The Overhauled 2017 Ford Escape Looks Set to Challenge Honda's CR-V

By John

The 2017 Ford Escape will feature an all-new front-end design. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Ford is giving one of its best-sellers a slew of upgrades.

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The company said on Tuesday that the 2017 Escape, set to arrive at dealers next summer, will sport a brand-new front-end design, a redesigned interior, and a whole lot of new technology -- all aimed to give the big-selling compact SUV a more premium feel.

Boosting safety and comfort in an already strong-selling modelThe 2017 Escape isn't all-new, but it is substantially overhauled. The Escape's new face is the most immediately visible sign of change. It's more sophisticated, an upscale evolution of the grille design that first appeared on the current Fusion sedan. But the changes go much deeper.

Inside, the interior has been completely overhauled with a slew of new high-tech features. Those features include enhanced parking assist, lane-keeping, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning -- and the first implementation of Ford's SYNC Connect, which allows owners to operate key features from their smartphones.

The interior of the refreshed 2017 Ford Escape. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Under the hood, the 2.5 liter four-cylinder carries over as the standard base-model engine, but there are two new options: a 1.5 liter EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder making 180 horsepower, and a 2.0 liter EcoBoost with 245 horsepower. Both of the EcoBoost engines have automatic stop-start technology built in for additional fuel savings.

Ford also put a lot of effort into making the interior quieter, with better-insulated doors and new window seals, because customers equate a quiet interior with quality and luxury. Ford wants the new Escape to deliver those impressions to potential buyers on test drives.

Why all of this effort on a model that's already one of the best-sellers in its segment?

"The compact SUV segment is the largest and most competitive in the United States, and the new Escape delivered even more of what our customers want -- more technology that they can really use to make their daily drive safer and easier," said Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford's North and South America regions.

Or put another way: Because Ford wants to expand on its competitive advantage with a super-important model.

Ford is selling all of the Escapes it can makeThe Escape is now Ford's second-best seller in the United States, behind only the vaunted F-150 pickup. In its market segment, only Honda's CR-V out-sold it last year.

The Escape's sales growth has appeared sluggish in 2015 (it's up just 1% through October), but that's deceptive. The Kentucky factory that makes the Escape and the closely related Lincoln MKC is running at full capacity. (The factory that makes Honda's CR-V might also be maxed out.) Ford executives say they might be able to out-sell the CR-V if they can figure out how to make more Escapes.

Another view of the 2017 Ford Escape. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

And they may have figured it out. Ford's tentative new contract with the United Auto Workers promises that the company will move production of the MKC to a different factory. That should leave room to make more Escapes.

The upshot: A promising update of an important model For investors, a comprehensive update of an already-competitive model might not seem like that big of a deal. But it's the kind of thing we want and need to see from Ford: It's an investment to make a competitive model even more competitive -- before a sales decline makes it mandatory.

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John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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