Twenty years after its introduction, the Ford Escape remains one of the best-selling vehicles on the market. Although it’s far from our top pick in the compact SUV segment, the Escape stands out with a wide selection of engines, car-like good looks, and a tossable nature that makes it fun to take around corners. Consumers could get lost in all the ways to configure an Escape, but some trims are smarter picks than others. Check out our trim guide to see which models we’d recommend.
2021 Ford Escape S Pros and Cons
If you opt for the cheapest Ford Escape, expect to make some sacrifices. The infotainment screen on the Escape S is downright tiny, even for a base model. It’s a 4.2-inch unit but fortunately comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. An instrument cluster display of the same size is also standard, along with a six-speaker audio system.
There’s nothing fancy in terms of creature comforts. As expected, cloth seats are standard, with six-way and four-way manual adjustability for the driver and passenger, respectively. Six cupholders can be found throughout the cabin.
Perhaps the base model’s biggest strength, other than its low price point just above $26,000, is its safety suite. Standard features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and auto high-beams.
This model comes with a 1.5-liter turbocharged I-3 that makes 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. Although it’s down a cylinder from most of its rivals, the Escape with this engine feels zippy enough around town and on the highway, hitting 60 mph in a respectable 8.4 seconds. But, as we’ve noted in previous reviews, we wish it delivered its power more quietly.
2021 Ford Escape SE Pros and Cons
Buyers will find several meaningful upgrades on the SE, although the interior is still far from upscale. An 8.0-inch touchscreen and push-button start are now standard. We like the cool geometric pattern that Ford applies to the cloth seats and doors on this trim. Instead of the base model’s steel wheels, the Escape SE comes with aluminum wheels, which vary in size based on the powertrain you choose.
Speaking of powertrains, the SE trim is available with the 1.5-liter three-cylinder as well as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid. The traditional hybrid employs a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor to produce 200 hp.
Taking 8.7 seconds to hit 60 mph, the Escape Hybrid is slower than non-hybrid Escapes we’ve tested. It also feels a little less light and tossable on the road. But superior fuel economy makes up for any sacrifices you make in the driving experience. Topping out at 44/37 mpg city/highway, the Escape Hybrid is exceptionally efficient.
We have yet to test the Escape Plug-In Hybrid, but this could be a good option for those who want to commute to work without using a drop of gasoline. It’s rated to travel 37 miles on electric power alone. Whereas other Escapes offer FWD and AWD, the plug-in hybrid is available exclusively with FWD.
While the SE trim generally gets you the same features no matter which powertrain you choose, there are a few differences. Not only does the plug-in receive different wheels than other Escapes, but the SE Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid get an upgraded 6.5-inch instrument cluster screen while the regular gas SE makes do with the 4.2-inch unit. The Escape SE runs for just under $28,000 with the 1.5-liter gas engine. Expect to pay almost $29,000 for the hybrid model and almost $34,000 for the plug-in (before incentives). A starting price of $34,000 sounds like a lot, but keep in mind the Toyota RAV4 Prime starts at nearly $40,000.
2021 Ford Escape SEL Pros and Cons
A power liftgate, LED signature lighting, and foglights are among the SEL trim’s upgrades . There’s also a reverse sensing system, which can conveniently help drivers back into and out of a parking spot.
Inside the cabin, there’s a heated steering wheel and eight cupholders instead of the standard six. Dual-zone automatic climate control is another important standard feature on this trim. Leatherette upholstery replaces cloth, and a 10-way power driver seat is standard. Both front seats are heated.
On this trim, buyers looking for a pure-gasoline Escape can opt for a more robust engine than the standard one. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 250 hp, and it’s considerably quicker than the 1.5-liter unit, hitting 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. If you’re a leadfoot, it’s probably worth the extra $3,300.
Standard features on the Escape SEL are pretty much the same whether you opt for a gasoline or an electrified Escape. The pure gas SEL costs just north of $30,000, the hybrid is around $31,500, and the plug-in is priced at just under $37,000.
2021 Ford Escape Titanium Pros and Cons
Sitting at the top of the lineup is the Escape Titanium. Don’t be fooled by its chrome exterior detailing—this is no luxury vehicle. Even in this trim, the interior looks and feels less than premium.
Still, buyers will appreciate the crisp 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster as well as the ambient lighting. The front passenger seat upgrades to six-way power, and there’s a B&O sound system with 10 speakers. Leatherette seats are still standard, although buyers can upgrade to real leather.
Ford adds safety goodies including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and lane centering, as well as evasive steering assist (Co-Pilot360 tech is available on lower trims). Active park assist will guide you into parallel and perpendicular spots. Also standard on this trim is a foot-activated power liftgate.
The Escape Titanium is available in gas, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid forms. But if you opt for the gas-only model, your only option is the 2.0-liter engine.
How much can you expect to pay for these top-tier models? The gas-only Titanium 2.0 goes for around $37,000. The hybrid is actually less expensive, starting at just above $34,500, and the plug-in costs almost $40,000.
Which 2021 Ford Escape Trim Is Best?
Frankly, we’d skip the base trim and its bare-bones accommodations. Yet we wouldn’t splurge on the Titanium trim, either. Although the Escape Titanium has some tempting features, the interior quality doesn’t quite match the price, particularly if you opt for the 2.0-liter non-hybrid model. The middle trims are the way to go for most consumers. To avoid the noisy 1.5-liter engine, consider an Escape SE hybrid and consider the Convenience package to add a power liftgate.
2021 Ford Escape Trims:
- SE (MT’s pick)
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