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DW and I vacationed in California a few weeks ago, and had 8 days in a Ford Escape. We had a reservation with Budget in San Jose. At the time of the reservation anything from an econobox to a full size car to an intermediate SUV was identically priced. We chose the small SUV as the best combination of room, visiblity, and somewhat reasonable MPG.

At the counter, I asked what options they had in stock. The guy mentioned the Escape, a Rav4, and a couple of others in the class. I considered the Rav4, but recommended I take the Escape. Glad I took his recommendation. It was not your average rental car stripper. It had heated seats/mirrors, Sync / MyFord Touch, bluetooth integration, a giant sunroof, 4wd, power liftgate, back up camera, object detection, kepad entry, etc. Pretty sure it was the Titanium trim level. Assuming it had the 2.0L Ecoboost engine (which I believe it did), that would push the sticker north of $35k.

By the time we left the car rental garage at the airport, DW had already paired her phone, so we had her music library and Pandora available right away. The car was new enough it still had XM activated, which was an unexpected bonus.

We were traveling heavy (vacation, including hiking gear), so I dropped the back seats to open the cargo area. Very nice design with the seats folding flat. Even the headrests collapse at the touch of a button so they clear the front seats on the way down. Tons of room even for multiple bulky suitcases.

Now, how about that powertrain? I don't know what sort of differential setup it has, but it didn't feel like a fixed 4wd like a truck or a Jeep. (Looked it up, C&D says it's front biased, with the computer and a clutch pack determining what power is sent to the rear wheels. Then open diffs at each axle with ABS to control individual wheel slip.)

The EcoBoost engine was more than adequate for this vehicle. It actually felt pretty eager. Because of this, I suspect we had the 2.0L, not the 1.6. The turbo was not intrusive or even noticeable in normal driving. No lag or power surge that I noticed. And though I didn't calculate actual mileage (hey, I'm on vacation), I was able to coax as much as 31mpg out of it on the highway according to the trip computer. Total for the vacation, including hills/mountains was around 27-28. Not bad. Even hustling it one day, I still stayed around 26. Not unexpected, but mileage really plummeted on sustained uphills (like Pacheco Pass), where the Boost really overwhelmed the Eco. It had no problem maintaining speed on the those uphills though.

Driving dynamics? It's an SUV. The center of gravity is high like you'd expect, and it rolls a bit before it takes a set. Take that with a grain of salt, my usual rides do not experience body roll. ;) Steering was actually quite good (a damn sight better than the wandering Hyundai rental I experienced a few weeks back).

Complaints? The driver's side mirror wasn't quite flat. Don't know if it was warped plexiglass or what, but it had a slight wave to it, meaning distort-a-vision. Some of the dash buttons (lights?) were tucked low on the dash and behind the steering wheel - I found this an awkward reach down by my knees. Also, the foot activated liftgate - sounds like a cool idea, but it certainly didn't work when I tried it. Maybe it was disabled on the rental car?

The MyFord Touch means you will never be able to upgrade the stereo. Sound quality was just ok, even after adjusting what could be adjusted (no EQ just bass/mid/treble). There's nothing standard about its size or layout. Strangely enough, random buttons like hazard lights were grouped between the stereo controls and the touch screen. Some of the buttons are even on the horizontal part of the dash in front of the screen. And bring a passenger to adjust it for you, lots of screens and menus to distract you. Trying to tune an XM station was maddening, there must have been 6 sets of presets, and no up/down control that I could find. Finally discovered a screen that allowed direct station number entry.

Voice commands for the Sync/MyFord Touch didn't work for me at all. I even tried the Peyton Manning "XM, 66, hut-hut" like I saw on the commercial (was that Ford or something else?), but it didn't understand anything I said. Even after it rattled off some help (nice touch), it didn't understand me. Maybe it's just me. Granted, I never read the manual, but I would have expected the operation to be a little more intuitive if it's ready for prime time. (I will say I'm a software developer in my mid-30s, so tech *is* kinda my thing).

We had planned to spend the full week in Yosemite, but the gov't shutdown closed the park during our stay, so we headed to Monterey and Big Sur for a few days. So we ended up with a few more miles than we expected.

In all, it was a perfectly pleasant rental vehicle. I'm not really sure how it stacks up against other SUVs at that price point. Seems like a lot of beans for the dolled up version of an entry level SUV, but I admit this really isn't my segment.
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Thanks, it's one of the vehicles I will be considering.

By the way, Manning was in a Buick.....
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With digital audio, upgrading the head unit does nothing for sound quality. However, upgrading the amp and speakers can completely transform the audio experience. It usually takes thorough research to figure out how to connect the head unit outputs to the amp. Often, that involves an audio summing unit. The Infinity amp and speakers in my Charger made it the best stereo I have ever had.

Neil
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With digital audio, upgrading the head unit does nothing for sound quality.

This might be true if you're using a source containing it's own DAC, such as plugging an iPhone's analog headset output into the aux input of the head unit.

But if you're expecting your head unit to do the conversion, such as may be the case with satellite radio, isn't the DAC in the head unit going to play a role in the output?

And even if you're supplying the head unit with an analog source via your iPhone or what have you, do all head units have a clean, unprocessed path from the aux input to the outputs?

And don't some head units take convert their analog aux input to digital, run it through processing (at the very least to implement volume control digitally) and then convert it back to analog again?

Unless I'm wrong I suspect head unit choice could make a difference. I agree that amp and speakers is the way to go, but is it right to say that head units don't make any difference?

xtn
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is it right to say that head units don't make any difference?

Perhaps my wording was too strong. I'll amend my statement to say that changing from a factory head unit playing a digital source file to an aftermarket one does almost nothing for sound quality compared to the improvement available from high quality aftermarket amps and speakers.

Neil
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Perhaps my wording was too strong. I'll amend my statement to say that changing from a factory head unit playing a digital source file to an aftermarket one does almost nothing for sound quality compared to the improvement available from high quality aftermarket amps and speakers.

Neil


Don't forget that a cars interior isn't exactly a sound stage, so making out any differences between head units would a bit of a challenge.

In my experience, putting in an amp and a good set of speakers can make a world of difference. A new head unit, at least for sound, is not much of a change outside the EQ features offered.
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