Getting to drive the all new 2013 Ford Escape/Ford Kuga gave us the opportunity to test a vehicle that is the next generation of a vehicle that has been in our family since we bought it new in 2005, and that’s the Ford Escape.
We wanted to see just how far Ford could take this Crossover after having been produced on the same platform for 12 years. Now based off the Focus platform, the Escape looks to move to the top of the market in this very competitive segment.
Go to any upscale community, and you are likely to find a plethora of Lexus RX 350s. In fact, they are so ubiquitous, that Audi made a great commercial a couple years ago, about how when you went to look for your Lexus you couldn’t find them in a sea of sameness. The question then becomes, is the Lexus RX 350 so popular because it’s a good SUV, or just because it’s the safe choice. This is what we set out to find out.
Our all-wheel-drive test unit arrived just after a big snowstorm. When it arrived, it was a perfect example of what you would find at any upscale high school soccer match. Our test unit was white with a cream-colored interior. If you were to go to one of the local upscale malls, it definitely would be important to remember where you parked because, you are likely to see 30 or 40 other cars that look exactly like this test unit.
When you look at the styling of the Lexus RX 350 certainly doesn’t do anything wrong, but then again there is nothing to distinguish it either. Like most vehicles that sell well, styling that doesn’t it’s stand out is often a key factor. For some however, in not trying to offend anyone with conservative styling is in itself somewhat offensive. You could say much the same about the interior of the RX 350 as well. The materials are nice, fit and finish are excellent, as you would expect from a Toyota product, and the whole package itself inside is nice.
When we had the RX 350 in for review, it was a particularly cold week here in Metro Detroit. The extreme cold weather pointed out two glaring issues we had with the interior of the Lexus RX 350. Number one, was that the wood trimmed steering wheel had no heat element in it, therefore gripping it with un-gloved hands, in single digits to below zero Fahrenheit temperatures, was rather uncomfortable. We found ourselves using the sleeves of our coat to hold on to the steering wheel until the interior came up to temperature. We would gladly trade the wood rimmed wheel for leather wrapped one that had a heated steering unit for occasions such as this.
The second issue, was the fact that the seat heaters took forever to warm up, and on their highest setting of three, is what we would call in any other vehicle a low setting. Again, sitting down on a cold leather seat on a single degree Fahrenheit temperature day is not the most pleasant experience. The fact that it would take five or or ten minutes to feel any heat coming from the seat, this, certainly didn’t win any marks in our books.
With those two exceptions we had no other real gripes with the interior of RX 350. The the ride was very quiet , the telematics system worked good enough, once you got use to the “mouse” for navigation, the stereo was good though not exceptional, and for the kids our test unit had dual rear seat DVD players.
Driving the RX 350 was a rather unremarkable experience. Again, in typical Toyota fashion, it’s not that the Lexus does anything wrong, it’s just that nothing stands out. The Lexus drives down the road just fine, handles well, sucks up the potholes of Metro Detroit just fine, and transports you to your destination safely and comfortably.
The difficulty in evaluating this particular Lexus is that we don’t follow into its key demographic. Most of the people who drive the RX 350, are upper-middle-class soccer moms, who live in suburbia where conformity is the norm. What we mean by conformity, is that they all send tend to shop at the same big-box stores, watch the same home-improvement shows, and have the same aspirations for their children. If you’ve ever seen the movie Pleasantville it’s kind of like that, just a bit more upscale.
As you can imagine, as a 41-year-old white male with no children, save one large dog, it’s not exactly the vehicle that with appeal to us. However, we can say, that the RX 350 does do a good job of hauling an eight-year-old English mastiff around. In any SUV that comes to us for testing, this is one of the most important test for us. After all, since we have no children to haul around, no school runs to make, and are more likely to head to the Home Depot or Lowe’s, rather than hardware restoration or the Pottery Barn, these are the measurements that we had.
Fuel mileage for the Lexus was reasonable during our time with the vehicle. In very cold conditions in mixed driving, we saw 22 miles to the gallon. While this is nothing that stands out in the class, it is right in line with the norms. The V-6 engine provides plenty of power, sure, it would be nice to have more, but for 95% of the people who will buy this vehicle, it would be pointless. The RX 350 accelerates away from stoplights just fine has plenty of power for merging onto the freeways, and will roll down those freeways at 80 miles an hour with nary a worry.
Trying to come up with an overall evaluation of the RX 350 was fairly difficult for us. It’s a vehicle designed for people that we aren’t. Lexus’ tend to be for people who view cars as appliances, but like a little bit of luxury with their appliances. Think of it this way, the Lexus RX 350 is like going into Best Buy, and getting a Samsung refrigerator, but buying the stainless steel model, rather than the white one. It’s not a Viking, or SubZero, or a Wolf, it’s just a very nice refrigerator with an upscale finish.
The idea with the RX 350, like most Lexus’, is to offer a comparable non-offensive way to transfer yourself, and your family, in a bit of luxury. The RX 350 will do nothing to offend you, and for most people that’s exactly what they’re looking for. People who buy Lexus’ are not enthusiast, and therefore you can’t look at the Lexus through the microscope that an enthusiast would. For an enthusiast, it’s hard to imagine buying a vehicle, that doesn’t either excite you, or make you look forward to driving it. For a vast majority of America, they just want something that gets the job done. The Lexus RX 350 certainly does that. If you like to blend into the crowd, want of vehicle that’ll never have to worry about, or not have your neighbors shocked by the choice of vehicle showing up in your driveway, the RX 350 certainly qualifies.
The best way to sum up the Lexus RX 350 as this, it is Häagen-Dazs French vanilla ice cream. It’s very good, it’s much better than the store brand, it’s a great standby, it’s just not something that’s going to get you excited.
If you’d like to see the rest of the pictures of the Lexus RX 350, please have a look in our photo gallery here.
Rumblestrip.NET had a chance to spend a week with the refreshed 2011 Ford Edge. This Crossover is a keystone in Ford’s lineup, and we wanted to see if Ford could take this from just another Crossover to something that would stand out against the rest.
Ford has been on a huge roll these past couple years, will this newly sharpened Edge continue the trend? Find out in our video review.
When we had the Ford Escape Hybrid in for review a bit back, it held a lot of interest for us. We personally own a 2005 V6 Limited Escape and we wanted to see how the vehicle had evolved, both from an interior refresh and with the hybrid drivetrain. Making this comparison easier was that we received a loaded Limited model, though this was all wheel drive where ours is a front driver.
Lets first take a look at the interior. Interestingly, getting into the 2010 Escape was a lower ride height than in our personal ‘05 model. We say interesting because again, ours is a front driver and 2010 model was all wheel drive. At just shy of 5’10” and a 33” inseam, our personal Escape is not a step up to get into, but it does require an upward movement to get into. In the 2010 model you actually sat down into the vehicle.
Once inside, the updates are immediately noticeable. The combination of contrasting colors and textures gives it a nice feel. The material choices give the appearance of a higher quality than they actually are. We are not saying that the materials used are cheap; it’s just that we’ve seen higher quality materials used in vehicles the Escape competes with head to head.
With the lighter colors used here, along with the large sunroof, our review unit had a very open and airy feel to it. The shiny black around the touch screen audio/navigation unit and center consoled, was a nice contrast to the tan and grey but, as with just about every use we have ever seen of the material, it is a magnate for fingerprints.
The touch screen unit is a generation behind in size: Ford has moved to a much larger size in it’s more recent models. The unit is the same as the one in the Lincoln MKX we reviewed last year and while in the MKX, the unit seemed too small, here it was okay. Sure, it would have been nicer to have the additional real estate of a larger screen, but this one worked just fine.
The Microsoft SYNC system works as advertised and is the best in the business although it still has some issues with the iPod Touch. Looking through several forums, others have had similar issues and, that said, since we tested the Escape, Ford has issued a couple updates to the SYNC firmware to address the issue.
One of the reasons you buy a hybrid, obviously, is to get a bump in fuel mileage but one of the questions is, can that premium you pay for the hybrid pay for itself in improved fuel mileage. If you go on the premise that figures lie and liars figure, it all depends on how you count.
The EPA rates the all wheel drive Escape Hybrid at 30 city/27 highway, the four cylinder all wheel drive Escape is 20/26 and the V6 is 18/23. If you go front drive, it sorts out as 34/31 for the hybrid, 21/28 for the four cylinder and 19/25 for the V6. We got mid 27’s in mixed driving and we tried to drive the Escape like a “normal” car, rather than a hybrid for most of our time with it.
If we look at our personal ‘05 Escape with a V6, it returns 22-23 MPG in mixed driving and has been pretty consistent with that number since we’ve owned it. One point to make is in the interim Ford has upgraded the transmission for the four-speed automatic on ours to a six-speed auto across the line in the Escapes. If we take a guess, 30MPG would be realistic from the front drive model in combined real world mileage. A 7-8 mile per gallon change in fuel economy is significant. Now, factor in abut a $4500 premium for the hybrid option, trying as much as we can to outfit the vehicles as similarly as possible, go with 15,000 miles a year for an average driver and you get a 167 gallon difference in fuel used. Right now, 87 octane gas around Metro Detroit is $2.75/gallon, so that is $459.25 a year difference in your fuel bill. Depending on how much you financed to purchase the vehicle, that may not even be one month’s payment. With those numbers, if you are buying a hybrid only on the idea of better fuel mileage, then it’s not really a winning proposition. If your issues are more with your personal carbon footprint or the usage of foreign oil in our economy, then you have to ask yourself how much extra “voluntary tax” you are willing to pay.
Even though on straight horsepower and torque numbers the Hybrid Escape is way down on the V6 model, the driving experience isn’t all that different. That, in part, goes to the electric motor that is part of the hybrid system. It can, when needed, help boost performance by supplying extra power. The electric motor proves an additional 94 horsepower when called for to make up the difference between the four and six cylinder in total power. The Atkinson Cycle 2.5 inline four isn’t the snappiest power plant, but it’s okay. Passing situations and merging onto the highway, you notice the power deficit somewhat but it wasn’t by a large measure.
As for the actual driving experience day to day, it proved to be just as competent as our ‘05 model and with some of the updates Ford has made, it rides a little quieter. The hardest part we found was trying to maximize the hybrid part of the drivetrain.
We’ve driven the Fusion Hybrid on multiple occasions and driving on just the electrics and batteries isn’t too difficult once you get the hang of it. The pulse and glide method worked best rather than just accelerating using the electric motor. This was also the case with the Escape Hybrid, but it seemed that once you were in the glide mode, it took a very, very light pedal not to have the gas motor kick back in. It, in fact, required a lot of effort to do so. The difference between the Fusion experience and the Escape experience probably come down to weight, aerodynamics and the Escape being all wheel drive, with a greater drivetrain loss through frictions.
Yes, you have to retrain yourself how you drive to maximize any hybrid experience but with the Escape, it seemed even more so. We also wonder if the typical consumer who buys it will take the time and effort to do so. Yes, some will but we are talking about the 60-80% in the middle of that bell curve who think that having a hybrid just nets you more mileage with no change in driving behavior. We also wonder what their thoughts are two, three or four years in to the buying experience.
I let my wife drive the Escape since the ‘05 is her primary vehicle and while she thought the changes to the interior were nice and that it drove fine, she didn’t get the hybrid system to engage even though we had gone out before and I had instructed her on how to use it. I bring this point up just to drive home the point about the average driver, because I think she typifies that.
In the end we can look at the Escape Hybrid as a competent vehicle that stands up well to others in it’s category, hybrid system aside. The Escape, in its current form, is at the end of it’s life cycle and it’s been a good ten year run for it. The decision to go with the hybrid system will not be one of dollars and cents we think, but rather one of personal conscience. On straight money, the hybrid system doesn’t really pay for it’s self, at least in the current environment where gas is sub $3/gallon. It would have to be more than $5/gallon for it to make economic sense. The real question then is, can we recommend the Escape Hybrid? The answer is, it depends on what your goals are in owning the Escape. If you have the extra money to spend and you just want a vehicle that gets good mileage, but you aren’t worried about a pay back period, then the Escape works. If you are concerned with the environment or the geo-political issues associated with the amount of oil we import, then the Escape could work for you. If you are interested in a hybrid that makes financial sense then, while a good effort, this, like every hybrid at this moment in time, is a pass.
Over the last few years Lincoln has made a concerted effort to move away from the choice of the blue hair, early bird special crowd, and to a younger demographic and one with probably more money, and that is the Lexus crowd.
Lincoln’s were for many years cars to aspire to. US Presidents were driven in them, and executives wanted to drive and be seen in them. Somewhere in the late 60’s to early 70’s they lost their way and it’s only in the last couple years that the ship began to be righted.
Our tuxedo black MKX review unit left a good first opinion visually. It has just enough bright work, with the optional chrome 20” wheels to offset and highlight the body lines nicely. Going down the road, parked in your driveway or being valeted at the Big Rock Chop House in Birmingham, MI the MKX has a presence that it belongs.
When you move to the inside of the MKX and the theme continues. The materials are nice, and the fit and finish are good. There are a couple of exceptions where the bean counters got in the way, the sides of the center console and the face of the instrument cluster are a hard plastic rather than the soft touch leatherette found in the rest of the interior. Seems an odd place to drop some noticeably cheep materials, right where the driver can notice it, and they saved maybe $20, wrong decision.
After out time with the Flex and the Fusion Hybrid we had gotten used to the big display for Ford’s Sync system, however the one in the MKX was much smaller. While not too small, the larger display in the other vehicles was less prone to fat fingering as you were going through the menus. That said this install of Sync seemed to be just a bit zippier in voice recognition. Our only real complaint in the past about Sync is that the delay in between the spoken command and it’s response was just about a second too long to fall into normal speech patterns. The delay here seemed shorter. Or maybe we are just getting trained by it, hard to say.
For what seems like a smaller vehicle, the MKX is roomy on the inside. Back seat passengers will have no problems with leg room even with the front seats all the way back. Also ingress and egress are good for back seat passengers. On far to many SUV’s the rear doors are quite short and it can make it awkward to get in and out, especially for tall people, and some older folks as well. The rear area has much more room that you would think from the outside as well. You would think that it would have less room than an Escape, but it is quite a bit larger. A trip to IKEA for some shelving and other large items we needed to redo a room in the house were easily swallowed up. This is good news for the target demographic for this SUV, not so much that they will be hauling stuff from IKEA, or Lowe’s, but that it will haul three or four kids and all their gear to hockey practice.
Driving the MKX is a what you would expect. The real test for us was coming home from an announcing gig that went very long. We rolled out of Milan Raceway just after 1:30AM. The 58 mile drive home may have been the easiest, most relaxing drive home from the track we’ve had. It was a long day, we were VERY tired, and yet with the cruise set at 70 the time seemed to fly by. For those road warriors that would purchase this and pile on the miles, that I would think would be very welcome. General handling is good as well, for such a heavy vehicle, it takes on/off ramps quite well.
There are a couple things that we did not like at all for the MKX in the driving experience however. Because of the rear design and the sloping rear section, vision between the C and D pillars on the drivers side is not existent creating a MASSIVE blind spot. The passenger side isn’t much better either. This makes it difficult merging in traffic trying to judge the distance to vehicles behind you. What would be very welcome on the MKX is the blind spot detection in the rear view mirrors that we had in the Fusion Hybrid.
Mileage in the MKX is about what your would expect, be got 19 in pretty mixed driving. We tried to use some of the techniques we learned from Wayne Gerdes to help out the mileage, but by no means did we drive far outside what we would call “normal” driving habits.
A big deal was made when Lincoln began to instal THX Certified sound systems in their product line. We were very interested to see if it would live up to the hype. We ran a variety of music through the system. Mingus, Pink Floyd. Kevin Saunderson, Pantera, Mazzy Star and Norah Jones just to name a few. Sadly, to my ears, the system sounded no better than the systems in the Flex or the Fusion. While we are no uber audiophiles, we are pretty sure we would notice a difference of quality, being accustomed to listening to uncompressed music over some nice headphones on a regular basis.
At the end of the day we come out with some mixed feelings about the MKX. As Billy Crystal’s version of Fernando might say, “It’s better to look good, that to feel good.” That, and Maxwell Smart’s classic line, “Missed it by THAT much.” sum up the MKX nicely. The vehicle looks good, but it doesn’t feel special. If you are driving a premium brand, at a premium price, just shy of $45,000, it should make you feel special, and the MKX didn’t, It’s a nice vehicle, don’t get us wrong, it just doesn’t feel special.
What could Ford change to bring it to that level? That’s the kicker, we’re not sure, and we thought long and hard about it. There is no one thing that it is, it’s just a take away. Maybe it’s better materials inside, we don’t know, we couldn’t put our finger on it. When we shared that thought with a number of people who rode with us in the MKX we got that silent head nod that tells you they were thinking along the same lines and were having trouble putting their thoughts into words.
At the end of the day how do we grade this? We may be being hard here but 7.8 out of 10 is where we end up. Again, not that it isn’t a fine vehicle, it’s just that it didn’t meet our expectations.