The Ford Escape compact crossover is consistently one of the best-selling vehicles in the country – a pleasant vehicle in a hot market segment. Ever since its 2013-model redesign, the Escape has neatly married respectable, almost sporty driving dynamics with a spacious interior and affordable prices. That proved to be a winning combination on the sales front.
However, the Escape had its weak points: mediocre gas mileage, some missing safety features, poor performance in one crash test and a finicky dashboard touchscreen. Ford has now taken steps toward addressing them as part of a comprehensive 2017 update.
The most obvious change to the 2017 Escape is a redesigned front end, which replaces large black openings with a more conventional chrome grille. But the mechanical changes are perhaps more significant, which result in improved safety and fuel efficiency – while the Escape is still unexceptional in both areas, it’s now more competitive than last year’s model.
Most Escapes will come with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated for 26 miles per gallon in mixed driving with front-wheel-drive or 24 mpg with all-wheel-drive, which trails such competitors as the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue. But unlike those models, Ford offers some extra kick in the form of the tested 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, which bumps the Escape’s horsepower from 179 to 245 while losing just 1 mpg in EPA testing. Few of the Escape’s competitors match this 2.0-liter’s smooth, strong acceleration. (Base Escapes come with a dated 2.5-liter engine with the line’s worst acceleration, smoothness and fuel efficiency.)
The Escape also has polished ride and handling. It has quicker responses than a Rogue or Toyota RAV4, yet it avoids feeling stiff over bumps. And the spacious cargo area includes a rear seat that folds easily flat. Meanwhile, a new infotainment system is more responsive and intuitive, though its placement on the dashboard isn’t quite ideal.
There’s tough competition in the compact crossover class. The CR-V is an excellent all-around vehicle; the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Mazda CX-5 are newly redesigned; and the Forester and Rogue are also worthy options. But the 2017 Escape’s upgrades make it at least worthy of consideration alongside these models. Prices start at $24,645.
If you reserve the cheapest available rental car, odds are good you’ll end up in a Chevrolet Spark. This five-door, four-seat hatchback is a size smaller than even a Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent or Toyota Yaris, and starts at just $13,875 – making it also an appealing choice if you’re shopping for a super-cheap new car.
If you’re worried, though, that this price buys you only a sorry piece of junk, the Spark exceeds that standard. A high seating position, decently finished dashboard and standard touchscreen infotainment system add appeal to the Spark. And if you frequently need to fit your car into a tight space, its tiny dimensions and tight turning radius are bound to impress.
That doesn’t mean that the Spark is an excellent car. Blame the stiff ride; the front seat that doesn’t go back far enough for the tallest drivers; the cramped rear seat that’s cumbersome to fold down; and the weak 98-horsepower engine.
Ironically enough, it’s actually the engine that gives the Spark one of its biggest selling points over its closest competitor, the Mitsubishi Mirage. That’s because while this Chevrolet can be noisy and slow when you push it, the Mirage – which makes just 78 horsepower out of a three-cylinder engine – is even worse. The Mitsubishi produces a simply awful racket under even a gentle push of the accelerator, and it generally needs more than a gentle push to get moving.
Otherwise, though, the Mirage has some key advantages over the Spark. The Mitsubishi’s roomy interior is as surprising as the Spark’s cramped one is expected, and its ride isn’t as bouncy. The Mirage’s little engine also trounces the Chevrolet’s in EPA fuel economy testing, 39 mpg to 33 mpg, though a Mirage tested last year fell well short of its EPA rating.
If you’re interested in very small, very affordable cars, consider both the Spark and Mirage while being aware of their limitations. But also be sure to consider roomier, more substantial subcompact cars that include the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Nissan Versa.