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Naming your children is often fraught with danger, there can be so many people to appease along the way. Grandparents, Parents, In Laws, friends you even (at some point) should consider the child itself and the name they have to live with. Even our esteemed celebrities can get it wrong – Moxie Crimefighter, Princess Tiaamii, Apple, Kyd and Tu Morrow – Tu; oops ‘to’ name but a few.

But it seems that the naming crisis doesn’t stop with children, Car companies can get a little unstuck sometimes Tu, there I go again; too. Even consummate professionals such as Ford (the company that brought us names like Mustang, Capri, Fiesta and Escort – alright that last one could be a little misconstrued) struggle in the name game. Since it first landed in NZ in 2012 the Kuga nameplate seems to have been a bit of a love/hate moniker. Some people adore its connotations (it’s very popular in Europe) but to many others it’s turned them cold. Luckily enough for Ford however, the Kuga had been born with two identities, and in places such as the US it came with a more fitting name – the Escape.  

Putting the name to one side for the moment, the medium sized SUV itself has had its fair share of teething problems since ‘generation one’ first landed in NZ around 2012. The engine was let’s say a little too ‘thirsty’ for its own good and the interior has been cited as ‘Manhattan’ due to it being rather overcrowded. As Gen 2 came into effect the Kuga received a variety of face-lifts and improvements but the evolution (until now) has been slow.

We were invited to Melbourne to get up close and personal with the new Ford Escape and as we discovered, it’s much more than a mere badge change.

The Australasian launch took place at Luna Park a place filled with fun rides and quirky imagery, iconic in so many ways and a small piece of adventure by the seaside. To my dismay we not allowed to go on any of the attractions though – I guess Ford assumed that the Escape would be enough. We wandered around the park and bumped into Escapes at every turn, with the rides dormant, I couldn’t help but think that if you dimmed the lights and added some suspense music and the scene would have been very different.

On to the main event, the new Ford Escape. The head designer talked us through the changes with real excitement in his voice. Up front, its large upper trapezoidal grille begins to bring it more in line with its Ford SUV siblings. The sporty looking bonnet design also helps protect pedestrians (or Roos as we’re in Aus) in the event of an accident. While we are on the subject of safety, the Escape (depending on which model you opt for) is loaded with driver assists and tech. In traffic, should your attention be drawn away from the vehicle in front of you, the Active City Stop jumps on in and saves the day. At speeds of up to 50kph, it will take over the arduous task of avoiding pesky rear ending. It has Blind Spot and Cross traffic technology, with Bi-Xenon lights light the way while double laminated glass (and insulated wheel wells) keeps the outside noise from venturing inside the cabin.

Since we are talking about it, the cabin has a lovely open flow about it. Ford have removed the mechanical brake and in turn ease the congestion around Manhattan. Tactile materials make it driver and passenger friendly and the 8”touch screen houses the Sync 3 system.It’s easier to connect to, understands more conversationalist voice commands and (although it struggled a bit on our drive route later that day) has a Sat Nav system that is simple to use – aside from voice and data input, you can pinch and move the map and ‘touch’ plot a destination. The steering wheel switches are easier to recognize and Ford have moved them closer to ‘thumb’ reach. Not keen on parking the little over 4.5M length SUV? Then the enhanced Active Park assist will not only locate and park the Escape in both parallel and perpendicular spaces (you just have to operate the gear and brakes) but it will maneuver you out too.   

The Escape also features an ‘open sesame’ tailgate kicker. Slip your foot under the tailgate and it will open automatically, great if you have your hands full of groceries. And while on the subject of groceries, the Escape has you covered should your bag fall over and spill, it has an ‘apple stop’ lip (no not that type of apple – although the infotainment has Carplay and android). You push down on the floor and the incline it creates means that the bottom of the tailgate drops down below the tailgate so nothing falls out of its (up to) 1,603 Litres of cargo space.

Under the bonnet you get the choice of 1.5 (134kW/240Nm) or 2L (178kW/345Nm) Ecoboost or a 2L diesel, all on a 6 speed automatic box with paddles (not the silly switch on the side of the gear lever). There are AWD and FWD options too. The new Escape is looking to garner the attention of young professional families with a come out and play’ attitude – ah, so now I get the Luna park relevance.

After a quick bit of city dwelling we ‘escaped’ to the Aussie bush. The SUV felt at ease on the open road and the double glazing on the windows reduced the outside noise to a bare minimum. But it wasn’t too long before we headed onto unsealed road surfaces and to be perfectly frank, the Escape handled it well; almost better than the tarmac – thanks to the iAWD system. Most of us wouldn’t admit to being a little more cautious when the surface gets loose but the Escape just inspires confidence, allowing us to get up to some pretty tasty speeds along the dusty outback trail. Yes it will get a bit sideways should you really want to (and really try) but on the whole, the speed that the iAWD works (1/20th the speed of a blinking eye), means that you can handle a multitude of surfaces with a smile on your face.

Ditching the Kuga nameplate to Escape has given Ford the chance to iron out all the niggly design and technical faults and in turn reset the product for the NZ market. Also having another E in the name brings a more uniformed approach to Ford’s the Ford outdoor range. With the EcoSport, Everest and now the new Escape, Ford can claim to have a great lineup of SUVeee’s.

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