First Look: Ford Vertrek Concept

Make no mistake, the Ford Vertrek might be labeled a concept at the 2011 Detroit auto show, but it is most definitely the next-generation Ford Escape, and it's coming late this year. And what a different Escape it is. Styled at Ford's design studio in Germany, the Vertrek portends a production model that will replace both the Escape here in America and the popular Ford Kuga in Europe. Ford insiders hint that both names will be retained in their respective markets, as each has very high name recognition with consumers.

Like so many vehicles coming out of the Ford Motor Company these days, the Vertrek is built on the global C-segment platform that also underpins the Focus and the upcoming C-Max small wagon/van. Ford touts its adherence to its ongoing global kinetic design philosophy, which it describes as: "The starting point is to create an athletic stance for the vehicle, almost like a runner in starting blocks poised and ready to burst forward. Other key elements include dynamic lines and taut surfacing, again conveying muscularity and athleticism." That seems like an apt description for the Vertrek, which we think looks terrific: modern, progressive, and upscale, with very origami-like side creases: if you could put your thumbs on the rocker panels and your middle fingers on the roofline and squeeze them together, you would get the crease.

During Ford's media preview before the Detroit show, when we first saw the Vertrek concept, J Mays, Ford's ultra-chic worldwide design chief, came out onto the stage wearing a three-piece charcoal gray suit with fairly thick white pinstripes, a crisp white shirt but no necktie, and fabulous black shoes, probably custom-made. "Fast windscreen, elegant side window, muscular bodyside, and very bold design," he said, describing the Vertrek, not his suit. He admits that the Vertrek is very close to what the production vehicle will look like, and he's understandably pleased with what his design team has created.

The Vertrek is powered by Ford's new 1.6-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which employs direct injection and turbocharging to provide the power of a larger engine with impressive fuel economy. It will be optional in our Escape, with the base engine being the Focus's 160-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. In Europe the Vertrek-based Kuga will also be offered, naturally, with a range of diesel engines. Ford's new Start-Stop system will be standard equipment, and Ford says it could improve fuel economy by five to ten percent. Anyone who has driven a hybrid is familiar with these systems, which shut down the engine at intersections and fires it up again in only about 0.3 second once you're on the go again.

In our market, the new Vertrek-based Escape will compete with all the usual compact crossover suspects, the most stylish of them being the new Kia Sportage and the Nissan Juke. But unlike the Juke, which sacrifices utility for style, the Vertrek is just as big inside as the outgoing Escape.

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