Half Of All New 2023 Ford Escapes Will Be ST-Line Models And You Can Thank The Ford Bronco Sport For That. Here’s Why

Escape Top

The refreshed 2023 Ford Escape is absolutely not an off-roader. It is meant to stay on the streets. It can haul cargo, sure, but it better be stuff like boxes for your business or hockey sticks for your kids — not firewood or tents or other outdoorsy stuff. It gets great fuel economy and has lots of cool tech inside; it’s not a place to drag your muddy boots. The exterior looks sporty; it does not look tough. This is all to say: The new Ford Escape is not a Ford Bronco Sport. At least, that’s what Ford wants the world to believe, and it totally makes sense why. Here’s a look at the fresh new Ford mid-size crossover, and why Ford expects half of all Escapes to be “ST-Line” models.

Ford is in an interesting position within the compact crossover space. The company has a wildly-successful Bronco Sport, but the Baby Bronco is stealing some sales from its platform-mate — the segment’s old-timer, the Ford Escape. With small SUVs currently the hottest class in the car industry right now, Ford knows there’s space for two vehicles. The ticket to maximizing Ford sales is to minimize how much the two vehicles cannibalize one another, which is why when Ford debuted the very first Escape redesign since the 4×4-oriented Bronco Sport debuted back in 2021, The Blue Oval made sure to push the Escape farther towards “sporty, city-oriented car” than perhaps ever before.

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To the left of the new plug-in hybrid Escape Ford showed journalists in an old brick building on the east side of Detroit, you’ll see a sign that says “Distinct Vehicles for Distinct Owners,” with the Escape having “urban/sleek” under it and the Bronco Sport sitting on “off-road/rugged.” That pretty much sums up what Ford focused on during that debut, and it’s what the company focuses on its press materials for the new Escape.

Brand manager Adrienne Zaski told me that the Bronco Sport has “certainly taken some Escape customers,” but it has added to Ford’s overall share of the segment. “We really tried to up the volume on the style and technology,” she told me, saying “I think this redesign will do that particularly well with the ST-Line.” That ST-Line, by the way, is all over Ford’s press release for the new Escape — a release titled “New Ford Escape with Advanced Hybrid Engines and a Sporty ST-Line Is More Stylish and Smarter Than Ever.” The package, available with three of the four powertrain options (not the plug-in hybrid — we’ll cover the powertrains in a bit), is expected to represent 50 percent of all Escape sales, and will cost $995 over similarly-equipped Escapes. Ford describes this sporty appearance package in its press release, writing:

The ST-Line models stand apart from the crowd with a series-specific black mesh grille, unique rear skid plate and a large single-wing rear spoiler. Every surface is monochromatically painted down to the moldings for a dynamic, refined appearance. The well-equipped ST-Line Elite model includes an available eye-catching “coast-to-coast” LED light bar that stretches from headlamp to headlamp for a distinctive addition

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Ford’s debut began with an introduction to its flexible architecture, noting that the other platform-mate, the Maverick is meant to handle cargo, the Bronco Sport is for off-road adventuring, and the Escape is a city car “Rather than trying to be all things to all people,” as SUV marketing boss Craig Patterson put it. This is an interesting way to put things, and a bit different from what I’m used to hearing from makers of SUVs, but now that Ford has multiple entrants in a segment, pushing a single vehicle as the master-of-everything machine is maybe less advantageous than having each car stay in its own lane.

On multiple occasions, Ford mentioned that the car has “premium European styling both inside and out.” Here’s a short clip of Ford’s European design director Amko Leenarts pointing out some new styling elements:

Much of the Escape’s nose is new, including the hood and front fascia, which contains new standard LED headlamps. The cool horizontal LED light bar (which is optional) up front is there to help give the car stance, and make it feel lower and wider.Screen Shot 2022 10 25 At 10.10.00 Am

Also aiding on that front are the fog lamps in the bumper, which are positioned low and wide. Leenarts also mentioned the “agile” sculpture in the hood, plus the new taillights. “The more we could push it away from Bronco Sport, the better it is,” he told me, saying folks in Europe used to driving smaller cars have been especially interested in the Escape.

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The three other areas that Ford stressed besides sporty styling, particularly of the ST-Line expected to make up half of all sales, are: Infotainment, safety, and fuel economy. On the infotainment front, let’s take a look inside the cabin:

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And let’s compare that to the outgoing car’s interior:

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Obviously, the 2023 Escape’s cabin isn’t all-new. Much of the dash is the same, as is the steering wheel and center stack below those AC vents. But there is a new main screen there in the center — an available 13.2-inch unit to go along with the standard 8-incher. And the gauge cluster is revised as well (a 12.3-inch one is optional; eight inches is standard). Ford breaks it down, while noting various safety features that a sensible city-dweller might find important:

New available amenities include a 13.2-inch center-stack screen for easy viewing, and available technologies include Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Predictive SpeedAssist, Rear Cross Traffic Braking, Reverse Brake Assist, Evasive Steering Assist andConnected Built-In Navigation. Other available amenities include a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel cluster, Rear Parking Sensors, 360-degree camera and a wireless charging pad.

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Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are obviously big deals, which is why Sazki mentions them here while discussing “everyday adventures” like meetings and coffee runs — not to be confused with less-than-everyday adventures (which you should be having in your Ford Bronco Sport):

“The new Escape is the perfect getaway vehicle,” said brand manager Adrienne Zaski. “From large touchscreens that can wirelessly display Apple CarPlay and Android Auto while your phone stays in your pocket to a sliding second row that offers more legroom, it makes everyday adventures easy to handle – from meetings on the fly, to coffee runs with friends, or even a power nap in the back seat

Escape customers have been waiting for SYNC 4 infotainment software, and it is now here:

The new Escape is also smart and connected with SYNC 4 providing cloud-connected navigation and integrating standard wireless Apple CarPlay software feature and Android Auto smart driving capability for fast, easy connectivity. The cloud connectivity combines SYNC 4 with available Enhanced Voice Recognition with the power of internet-based search results so drivers and passengers have access to the latest information with almost every request – from close restaurants to nearby charging stations.

Ford also noted that the new Escape will offer “Ford Power-Up over-the-air software updates.”

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One thing I’d like to note: If you look at the outgoing model’s interior, just to the bottom right of the left knob below the vents in the center stack, you’ll see a mechanical switch for the heated seats. That’s good. You get into the car, fire it up, and bash that button until your arse [Editor’s Note: I prefer the American spelling of “ass” but okay, David, you did just spend a month in a commonwealth country,  after all – JT] is warm. On lower-trim versions of the new Escape, that excellent setup remains, though if you go for the big screen — unless I missed something — it appears that you have to go through the infotainment screen to fire up those seat heaters. Here’s a little clip I took of the process:

Seems a bit like a step backwards from a usability standpoint, even though I’m fairly certain the car will memorize your last seat-heater setting, and even though the big screen does look damn good. Honestly, the whole cabin is quite nice.

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Powertrain wise, there are four options. There’s a 1.5-liter Ecoboost engine making 181 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque; there’s a 250 horsepower, 280 lb-ft 2.0-liter Ecoboost; and there are two hybrids. The 2.5-liter Atkinson hybrid making a “targeted” 199 horsepower and offering an estimated range of over 550 miles in front-wheel drive trim; then there’s that 2.5-liter engine in plug-in hybrid form making a targeted 210 horsepower with an estimated EV-only range of 37 miles.

Anyway, these engine options should all look familiar; here’s a look at the official fuel economy numbers for the outgoing 2022 model — they’re quite good:

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As for trims, you’ve got Base, Active, Platinum, and Plug-In Hybrid. In addition, there’s ST-Line, ST-Line Select, and ST-Line Elite. The base ST-Line is a $995 upgrade to the Active model, and the ST-Line Elite takes the Platinum and gives it a bit more “sportiness,” also for $995. The Select is somewhere in between. Here’s a full look at pricing:

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Ford’s configurator is up and running, and the company is taking orders now. It’s betting on most of you going for the ST-Line Escape.

Personally, I do think the Escape is sufficiently distinct from the Bronco Sport, which gets markedly worse fuel economy. In fact, that was one of my main points when I reviewed the Bronco Sport a couple years ago:

The slightly bigger Ford Escape that shares the same platform and engines scores better fuel economy than the Bronco Sport, despite the latter’s shorter overall length.In the all-wheel drive Escape, the 1.5-liter scores 26 mpg city, 31 highway, 28 combined. The 1.5 Bronco Sport is rated at 25 mpg city, 28 highway and 26 combined.

It’s a similar story with the 2.0-liter. The all-wheel drive Escape scores 23/31/ 26 city/highway/combined; the Bronco Sport manages 21/26/23. That’s a huge drop, and if you’re not going to use the Bronco Sport’s off-road chops, I don’t see how that could possibly be worth it.

But of course, people don’t buy cars for logical reasons. I’ll guess that many will be willing to spend more on fuel solely to get the Bronco Sport’s more rugged looks.

I think the Escape has plenty to offer that the Bronco Sport doesn’t, but Ford pushing the two apart via styling, equipment, and marketing still makes plenty of sense.

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60 Responses

  1. The other difference between the Bronco Sport and the Escape (and most every other crossover) is that the passenger cabin is much more upright, leading to much better sight lines for the driver. Also, the huge hood is visible even for shorter drivers like my wife. More traditional hoods like the Escape are completely invisible to her which makes parking more difficult.

  2. “a sliding second row that offers more legroom”
    It’s a garbage gimmick. Slide the seats up and you have a gap in your cargo floor. You’re almost certainly going to leave them all the way back and fold down to haul longer things. It’s like they were looking at adding a third row, thought better of it, and asked if they could convince people this was a feature.

      1. Is it worth the hole between the seat and the cargo floor? I feel like I’d be losing things in that gap a lot.
        It seems like they didn’t really think about the effect on the cargo area when they added the feature, but maybe it’s not as bad as I think, or perhaps normal people do not carry loose items small enough to fall in the gap.

        1. What you are saying is that you haven’t spent time in a recent crossover without saying you haven’t spent time in a recent crossover.

          My 9 year old RAV4 has this trick spring-loaded flap that presses against the rear seatbacks. Move the seats up, it leans forward. Move the seats back, it leans back upright. Fold the seats down and it folds down with them. Nothing falls between the seats and the cargo area because of it. Probably every crossover has some variation of that design.

          And I have a stick-shift car for fun and the CUV for other stuff. It works when an appliance of a car is the tool for the job.

          1. Well, I was looking at the Escape a year ago and it did not have anything to block that gap when you slid the seats forward or back. As for the one when leaning them forward, I am quite familiar, as I currently have a 2019 Niro, which has that. This is not a problem with crossovers in general, but a problem with the Escape, specifically.
            Hopefully Ford has since added something, but it seems Ford is putting in low effort on the Escape, so I am not hopeful.

          2. You’re doing it right.
            I can’t bring myself to replace my 16 year old rav4 because it’s just the perfect appliance, and a few hundred bucks here and there to fix it makes much more sense than paying 40-50k for a new suv that is in no way more exciting or better to drive.
            I just rely on my beater enthusaist cars when I want to enjoy driving.

  3. I rarely see the current body Escape, but the old ones seemed to sell by the train load. About the only time I DO see the new one, it has a municipal or commercial placard. The appeal of this kind of cynical sport cosplay wrapper on a eunuchmobile baffles me, which means I’ll probably start seeing a lot more new Escapes.

    1. The other issue is that the hybrid *starts* at the ST-Line. Unless they offer a Base or Active fleet-only hybrid that may mean their “sporty, urban” trim package is about to get diluted by a lot of commercial wraps and amber roof beacons.

  4. Still disappointed that they aren’t offering AWD PHEV. Also that they don’t offer ventilated seats.

    And putting seat heaters into the infotainment is awful. I want a button to jab when and if I want butt warmers. And when my butt is too warm. Adjustments to ass heat need to happen on the fly.

  5. Say it with me now! *CROSSOVERS!* *AREN’T!* *SPORTY!*

    Drop the fascade, and if you need to find a way to add some hierarchy, bring over the Vignale, the Ghia, whatever brougham’ed out fancy trims you need. And frankly, that goes double for the luxury brands. It’s all stupid. Q5 Horch, GLE Maybach, F-Pace Vanden Plas, I don’t know what you’d use for full ostentatious BMW, but that too. Stop pretending some over-tired, giant wheeled 5000lb land cow is going to go anywhere near a race track.

    1. Well after dropping the transmission out of my 73 Vega GT I took the number off and raced my wifes 2.0L AWD Escape in Semi-Pro. After 8 rounds I was finally defeated and man did it piss of the other racers, part was the escape ran 9.5 Seconds over and over again (1/8mile) the other I think was being beaten by a CUV with a Disney sticker on the back.

      In the end I was beaten by a Corvette that completely burned out his electrical system to beat me. (Don’t mount relays upside down) I actually took the alternator of my Vega and helped him rewire so he could make the next round.

      So don’t tell me Escapes can’t race, cause I have raced and won many rounds in one.

  6. The last Escape was cramped, half-assed and hateful, truly a miserable experience. I don’t know how much they can fix with a facelift, but honestly they should just shitcan the thing and put all of their energy into the Bronco Sport. Better to have one good car than two that could be better.

  7. Now, what about, seriously, Ford, hear me out on this, an Escape ST with the (currently not sold in America) Focus ST drivetrain in it and rally based sporty suspension? Wait, seriously, don’t call security, just give it a thought!
    Then you could /grabs product planner by the wrist/ come out with a /gets pepper sprayed/ oh god it burns /product planner violently tries to brake free of my kung-fu grip/ come out with an Escape RS!
    /security rushes over and deploys tazers/ Just /twitching/ think about /on the floor as another tazer strikes/ rally enthusiasts!
    /gets dragged out of the building and thrown in the gutter/

    1. Better: how about Ford just offering up a Focus ST, minus the bulging bodywork and unnecessarily high ground clearance of the Escape?

      Of course my personal taste leans toward brooming the iPad touchscreen and all the “connected” stuff. All I want is a car that’s connected to ME and, of course, me to it.

      If they were to do this, I’d be on my way to the nearest Ford dealer, which is 15 miles away and a PITA to get to. Would drive 10 blocks to see another SUV. Don’t need, don’t want, won’t buy.

  8. I have a 2017 Escape Titanium with the all black sport trim. I love this car, the 2.0 turbo is a blast to drive. Ford really did their homework on the Gen III Escape, but I’m not giving it up for this current Gen IV even with the facelift and ST-Line. This is my 3rd Escape and it may be my last 🙁

  9. No surprise that the baby Bronco is cannibalizing the Escape. People were craving another boxy Escape like the original and got it with the Bronco Sport. Although it is a hot segment, I am wondering if this will really stop the bleeding for the Escape. On some level, I hope it will be successful as it validates my view that they should have kept honest-to-goodness cars in the line-up, but Ford won’t interpret it that way.

    1. “but Ford won’t interpret it that way.”

      Totally. Ford will say it vindicates its the-white-spaces-in-between design plan.

      Which always seemed to me mostly a way to justify putting its resources into crossovers mostly b/c they’re so hot that the bar is lower across the board.

  10. Everyone’s got some kind of “midnight edition” with blackout trim or wheels and other appearance goods, so this is sort matching that.

    Hybrid being mostly ST-Line is definitely a play toward competitors that have been upping their “sport” trim hybrid models. The current RAV4 debuted with a hybrid-only XSE toward the top of the range, then the Prime came with just SE & XSE; the SE trim trickled down to the RAV4, but still hybrid-only. Corolla Cross (size below) is following the same pattern with the new hybrid also bringing “sport” variants that aren’t available as gas-only. While Toyota offers non-sport hybrid versions too, the new CR-V has followed suit with the hybrid only available as Sport & Sport Touring, and vice versa those models not available with the standard 1.5T; and Honda expects hybrids to be half of CR-V sales IIRC.

  11. Just bring the damn Focus over from Europe instead of trying to rebrand this mess. Also, how is there all this talk of it being a city-oriented car and not one mention of dimensions? Is it bigger than the outgoing Escape, which was already 10″ longer than the last Focus we got?

  12. I think making the Escape more car-like was absolutely the right move (knowing that the Bronco Sport was coming). In person I quite like the styling, especially the proportions, and contrary to most of the other opinions here, the Escape IS different from other CUVs for that reason. Hell, just compare it to the previous iteration of the Escape (which you probably can’t remember because it WAS a cookie-cutter design, unlike the current one).

    My mom (a Ford lessee going back to the 90s) has had every version of the Escape since 2008, and she currently has a 2020 Titanium Hybrid. By contrast my stepdad was an avowed Subaru guy, having had every version of the Outback since around 2006. They took a long road trip in the Escape, and he liked it so much that when his lease was up on the Outback, he got an Escape of his own.

    Nobody likes to say it (or they don’t know), but the current Escape is a good handler and is dare-I-say fun to drive, at least for the segment. That’s what sold my stepdad, anyway.

  13. What they should do (but won’t) is concentrate on the “value” versions of the Escape instead of the gussied up versions. You can get much better cars for $36000+ than the Escape.

    The problem is that all automakers are abandoning the lower end of things because it seems that most consumers are just dying to spend money on their new car purchases. No Civic below EX trim? Most Escapes ST trim? Sorry, but that sucks.

  14. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Bronco Sport is what the third gen Escape should have been. And yes, I know, aerodynamics and all that. To which I say BS – check Fuelly for the Escape and you’ll see that the “areo” ones get very disappointing real world fuel economy. They made it less practical, less stylish, and for those concessions you got nothing but disappointment.

    1. Having owned a 3rd Gen and now owning a 4th Gen (2.0L 2014 replaced by a 2020 Hybrid) quality of the interior is the main issue with the new one but it drives better and the improved tech makes it a better car. My disappointment with the refresh is it looks like they have failed to invest in the interior except for the bigger infotainment screen.

  15. Or maybe, now hear me out, the Bronco Sport is outselling the Escape because the current Escape is just about one of the ugliest and frumpy looking cars on the road. It looks like the designers just gave up on life and said, “meh, this’ll do.” I mean sure there are plenty of ugly new cars out there right now, but at least they have cool elements/designs (Kia/Hyundai I’m looking at you). The Escape is just a frowning blob in an endless see of crossovers.

    1. You think it looks bad, try driving one!

      It’s actually not a bad platform – the Maverick and Bronco Sport are entirely acceptable transportation – but you can tell the complete lack of effort on display in the Escape. It feels like the designers gave up on life in every single metric.

  16. Why do manufacturers worry about one of their products taking sales from another? It should be perfectly ok as long as the margins are similar. The diversification means being able to appeal to different consumers rather than trying to get everybody to buy one vehicle.

    1. GM has been doing EXACTLY that for.. I cant even remember how many years.

      The LAMBDAs 1st gen Traverse / Outlook / Enclave were in competition against the GMT800-900s.
      Same thing can be said about the Silverado / GMC version and the Avalanche.. and now the Canyon, its luxo version.. and all of the bs sport versions.
      The Caddy XLR underpinnings came from a Vette.

      Ford and their F150 for a LOOONG time had a spread from 18-19.5 for their cheapest 6cyl worktruck to their Lariat and or upper trims that went to 30g. Add in the F250, 350, 450.. and ya walk yaself right up the ladder.. to what you want.. as long as it was a F150. For years they were in competition against the old Ranger with an anemic 6cycl that didnt update enough. Then they killed it.. and let F150 roam free. — Now Ford put the Maverick and Ranger at the bottom of the rung.

      GM n Ford.. and or Chrysler.. have always had 2-3 brands and they always made a ton of cars to compete with each other (even on the Ebody platform in the 70s). Chrysler err Stellantis does it now with Jeep, Dodge err Ram, Chrysler etc etc etc. You just have to figure out what you want and what you dont… (but they make it hard intentionally.) The more choices they have in 1 place.. under 1 roof, is guarenteed to keep you at least buying ONE of their copies.

      Nissan does it.. or did it with the Pathfinder and or Rogue, Altima / Maxima.. had the same motor at one point.

      Acura did it also with the TSX, TL.. same motor at one point. CRV / RDX, MDX / Pilot.

      Everyone has multiple choices.. to pull you in to look at one.. then seeing they have 6, you will buy one.

      I thoroughly disagree with… appealing to different consumers. Looking out on the sea of moving metal on 95, or any parking lot and its pretty apparent people buy the same stuff. It comes down to psychology. A woman alone in a Caddy badged Suburban.. has nearly as much dough as the regular Suburban, or a RST badged one.. or even a V one.. but they might not want to show it. Having the newest Jeep Wagoneer.. is JEEP trying to PULL in the Caddy / Surburban types with its badge.. and none of the gritty ability as a 2dr Wrangler. (If ya pull the badges off, ya couldnt tell them apart.) Same goes for the great majority of vehicles sold in competiting price markets.

      GM “worried” about this for decades.. going back to at least the 60s with JZD at Pontiac. That is one reason why they entered bankruptcy, cause they had the same shit with a different badge. (Now, not only does no one care about the diversity of the GM shit.. they buy it for full sticker.)

  17. Alright….
    “Sporty, city-oriented car”… looks around for info about a Vette… nothing.

    Looks around for info about a laptop car… theres is enough of that info to go around for 10000yrs.

    Where err how… does Ford think an Escape.. is “sporty”?
    Owner cant feel the steering.
    Owner cant control the braking
    Owner cant control the shifting
    Owner cant even control the locking mechanisms….

    ISNT SPORTY.. making the car do what you want? Where is that here?

    Please just slap me. We got Leds in the lighting, we got LEDS in the badge (that peels off in a few years), now we got a led strip under the hood. DID Ford buy a ton of LED strips from AMAZON?

  18. I wish OEMs would stop with the tablets plastered onto the dash. If that’s what I wanted, I could do it myself. If you’re putting a screen in there, let’s integrate it to the dash and make it look like it belongs! I don’t want a TV glued on top of a dash in my sightlines

  19. I suspect this is the beginning of moving the crossover back towards the wagon. You’re saying customers want hatchback cars that feel lower and wider, Ford? Can I introduce you to the Focus Active which you sell in Europe?

  20. The current Escape is butt-ugly. It’s no wonder the Baby Bronco has been stealing sales. It’s also notable that if you want a small SUV that’s distinctive looking (i.e. old-school boxy and not a jellybean), the Bronco Sport is the only game in town.
    This new Escape looks nice and is now back on my shopping list once prices return to reality and it comes time to replace my 09 Escape. That is, if I can’t convince Wifey that a Maverick or Santa Cruz is a better option…

      1. Agree. It grew on me eventually, but it really does look like pretty much like every other crossover out there.

        I personally liked the mid ’10s/Kuga gen one for its distinctive wedgey styling, but I know most people really like the first gen best.

    1. I disagree.
      The baby Bronco is stealing sales from the Escape because… its for people who wanted the real thing.. but didnt have the scratch. (Wait a few years….)

      (Just like Id go on EBAY to find a Ferrari for sale. But I cant find the Ferrari I want.. so I go to the model before it, or one thats cheaper.)

      The Baby Bronco is to keep sales in the Bronco Column.. not in Escape Column.

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