoboost engine with an 8-speed automatic. I had no problem at all accelerating onto the highway, even when it was a row of high-torque EVs I had to jockey for position against. The downside is that the fuel efficiency was a bit lower than I would have hoped; the EPA estimate is 23/31 and I saw an average of 29.2, but it'd be nice to have been in the low 30s, as most of its competing compact SUVs now deliver. Worth mentioning is that Ford does offer a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of the Escape, which improves those EPA numbers while offering your first 40 miles of driving on just battery power when fully charged.

Back to the 2023 Ford Escape ST-Line Elite AWD, however! With its attractive exterior, it was no surprise to find a modern take on the standard Ford interior design too, featuring a spacious 13.2" infotainment screen:

2023 ford escape awd 12

The charging station in front of the shift dial offers USB-A, USB-C, 12V, and a wireless charging spot (which you enable or disable through the Infotainment settings, rather confusingly, not with a button in that same area). Climate controls are split between the very bottom of the infotainment screen and the control strip between the power on/off and the volume knobs. The steering wheel is flattened on one side, a design that I find very comfortable and easier to quickly judge how far off straight the wheels are without having to move the vehicle.

2023 ford escape awd 7

The center console is straightforward, with a simple gear dial (notice that "low" is the button in the middle, though it seems more logical to have "park" as the middle button). Space for coins, two cups, and a parking brake control that you can ignore because it automatically turns it on and off as needed. Note also the ebony leather with red stitching seats. Very attractive.

2023 ford escape awd 4

The climate controls are moved to the bottom of the infotainment screen. Takes a bit of adjustment to look for them there, but it's an easy shift, and then everything's in a local layout with the screen utilized through overlays as needed (for example, press +/- on the temperature and it will show you a thermometer graphic for easier adjustment). One thing I haven't seen too often is the ability to switch between the dual screen view (with the map on the right supplied by the Ford SYNC4 system) and expanding Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to use the entire screen through tapping on the double-arrow icon on the top left. A very flexible design.

2023 ford escape awd 5

Unlike many American cars, Ford has volume up/down as clearly labeled buttons on the front of the steering wheel crossbar, a design that's much better than the unlabeled buttons on the back of the crossbar on other American vehicles. There should be no mystery what a button is going to do when you press it. Cruise control is on the left, Main gauge display is on the right. Easy. Speaking of which...

2023 ford escape awd 10

The main gauge display was beautiful, sporting a very clean and easily read display of information. Temperature, tachometer, speed, fuel efficiency, all easily understood at a glance. Notice my average mpg too: 29.2. Orange, by the way, denotes sport mode, while blue indicates a more balanced "normal" driving mode. You can also see I'm going 41mph in a 35 zone. Not too bad, all in all!

While there was a lot to like with the interior of the 2023 Ford Escape, the "Head-up Display" add-on as part of the Premium Technology Package seemed like a throwback to the very beginnings of this technology:

2023 ford escape awd 3

it's literally a transparent plastic screen that flips up and shows you the reflection of a tiny display that's otherwise hidden. It's showing in this image that I'm driving 28mph. I found it to be a poor implementation of a heads-up display and an option that potential buyers will want to evaluate closely to decide whether it's worth the upcharge or not.

With such a straightforward design it's worth a brief observation that the windshield wiper controls are crazy complicated:

2023 ford escape awd 6

Somewhere in Ford Motor Company is a designer who is convinced that this incredibly information-dense control stick is the most logical way to offer access to all of these controls. Look at it closely, though, and it's overwhelming. I know, you get used to it eventually, then don't think about it anymore, but they can't figure out a better layout?

Stepping out of the vehicle, I found the rear legroom was good for a vehicle of this size:

2023 ford escape awd 9

The rear cargo space was plenty for even an enthusiastic shopping trip to Costco:

2023 ford escape awd 11

Ultimately, there were some quirks that I found a bit annoying with the Ford Escape, most notably the incredibly pesky warning to check the rear seat whenever you turned off the vehicle. Does that really help? Is it really worth bothering you hundreds, if not thousands of times, even if there was nothing in or on the rear seats? Couldn't they have a weight sensor and at least only warn you when there's something actually in the seat? It is possible that can be disabled in Settings, I didn't check.

2023 ford escape awd 2

If you're in the market for a smaller SUV for your small family or just like the form factor, the Ford Escape is a solid option to explore. The PHEV plug-in hybrid seems even more interesting because it significantly improves fuel efficiency, but it's also more expensive and currently doesn't have an AWD option, a necessity for Colorado winters. I enjoyed the week I had with the Escape and would drive it again if given the opportunity.

2023 Ford Escape ST-Line Elite AWD. BASE PRICE: $38,460.00. Options included: Cinnabar Red Paint, Panoramic Vista Roof, 19" Ebony-painted Aluminum Wheels, Premium Technology Package. AS DRIVEN: $43,650.00.

Disclaimer: Ford loaned me the Escape for a week in return for this candid write-up. Thanks mucho, Ford!

This article originally appeared on PlanetDave.com with the title "2023 Ford Escape AWD ST-Line Elite: There's Lots to Like".