The Ford Escape has been around for 20 years, and while a lot has changed during those years, a lot has stayed the same, too.
The difference — and commonalities — are an interesting commentary on the changes in the car business, generally.
What It Is
The Escape is a compact-sized crossover SUV, just as it was back in 2000 when the first Escape made its debut. It still seats up to five people in three rows, comes in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive iterations and offers your pick of three different drivetrains — the same as it did 20 years ago.
But the drivetrains are very different today, and the new Escape offers features that you only saw in the sci-fi series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" back in 2000.
Prices start at $24,885 for the front-wheel-drive S trim, which comes standard with a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine.
If you want all-wheel drive, it's available for $26,385.
If you want more power, the Escape is available with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's much stronger than the original Escape's optional V6 engine. It's paired with AWD that can be disconnected when not needed, which the original Escape's AWD system couldn't be.
It stickers for $33,040
And if you want something really different, there's a hybrid version, also with (or without) all-wheel drive. This one gets three times the mileage the old Escape did. It also differs from previous hybrid Escapes in that you can select a plug-in option that gives you almost 600 miles of highway range on a full tank (and a full charge).
A top-of-the-line AWD-equipped Titanium plug-in hybrid stickers for $34,900.
The 2020 Escape is a wheels-up redesign; the wheels are new, too.
Unlike many in this class — which offer a standard and optional engine — the Escape is available with three different engines and two different transmissions.
Sliding second row opens up more legroom — and cargo room.
24th-century features (as in "Star Trek") like flat-screen gauge cluster and holographic "heads-up" display are available.
What's Not So Good
Clunky features like automated engine stop/start are standard.
Hybrid's high cost argues against its mileage benefit.
It isn't available with a manual transmission.
Under the Hood
It's pretty wild to find a three-cylinder engine under the hood of a car — and even more so an SUV. The 2020 Escape's 1.3-liter engine is smaller than some motorcycle engines. But it produces 180 horsepower, which is 50 more horsepower than the original Escapes 2.0-liter four-cylinder managed.
The next-up engine is also a 2.0-liter engine. It makes 50 more horsepower than the original Escape's 3.0-liter V6 engine.
And the optional 2.5-liter gas-hybrid combo makes as much — or more — power than the old V6 (198 or 209, depending on whether you go closed-circuit or plug-in) while going three times as far on a gallon of gas.
The original Escape's 3.0-liter V6 — which made 200 horsepower — drank so much gas (16 city MPG, 22 highway MPG) that it almost needed to pull a tanker behind it. The new Escape hybrid drinks so little (44 highway MPG, 37 highway MPG) you might only need to stop for gas a couple of times a month.
It's just as quick, too. Zero to 60 in 8.6 seconds — same as the 16 MPG original.
On the Road
No matter which engine you pick, the Escape isn't slow — unlike the original, which was borderline dangerously slow with its standard 130 horsepower engine. Your choice is between quick and quicker.
But the drive is a bit less fun because you can't shift for yourself, no matter which engine you pick. The original Escape was available with a five-speed manual transmission. The 2020 comes standard with an eight-speed automatic. Many people will be happy about this because so many crossovers come only with a continuously variable automatic, and many people dislike the "shiftless" operating characteristics of CVTs.
It shifts snappily — and more efficiently — than a human-shifted manual, which is why Ford (and most car makers) rarely offer manuals anymore. But there's something to be said for shifting for yourself, even if it does cost a couple of MPGs.
At the Curb
The original Escape looked like a truck-based SUV. It was boxy, which had the upside of making it roomy. The new Escape isn't boxy — and it's roomier. In part because of the flexibility of its fore-aft sliding second row. Pull them forward — and lay them flat — and the Escape has 65.4 cubic feet of cargo room. Or 40.7 inches of backseat legroom — exceptionally roomy for this class.
Ford has also added previously Lincoln-only features such as an external keypad entry system and an available Bang and Olufsen ultra-premium audio system.
Given how inexpensive gas is, it's hard to justify the Escape hybrid's price, if you go solely by MPGs. But when you factor in the range — twice that of any electric car — with the performance and the convenience of not having to stop to recharge, the thing makes a different kind of sense.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes things change and yet manage to remain the same.
Eric's latest book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.