This will be the first vehicle review I’ve ever done and while this blog is more about Information Technology (IT), I was planning on doing this review from the technology side of things over your standard car review you might find elsewhere.
I was given the 2013 Ford Escape Titanium 2.0L EcoBoost 4WD (MSRP $43,349) for a week to see how it performed, handled, and stood up to Ford’s much talked about technology aspects such as the Ford SYNC. First impressions are everything and as I walked up to this vehicle from the front I couldn’t help notice it really took on a female persona or for slang “a girl car”. At work I have the use of the 2nd generation 2012 Escape and as some may recall it’s more boxy than this sleek looking 2013 3rd generation model. I see where Ford was going by trying to have a more sleek and sexier looking vehicle and for the most part it works, I just think the front is less than desirable.
Power and Handling
I have to say I was quite surprised at how much power this little vixen had. As tested this vehicle came with the 2.0L EcoBoost I-4 which pumps out 240 HP @ 5,500 rpm and 270 lb.-ft. torque @3,000 rpm and was more than enough power for driving around town or taking a trip down the highway. I wasn’t so sure how this “EcoBoost” would react however the power when required was there without question.
Typically these SUV style vehicles, from what I’ve been able to drive, have poor handling and often seem top heavy when rounding corners. Again I was surprised as I would take corners coming off or onto the Anthony Henday above the recommended speed limit and the Escape stood it’s ground without any noticeable lean or having that top heavy feeling.
As stated by the window sticker the fuel economy could hit 6.9 L/100 KM Highway however I did not experience that myself. I would assume that is under perfect driving condition, perfect speed (sweet spot) and a few other factors. I was able to get around 10.4 L/100 KM driving the QE2 but as most Albertan’s know speed is a huge factor on that highway and if everyone else drove 100-110KM/h I may get around 9.0 L/100 KM. Either way the fuel economy blew my Jeep Patriot out of the water hands down.
Comfort and Ergonomics
My wife and I do a lot of driving during the year, more so than most I would say and comfort has to be top of mind when looking at vehicles. The Escape while it appears to be smaller than some SUV’s has a large amount of room inside and I believe is partially due to the large front windshield and side windows. Sitting in the drivers seat was comfortable around town and on the longer haul trips like we did to Calgary and back for dinner at Peter’s Drive in. *Side Note* – If you’ve not had the chance to experience Peters’ Drive-In, make sure you do next time you are in Calgary.
Yesterday morning when watching Global TV Edmonton, the “Tech Untangled” segment came on and they were talking about Eco-Friendly and lighter Ford Cars. So while in this topic of comfort I figured it would be relevant to mention that Ford uses 31,251 soybeans in the seat cushions and seat backs in this Escape. A quick fun fact for you.
Overall the “cockpit” of the Escape is quite comfortable and has a pretty sexy looking instrument cluster however there are a few ergonomic issues I had when interacting specifically with the Ford SYNC system. I took some pictures to try and demonstrate.
I’ll first talk about the “Blind Spot” that you can see on the bottom left of the SYNC system. It’s hard to make out the Entertainment section of the screen as it’s obscured by the heat vent on the left. This is a close up representation of what I viewed from my drivers seat which is all the way back (I’m 6’1”). This would only be worse if someone like my wife was sitting in the drivers seat or anyone under 6 feet. I believe this is easily fixed by bringing the screen forward instead of the “cave like” area it sits in.
This leads right into the next ergonomic issue I have with the screen placement. As you can see in the picture above the bottom row of buttons (Entertainment, Information, Home, Settings, and Climate) are actually quite difficult to click with one’s finger as the slope of the console that has the Source/Tuning/Sound sections hinders interaction with that area of the screen. Again, bringing forward the screen would solve this issue and make the screen easier to interact with.
I’ll assume Ford would rather the driver to use the steering wheel buttons or voice control however those could be cumbersome and I’ll talk to the voice control in the technology section.
Now this is my favourite section as I love technology and this Escape has plenty of it.
Active Park Assist
BLISS (Blind Spot Information System)
Hands Free Power Lift Gate
I’ve seen the Active Park Assist before on the 2012 Escape and thought it was pretty interesting but would I ever use it? I can parallel park quite easily however I know for some that can be a challenge and any help would be a welcome addition. In light of my review I really wanted to try it out so I could write about it and have a testimony. For a visual on this head over to this YouTube link which shows you exactly how it works. I have to say though, giving up steering wheel control to the vehicle was a bit nerve wracking however you are in complete control as you need to give the vehicle gas in order for it to work. Even knowing that, watching it park it’s self was still a marvel of how far we’ve come technology wise in vehicles.
I did want to mention one quick note on the BLISS system and while I know a lot of vehicles have this, I don’t think they have the added feature of letting you know when cross traffic is passing you by. The system will monitor around your vehicle for cross traffic and alert you if someone drives by. Enhancing the BLISS system to do more than just let you know when someone is coming up on your blind spot = cool.
Now for the last thing I’ll talk on, the Ford SYNC. The first thing I need to mention and which gets two thumbs way up is how easy it was to connect my smartphone (Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8) to the SYNC system. Quick guess, how long do you figure? Try 30 seconds! That is by far the quickest of any vehicle I’ve ever connected my phone to, hands down. Not only was it quick to connect but it connected each and every time I got into the vehicle without issue. Rock solid.
I looked at every part of the SYNC system when doing this vehicle review and I have to say I’m overly impressed with most of the features. The navigation section is the largest section of the system and for the most part it does the job and gets you from A to B, can reroute, can help find the most economical route, points of interest, etc. However there are two major issues I have with the system it’s self. It’s somewhat slow and this is surprising with the latest development in ARM processors out there. Inputting addresses into the system can be cumbersome and unresponsive and that gets frustrating in a hurry. Spec’s I’ve been able to find, for the geeky geeks reading this are it has a Freescale i.MX51 SOC with a single-core ARM Cortex A8 processor running at 600MHz. 512MB of RAM and 2GB of flash memory. Not a whole lot of power considering what is available on the market these days.
This leads into the voice commands and while pretty good for everything else, the navigation voice commands are not the best. I tried to find the nearest Starbucks and while SYNC went looking for it, eventually it spit out Casino’s near me. Not sure how it messed that up however I tried five other times during the time I had the vehicle and all produced the same result. Maybe I should have just gone to the Casino? The last thing I’ll mention on the voice control was when it was looking up items, it took quite a long time to do so and I’ll chalk that up to what I mentioned above with the low end spec’s running the Microsoft Windows Automotive which is based on the Windows CE platform.
None of these issues are show stoppers by any means as I found ways to use the system that suited me better and I was able to use the system for the most part without to much problem. I know voice control with iPhones, Androids and other devices are not perfect and so I cannot expect perfection in a car system. It will get better with upgrades which leads me into the last section of this review.
Upgrading Ford SYNC
So with a few of these nuances with the SYNC system I thought hey, why not upgrade the system and see if there were fixes for my problems. I remember hearing that Ford makes it easy to upgrade your SYNC system and seeing as how if I mucked it up Ford would just fix it, this made a great opportunity to review the upgrade process.
First off you need to head over to http://www.ford.com/technology/sync/ and in the upper right hand side you’ll see “Register or Log In”. After you have logged in you’ll need to register your vehicle with the VIN number and answer a few questions on what steering wheel buttons it has. After you’ve done that you’ll need to get a USB stick with at least 4GB of space on it. Now this is the important step that I had to figure out (that isn’t on the Ford SYNC website), you need to format your USB stick to FAT32 file format. NTFS will NOT work and will make your stick unreadable to the SYNC system. Don’t ask me why, NTFS has been out for at minimum 10 years and should be recognized however it isn’t. Format in FAT32 and you’ll be fine.
You’ll need to download the SYNC Status Checker Tool to your USB stick and then go to the vehicle and plug it into the USB slot. Once you’ve installed the SYNC Status Checker Tool it will have the SYNC system write some files back to the USB device which will let the website know what updates you need. For me it actually said there was a Map and SYNC update available. I ordered the Map via another website and in 2 days it arrived with FedEx at no cost (probably because this vehicle was under warranty). However once I received the map it was actually the same map that was already in the system (Map A4). I’ll assume that whoever did the upgrade before forgot to report back to the http://www.syncmyride.com website the upgrade was completed or there is a glitch in the system.
Outside of the FAT32 file format of the USB stick the update process is pretty straight forward and easy enough for those who are technical to do it themselves (just confirm with the website for a full set of instructions). For those who are less technical just see your Ford dealer.
Overall I have to say the 2013 Ford Escape (as tested) is one peppy vixen that comes loaded with a lot of technology to satisfy the “gadget guy/gal” in all of us. I was impressed with the performance and handling and over it’s predecessor this is a huge improvement. The technology component of the vehicle for the most part impressed me however the annoyances with the placement of the SYNC screen and some of the voice control issues leave me wanting an update. Lastly, connecting your smartphone these days needs to be quick and simple, Ford has knocked it out of the park this time around with under 30 seconds to connect.
Thank you @FordCanada and @WaterlooFord for the opportunity to review this vehicle.