In August 2017, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee as a grad student. Since then, all my driving has been in rental cars – both as part of my university’s tie-up with Zipcar for the occasional grocery run/short weekend road trip and with longer-term rentals from the airport. Zipcar offers the Ford Focus and Nissan Sentra as sedans and the Ford Escape and Honda CRV as SUVs. The airport pick-up station provides a Honda Fit hatchback as well, which I reserved, and found with a dead battery. Well, that's for another day.
This post, however, is about the two Fords, both sporting the EcoBoost variants of their respective engines, which is what Ford thinks is a fancier name for a turbocharged engine. Here’s a tip, Ford – people who buy Turbos don’t care about the Eco, they care about the Boost. People who care about the Eco don’t know what turbochargers are, and that’s the end of it. Trying to find middle ground with EcoBoost is like wanting to go vegan in China as a tourist who doesn’t speak Mandarin – a terrible idea overall. I usually wouldn’t get so caught up with what a manufacturer chooses to call their product, no matter how stupid. Heck, Ferrari calls one of its cars the LaFerrari, which, as James May points out, is the Ferrari The Ferrari. But it is a ruddy brilliant car.
In Ford’s case though, the problem runs deeper than the naming with the Focus Sedan. Make no mistake, for a family, it should have been a brilliant car. It’s about the right size, very well built, has enough space for 5 people, and quite a generous boot. It comes loaded with buttons to press and dials to swirl around, cruise control, the lot. The ride is comfortable too, even when the roads throw a few bumps at you. BUT, and this is a big one – if the family has an avid driver, this car is a disappointment, thanks to the engine.
The SE version that I got to drive comes with a 1.0L EcoBoost engine that produces 123 Horsepower. While 123 should be enough horses for a family saloon, Ford’s horses seem to be completely and utterly drunk, and I don’t mean on petrol. Put your foot down in an attempt to pass someone, then call your mom, plan your weekend, think of a gift for your significant other and get through an Erich Segal novel. Because that is how long the turbocharger takes to kick in. I kid you not, I’ve had to look down to make sure I’ve got the right pedal. Not that the brakes aren’t good, you’re just never accelerating fast enough to feel them in action. It’s a dreary machine which could be very well suited to someone who couldn’t care less about the driving experience. Unfortunately for Ford, I am not that person. I’d be afraid of falling asleep on a long drive in the Focus Sedan. If Ford makes a manual transmission version (which, this being America, is unlikely) and does something about the unforgivable turbo-lag, I’d be tempted to try it.
The Ford Escape, on the other hand, is a whole other story. The one I got to drive is the 4-wheel drive version, and God, it is a brilliant car. Being a compact SUV, it only seats 5 people, but in great comfort. The driver has a nice view both outside and inside the windscreen. The dash is well constructed, and things respond the instant you press them, and not an hour later. 178 horsepower from the 1.6L turbo-engine feels, well, fairly normal, but it still is a really fun car to drive.
The steering response is fantastic, the car feels stable at high speeds and corners well. Boot space isn’t disappointing for a car categorized as a compact SUV, it’s a much better investment than most family sedans today. If it is truly a full-blown SUV you want, look to the Japanese or even us Indians (I mean Land Rover, not Mahindra). If you want a car for 4-5 people, that is fun to drive and will take care of your road trip needs, the Escape will work just fine. If you were planning to buy a Focus Sedan, STOP and buy the Escape instead. If it snows around where you live, you can enjoy the sight of a Focus Sedan in your Escape’s wing-mirror getting smaller as you pull away, while the other driver waits for his tea to brew and his horses to wake up.