Ford to unveil sleeker Escape

Ford

DEARBORN, Mich. -- The Ford Escape is getting a long-overdue makeover, ditching its boxy styling for a sleek look that Ford hopes will outshine competitors.

It has reason to be confident: Ford Explorer sales are at a four-year high due to a similar redesign last year.

Ford will unveil the 2013 Escape today at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It goes on sale early next year. Pricing hasn't been announced, but it will likely start around $25,000.

The Escape's boxy profile was looking stale in a market of newer, more aerodynamic competitors like the Chevrolet Equinox. The new Escape, which was designed in Europe, now has the elegant, tapered look of Ford's other new models, including the Fiesta subcompact and Edge crossover.

Along with better styling, customers have asked for more features and better fuel economy, said Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas. The more aerodynamic design, with three updated engine choices, will help improve fuel economy from 28 mpg to as high as 33 mpg.

Ford will discontinue the hybrid Escape, noting its EcoBoost gas engines get better fuel economy than 31 mpg on the current hybrid.

The Escape has some whiz-bang features, including a liftgate that opens when the driver makes a slight kicking motion under the bumper and a system that parallel parks the vehicle automatically with the press of a button.

The Escape, which went on sale 11 years ago, had its last big makeover in 2008. Even then, critics said it was too dated and not efficient enough compared to newer rivals. Escape sales drooped and a rival, the Honda CR-V, outsold it until this year, when Japan's earthquake disrupted supplies and hurt Honda's sales. The Escape regained the lead.

Honda will push to recapture those sales with a new CR-V that will be shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show and will go on sale by the end of this year.

Both Ford and Honda did all the right things with their redesigns, including improving fuel economy and styling and making their interiors more luxurious, said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with car information site Edmunds.com.

"I don't think either company will have a speck of problem selling all they can make in a decent economy," Krebs said.

While earlier versions of the Escape and CR-V were considered small SUVs, they're technically crossovers, which combine the roominess of SUVs with the nimbler handling and fuel efficiency of cars, since they're built on car platforms.

Crossover sales have risen for a decade. J.D. Power and Associates, a marketing information firm, predicts they'll hit nearly 3 million sales per year by 2015, making crossovers the largest segment in the U.S. They'll outsell compact cars, the nearest segment, by 400,000.

While the CR-V, Escape and Toyota RAV4 have been perennial favorites, they face competition. Sales of the Equinox, which was revamped in 2009, are up 45 percent for the year to 162,000, or fewer than 40,000 vehicles behind the top-ranked Escape. Several other models chalked up sales of more than 100,000, including the Nissan Rogue and Kia Sorento.