2003 Ford Escape XLS Sport

Mark Gillies
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Glenn Paulina
0205 Ford Escape Xls Sport 01

For a year and a half, Ford has been hiding the two-wheel-drive, four-cylinder base version of its Escape from the press--and now we know why. With not even two-thirds the power of its V-6 counterpart, the 127-horsepower, four-cylinder Escape can barely pull a feather out of a chicken's behind. Not only is it slow, but the Zetec engine is coarse and noisy to boot. It's a good thing the sixteen-valve four produces its torque down low, because revving it past 4000 rpm drowns out the radio. Despite its lack of power, the front-wheel-drive Escape still spins its inside front wheel at the slightest provocation and suffers from excessive understeer, although the steering is nicely weighted and accurate.

The four-cylinder Escape makes one wonder why on earth anyone would pay $4000 more for this than for Ford's own Focus wagon.

We know people buy SUVs for their high seating position, their image, and their go-anywhere ability, and because they can haul stuff. But while the Focus wagon can't provide the image or the lofty perch, it has better traction, more rear-seat legroom, and, with the rear seats up, more cargo volume (rear seats folded, the Escape wins by nine cubic feet). And when equipped with the 130-horsepower Zetec engine, the Focus is lively, with superb ride and handling.

The V-6 all-wheel-drive Escape has been highly praised, and rightly so. The four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive version just doesn't cut it, especially compared with the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

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