Ford Motor Company introduced the Ford Escape in 2001 to compete in the compact SUV market against the compact SUVs produced by Toyota and Honda. A luxury model, the Mercury Mariner, was also introduced concurrently by the Mercury division of Ford.
The first versions of the Escape were offered with the 2.0 L Zetec engine and a manual transmission. Ford recognized that most consumers never intended subject their SUV’s to rough off road terrain but had chosen the SUV has a sportier version of a minivan or station wagon. To improve ride quality for these consumers, Ford changed from solid rear axles which were being used for most SUV’s to an independent suspension and rack and pinion steering to provide a more car like ride. A full time all wheel drive was provided as an option, this included a locking center differential activated by a switch on the dashboard.
By 2004, Ford had developed an Escape Hybrid that proved to be 75% more fuel efficient that its counterpart, the traditional gasoline only Escape.
A new base engine was developed for the 2005 Escape,the powerful 3.0L Duratec V6 engine. And the changes didn’t stop there. For 2009, many changes were introduced and Ford rebadged the compact vehicle as the ZD Escape. Due to rising gas prices, Ford downgraded the engine back to a four cylinder and the Escape was now only offered as an automatic. Exterior designs were also changed and the Ford emblem was made bigger and set prominently on the front grille. Safety was upgraded as well as side airbags were offered as a standard feature for the first time.