Comparison: Ford Escape vs. Honda CR-V vs. Mazda CX-5

Matt Tierney

2013 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

A Ford-loving Goldilocks is in trouble if she's indecisive, because unlike the other cars here, which are available with one single engine offering, the Escape comes with your choice of three. Base models are equipped with a 2.5-liter, 168-hp four. Next up is an EcoBoost (turbocharged, direct-injection) 1.6-liter that makes 178 hp. And leadfooteded Goldilocks can have an EcoBoost 2.0-liter that makes 240 hp.

Call us GoldiLeadfoots, because we tested the top-of-the-line Escape with every bell, whistle, and Bear Detection System. Well, not the last bit, but the Escape is, in this group, a rolling techno showcase. It came equipped with keyless-go, blind-spot monitoring with cross traffic alert (meaning it'll let you know if you're about to get sideswiped while backing out of a parking spot), automatic HID projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, active park assist (meaning it'll park itself), a power rear liftgate with Hokey-Pokey control (meaning it'll open or close electrically if you wave your foot under the rear bumper), a full-length panorama glass roof, and, of course, the MyFordTouch infotainment system -- which includes SYNC voice-activated commands, navigation system, a killer Sony sound system, and a touchscreen to control it all. It has four auto-up and -down power windows -- the other cars have it only on the driver's porthole.

There's no reason for Goldilocks to even sample the other cars' seats -- Ford's Sport Seats are "wow!" comfortable, and they're trimmed in leather and, like the others, heated. The Escape's cabin is full of angles and edges, including the rim of the steering wheel, which is uncomfortable to hold as a result. But the turquoise needles on the gauges are a cool touch -- and the high-resolution, colorful, and customizable LCD screen between the gauges trumps all.

Although MyFordTouch has been substantially revised (the previous one was, to use a word, dreadful), its clear, colorful, and very high-resolution touchscreen interface highlights exactly what's wrong with using a touchscreen: the virtual buttons appear on a flat, featureless screen, so Goldilocks will be taking her eyes off the road for a very long time to use them. Good luck if she hits a bump while trying to press a button -- the little graphical boxes that make up the buttons are so small that she could easily hit the wrong function three buttons over.

We didn't spend enough time in the Escape to test all of MyFordTouch's features (though unlike in older versions, we experienced no sudden reboots or failures), but some features didn't work properly. For example, if Ms. Goldilocks uses her iPhone for music, she's best off plugging it in via the USB adapter. This not only charges the phone, but allows her to use the touchscreen (or SYNC voice-activated controls) to find the music that's not too hard rock or too classical, but Top 40 Just Right. Except that if her iPhone is also paired to the system via Bluetooth, she’ll have to consult the owner’s manual to figure out how to listen to music via the USB adapter – either that, or she can to switch to Bluetooth streaming (which eliminates the possibility of browsing the music collection by voice or touchscreen). Either way, she’ll be confused. Sound confusing? It's more than confusing, it'd infuriate even Papa Bear from a relaxed hibernation.

Once the music does come on, though, the sound quality is superb and well beyond what you'd expect at this price point. Clearly, with all the gadgets and gizmos (and the powerful subwoofer), Ford is playing to a younger Goldilocks than Honda is.

And then you hit the gas. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost is a rocket compared with the other crossovers here. Its turbocharged torque curve is as flat as the surface of overcooked porridge, and instantaneous thrust is available whenever you want it. Turbo lag is, of course, present, but a loose torque converter masks it almost completely in normal driving. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and quickly, and if you sprain your wrist just right, you can call up a pseudo-manual mode with an ill-placed rocker switch on the side of the shifter. Still, the ability to call up individual gears might help when towing -- and when equipped properly, the Escape can tow up to 3500 lb (far in excess of the Honda CR-V's 1500 lb and the Mazda CX-5's 2000 lb).

The weight of the big nineteen-inch wheels seems to stress the Ford's chassis rigidity (no doubt weakened by the enormous panoramic roof), inducing some cabin rattles over broken pavement. The suspension tuning seems oversprung and underdamped, leading to a bouncy ride on back roads, but the bump stops were left fully unmolested over the biggest of impacts. Ford's stability control programming is excellent, never intruding unless necessary, and then slowing the vehicle only as much as required. Like the Honda, the Escape's AWD system uses a computer-controlled clutch that predicts wheel spin before it happens, so even with all its prodigious power, the Escape won't squeal a tire on dry pavement.

The Escape's electric power steering is quick and responsive, though rubber-bandy in its effort. It has the widest turning circle of the group -- and the narrowest interior. Not only does the Ford trail its other rivals in shoulder room front and rear, but the sloped center stack intrudes noticeably into the driver's footwell. As a result, Goldilocks' right leg will remain in constant contact with hard plastic, fighting to get her leg far enough to the right to reach the offset and partially obscured gas pedal.

The Escape is the only car here that can't fold its rear seats using a lever at the back of the car, but at least the process is supremely easy to do from the rear doors: one lever flips each of the seats over almost completely flat. Despite the smallest overall interior of the group, the Escape's cargo-carrying ability is smack in the middle. The rear seats can be reclined (like the Honda's), making the back of the Escape a very comfortable place to be.

In fact, overall, the Escape is a very nice vehicle to spend time in. We think Goldilocks will like it -- if she's young and in love with high-tech toys. But if all the fairy tales are right, she'll likely love the crossover that's not too minivan-like and not too high-tech toyish. There's a third bowl of porridge that is, to borrow a phrase, just right.

The Specs

PRICE: $32,945/$36,130 (base/as tested)
ENGINES: 2.0L Turbo I-4, 240 hp, 270 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
EPA MILEAGE: 21/28 mpg

I'm actually struggling with a decision of which of these to buy.  I don't want a SUV, but we need the cargo capacity for our business.  I really like the Land Rover Evoque, but it costs too much and doesn't carry enough stuff.  It also only comes in 4WD and we want FWD.  So far its the Ford Escape that seems the best choice for us.  We've had Hondas and life them, but the CR-V is too ugly to tolerate.  The Escape has some style and the 240hp should make for some fun driving.  Struggling because I'd never imagined I have to drive an SUV.  It's like surrendering your manhood.
The Ford escape looks like a van and more towards a chick car. The Mazda CX-5 looks so much better then the escape. Not to mention ford never has the right mileage. I test drove both and the Mazda has better handling, standard 17' alloy wheels, Bluetooth and has blind spot system on there mid trim car. MAZDA is more of a reliable car unlike Ford with engine fires on the new escape and the recalls the 2013 Escape had within a year. I own both Ford and Mazda vehicles(in my household) and retired from Ford, overall I choose the Mazda and I ended up buying the CX-5!
Good comparison review but, the goldilocks theme for comparisons is a little past cliche. Talk about taking away from the content.Jason I enjoy your writing please stay away from goldilocks.
All in all, my decision to spend a few more bucks for my '12 Audi Q5 2.0T continues to be the right decision. Although, I must say I hoped for better for the new Escape and would still likely take it over either of the others. Oh, and I've owned several Mazdas including 2 Miatas and an RX-8. The lack of torque is disconcerting at best.
Seven weeks ago tomorrow, I took delivery of the first AWD CX-5 in my city. With three reasonably long trips and plenty of city driving under my belt, I can affirm that the vehicle has superior dynamic capabilities and all of the bells and whistles that I want without being too "gimicky". Gas mileage is good (29.96 mpg on the last highway fill-up) and improving by the tankful. I have friends who own near-new RAV-4s and CRVs who are now rethinking their choices. The vehicle could use more passing torque, but the transmission does an excellent job of maximizing the available power.I'm very pleased with the latest addition to my Zoom-Zoom fleet.
Always good to see Mazda get good marks. Easily the most underrated car company out there. They really do try to put some zoom zoom in each and every car. Would like to see them get more air time and respect from the press. Good competitors make for better products for all of us. Now if I can only convince them to put a supercharged 4 cly, AWD into the RX8...
@ $36000no offense, I would rather be driving the Infiniti EX35 and if I were in Europee, the EX37!!300-333HP, AWD option, and it's as light as the sedan :D
To make the test fair and objective, the Ford should have had the 1.6 engine and the Mazda all wheel drive. This is just a beauty contest.
V8 S80
Whooop. way to go mazda. I was hoping you might win out a comparison between the two.

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2013 Ford Escape

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