Have you ever wanted to escape for a day, do some fun things and learn some new skills? Well, that's what Ford provided with a day of driving the new 2013 Escape SUV.
But this wasn't your typical test drive. This was a day spent with regular folks who rarely test a vehicle. Although they may have owned a modern vehicle with stability control and ABS braking, they'd never challenged its limits -- or their own.
The day started with introductions. Drivers and passengers ranged in experience from those who were uneasy driving in city traffic to a professional storm chaser who sometimes drives thousands of kilometres a week. Each of us had the opportunity to try out the new Escape's features.
A short drive in city traffic, including a brief period on a city freeway, allowed us to experience the advantages of turbocharging, as the Escape's Ecoboost engine provided torque as soon as the throttle was touched. Even a small turbocharged 4-cylinder engine can be responsive and fun to drive. This short drive led us to our first "adventure".
Our mission, and we choose to accept it, was to load an antique trunk into the rear of the Escape. The fastest team got bragging rights for the rest of the day. It sounds like a simple task, but making it a competition added all kinds of variables. Each team had to carry the trunk to the rear of the Escape and then one member had to open the rear liftgate using the Escape's new hands-free "kick to open" liftgate. Load the trunk, close the hatch and you were done.
The concept is simple. Approach the vehicle within a meter and the key in your pocket, then use a kicking motion below the rear bumper. Sensors detect the motion and open the liftgate automatically. But putting it into practice wasn't quite as simple.
First, you don't have to actually kick the vehicle, as one team did. A simple kicking motion below the bumper is all it takes to open or close the liftgate.
Second, you actually have to have the key in your possession as you approach the vehicle. Everybody roared in laughter when the second team couldn't make it work, then looked at each other and each said, almost in unison, "I thought you had the key.".
A short handling course was next, highlighting the Escape's torque vectoring control, curve control, stability control and ABS technology. Sweat started to break out as professional drivers took us around the course. Accelerate to 50 kph, veer left at the mark, veer right again quickly and then gradually arc right to go around a series of cones in a slalom. Brake as hard as you can to a complete stop and then accelerate through a sudden lane-change manoeuvre.
The final task was to avoid hitting a "person" as the course controllers suddenly indicated to go left or right around an object. For many, this was their first time driving a vehicle aggressively, and nervous energy abounded. Many thought they couldn't do it, or that the vehicle would go out of control. In fact, many of the first laps were only half-hearted attempts. By the second attempt, however, even the most nervous drivers were confident in the Escape's ability to help them steer around danger and stop quickly in a safe, controlled manner.
The rest of the day was spent in a relaxing manner, enjoying the vehicle's quiet interior environment, chatting and listening to music using the MyFord Touch system. We finished the day learning about teepee construction and trying to make fire using a bow drill. Nobody succeeded so we probably wouldn't be good candidates for Survivor, but it was still fun trying.
Escaping for the day was a wonderful way to learn more about ourselves, others and new vehicle technology. Planning your own escape can be fun -- a task I would recommend to anyone.
Jim Kerr is an experienced mechanic, instructor of automotive technology, freelance journalist and member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada.