Ford will finally replace its aged-but-popular Escape compact crossover SUV with an all-new model that is technology-forward. The Escape will be the first new model using the company’s dramatically upgraded MyFord Touch touchscreen infotainment system. It will offer a pair of fuel-sipping EcoBoost turbocharged engines, and it boasts a segment first hands-free rear hatch that opens with an air kick beneath the rear bumper by anyone carrying the car’s key.
Customer frustration with the opaque MyFord Touch interface for ancillary controls and the obstinate Sync voice command system has torpedoed Ford’s J.D. Power quality ratings, cost otherwise excellent models a Consumer Reports recommendation, and annoyed customers.
In response, Ford is revamping the touchscreen interface and accelerating the computer’s response to voice input, said Ken Williams, a systems integration engineer for Ford. The system’s home screen retains its four-quadrant design, with dedicated areas for the phone, navigation, entertainment, and climate control, and now each quadrant’s function is labeled.
Now some frequently viewed information is displayed in the corresponding quadrant of the home screen, saving drivers a click to another screen in search of it. That means radio station presets, thermostat settings, and the upcoming turn from the navigation system are all displayed on the home screen.
"The biggest feature was adding turn directions to the home screen," Williams noted. Another improvement is larger buttons. “We made them as large as possible,” to simplify a driver’s reach for them, he added.
Many of those on-screen buttons provide access to multiple screens or functions, a fact that was not previously apparent. To convey the availability of those additional functions to users, now such buttons feature a row of virtual LED lights across the bottom, with one lit corresponding to the currently selected screen, and darkened LEDs hinting at the availability of unselected choices.
The computer responds more quickly to on-screen input, promised Williams, and the improved organization of data, larger buttons, and clearer images should improve customer satisfaction. Navigation maps were made richer in appearance, and text labels on the map are larger to be easier to read.
Response to Sync voice commands is also speedier, Williams said. Sync voice commands now extend to cloud-based services that aren’t built into the car, such as turn-by-turn directions, traffic reports, and business searches.
The Sync and MyFord Touch hardware remains the same, with Sony providing the infotainment hardware. Owners of current cars equipped with the system will be able to upgrade their software using a USB memory stick Ford will send them.
A new function in the Escape is an automatic rear hatch opener which is activated by a kick of the foot under the bumper. Anyone carrying the Escape's key can approach the rear hatch and air kick under the bumper to automatically trigger the automatic rear hatch, without setting down the armload of groceries or fishing the key out of their pocket. It appears that the best approach is to mime an old-style field goal kicker (not the newfangled soccer-style kickers) with a straight-ahead kick beneath the rear bumper.
The company says the system uses the same motion-sensing technology as Microsoft's Kinect for the Xbox video game console.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the car, the Escape features three available engines under the hood. The base engine is an updated version of the current model’s 2.5-L I4, and optional 1.6-L and 2.0-L turbocharged EcoBoost engines are optional. Grille shutters on the base engine and the 1.6-L EcoBoost are meant to maximize fuel economy.
All three engines connect to a six-speed automatic transmission, and a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system helps stabilize the Escape by putting power to the wheels on the outside of turns, for example, to encourage the vehicle to turn around bends in the road.