2013 Ford Escape: America's best-selling SUV gets a makeover

The best-selling SUV in the U.S. is getting a makeover: Ford is introducing a dramatically redesigned version of its Escape small sport utility on Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show,.

The new Escape discards the squared-off silhouette that has been standard for SUVs in the past. Instead, the sleeker look features an arcing roof line that echoes the design of a major competitor, the Honda CR-V (which is also getting a makeover of its own).

In addition to the design change, Ford also is touting a package of new high-tech features, such as parallel parking assist and a rear liftgate that will rise for loaded-down shoppers if they kick a foot under with the key in a pocket or purse.

This 2013 Escape, which goes on sale next summer, also comes with the company's new direct-injected, turbocharged "Ecoboost" engines. Though full EPA gas mileage ratings aren't yet available, Ford engineers say the Ecoboost engines, coupled with the better aerodynamics of the new sleeker shape, could add up to 5 MPG in highway driving, taking the vehicle to 33 MPG.

At the same time, Ford will be dropping its gas-electric hybrid version of the Escape -- currently the only hybrid in the small SUV class. If the Ecoboost engines can indeed be rated for 33 MPG on the highway, that will top the current hybrid's highway rating of 31 MPG -- although the new engines surely won't match the hybrid's 34 MPG in city driving, where hybrids excel. The hybrid Escape is available for now as a 2012 model; Ford is also switching its hybrid technology to the C-Max, a small minivan being brought in from Europe that will have only a hybrid power train.

Here's a closer look at some specifics of the 2013 Ford Escape:

  • Buyers will have a choice of two Ecoboost engines: a 2.0-liter, 237 horsepower version for stronger acceleration and a l.6-liter, 173 horsepower engine for higher gas mileage. The base-model Escape will come with a standard, non-turbo 2.5-liter, 171-horsepower four-cylinder engine, an update from the current model. No optional V-6 engine will be offered.
  • The roof line is two inches lower than the old model, but Ford has increased cargo capacity (68 cubic feet with all rear seats down, or 34 cubic feet behind the rear seats) by lowering the rear floor to 27 inches above the ground for easier loading.
  • The entertainment, navigation and phone system in the new Escape will be an upgraded version of MyFord Touch. This will include all the improvements -- less clutter, bigger lettering  -- being offered to current ownersafter problems with the system hurt Ford's reliability ratings.
  • Safety features will include what Ford calls Curve Control, which automatically slows the vehicle if it is cornering too fast. New technology in the side air bags also adjusts their inflation to take into account the size of the passenger. No crash test results are yet available.
  • And for green-minded car buyers: Ford wants you to know that it recycles. Polyester carpeting is made from recycled plastic, and sound absorption material from scrap cotton fabric. In addition, headrests are made from soy-based foam instead of raw material derived from petroleum.

Ford has not yet announced prices for the 2013 model. List prices for 2012 range from $21,240 to $27,920.

The Escape took the sales lead this year after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami put a crimp in supplies of the Honda CR-V, the sales champ from 2007 through 2010. Ford hopes the new-look Escape can fend off a redesigned CR-V and Toyota's third-place  RAV4.

More on MoneyWatch:

  • Jerry Edgerton On Twitter»

    View all articles by Jerry Edgerton on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.