A blue 2013 used Ford Escape is parked on a rocky beach.

The Greatest Escape

The Ford Escape is by far the most popular SUV wearing the blue oval, and in 2019 alone, almost a quarter-million of these compact vehicles were sold. And this immense popularity should come as no surprise. The Ford Escape is an affordable and highly versatile vehicle that is available with plenty of features and still manages to be fun to drive. However, the Ford Escape has now been on the market for two full decades and has had four different generations and countless updates, leaving drivers that are shopping for a used Ford Escape with a bewildering number of options.

So in this sea of choices, what is the best version? Ultimately, the year of the Ford Escape is the newest 2020 model year. This is the first year of the redesigned fourth generation and introduces numerous new features. But the 2020 model year has barely reached dealer lots, so finding a used example is unlikely. This makes the best used model year the 2017 Ford Escape. This is the refreshed third generation model and offers revised styling, improved crash ratings, modern infotainment, and a powerful turbocharged engine. So today we are going to look at how the Escape has developed over time, and why you should be looking for a third generation model when shopping used.

Early Escapes

A yellow 2001 used Ford Escape is off-roading in the dirt.

The Ford Escape first hit the market for the 2001 model year and was a collaboration with Mazda, which sold their version of the SUV as the Mazda Tribute. This partnership paid off, and the result exhibited both Ford ruggedness and Mazda sporty handling. However, the first generation Ford Escape is now a twenty-year-old design, and it does show. The exterior and interior styling is a bit dated, technology is virtually nonexistent, and the engine options are weak and inefficient by modern standards.

The base 2.0L four-cylinder produces a woeful 130 hp, although this was replaced with a slightly better 2.3L engine with 153 hp for the 2005 model year. That refresh also introduced a 155 hp hybrid option that allowed almost 30 MPG combined. However, the best engine choice for a used first generation Ford Escape is probably the top 3.0L V6. With 200 hp, it provides reasonably brisk acceleration, although this power comes at the cost of fuel economy with just 18 MPG combined. And no matter which engine option you choose, the vehicle will come filled with aging technology from its four-speed automatic transmission to its rear drum brakes.

Further, modern safety features such as ABS and side airbags do not come standard, so if you plan to use your purchase for highway driving, make sure you find one with those options. Altogether, while a used first generation Ford Escape can be a fun and affordable ride for drivers who appreciate the simpler cars of yesteryear, the vast majority will be better served looking at the newer model years.

The second generation Ford Escape was introduced for the 2008 model year and was based on the first generation of the SUV. Despite its significantly improved looks, it is probably more accurate to call it a deep refresh than an all-new generation. However, this is not entirely a bad thing as that means it retains the light handling of the original Ford Escape while adding updated features and new engines. While a used base model second generation Ford Escape is still a fairly basic vehicle by modern standards, the higher trims offered numerous options, including touch screen navigation.

The 2008 model year vehicles retained the first generation engines and are best avoided as the 2009 model year brought some real power and technology improvements. The base engine jumped to a 2.5L four-cylinder producing 171 hp, while the top V6 engine was boosted to 240 hp through the introduction of variable valve timing. The obsolescent four-speed transmission was also dropped in favor of a more capable six-speed automatic, although the manual option is still available for those preferring to row their own gears. Finally, the 2009 model year introduced the original Ford Sync infotainment system to the Ford Escape. So while a used second generation Ford Escape may not be the most modern of SUVs, it is comfortable and capable enough to be worth consideration by any driver seeking an affordable compact SUV.

The Third Generation

But while the original Ford Escape platform was top of the line when it was first introduced, by the early 2010s, it was definitely showing its age. So when Ford built the third generation Ford Escape for the 2013 model year, it started with a clean sheet design. Inside and out, the third generation marked a complete break with the past and is easily distinguished from the older vehicles by its smooth modern lines. Inside the cabin, the third generation Ford Escape is also available with a host of thoroughly modern amenities such as a hands-free power liftgate, keyless entry, and steering wheel-mounted controls.

Mechanically, these SUVs also stand out from the earlier models. All three previous powertrain options were dropped in favor of a pair of modern turbocharged engines. The base engine is a 1.6L producing 178 hp, while the upgraded option is a 2.0L turbo with 240 hp. And although their power is about the same as the engines that they replaced, these new designs have significantly better torque and fuel economy. In fact, the 24 MPG combined rating of the new top engine is better than the base engine in the second generation Ford Escape. And while the third generation did lose its manual transmission option, the addition of standard four-wheel disc brakes more than makes up for it.

The 2017 Ford Escape

A red 2017 used Ford Escape is parked on a rocky shore in front of a red building.

A used third generation Ford Escape of any model year will provide a well-rounded mix of comfort, utility, and performance. However, the single best year of the Ford Escape is 2017. Not only was this the first year of the third generation’s midlife refresh, but the three year mark is usually when the best deals are found on used cars. This refresh brought updated styling, improved active and passive safety features, and upgraded infotainment, as well as more powerful and more efficient engine options.

The new base engine is a 1.5L turbo that, despite its smaller size, has 179 hp, while the top 2.0L turbo was modified to produce 245 hp while getting 25 MPG combined. When it comes to infotainment technology, the refreshed Ford Escape offers an 8-inch touch screen with Ford’s Sync 3 software and support for the Synch Connect mobile app. This is an entirely up-to-date system that can compete head-to-head with the infotainment in many brand new vehicles.

But possibly the most significant changes to the refreshed third generation Ford Escape are its improved safety features. These include forward-collision warning and lane-keep assist to help you avoid accidents entirely, but it also includes a reinforced structure to better withstand frontal impacts. Overall, the 2017 Escape is fully equipped with fantastic engines and a plethora of entertainment and safety features that make it the best used model to buy.

Buying a Ford Escape

While buying a car is a personal decision that depends heavily on your individual needs, it is difficult for a used car buyer to go wrong with the 2017 Ford Escape. While some may prefer the simple nature of the first and second generation SUVs, and brand new fourth generation offers even more features, a third generation used Ford Escape is affordable, modern, and widely available on the used market.