May 10, 2004


This review first appeared in the Sunday Telegraph:

In 1955, the Ford Motor Company hired poet Marianne Moore to come up with a name for its latest model*. Moore supplied 6,000 suggestions ... and every single one of them was rejected by alarmed executives. They didnít believe that American motorists would be willing to buy something called Mongoose Civique or Pastelogram or Silver Sword or Resilient Bullet; also knocked back were The Intelligent Whale, Magigravure, and Turcotinga. Even Utopian Turtletop failed to impress the suits.

If only Marianne were still with us. She might be able to provide a name for the Ford Escape that would lend this mid-size 4WD what it most needs: some distinctiveness and character.

Letís run through the list of good things about the Escape (and there are quite a few):

The 3.0 litre V6 (standard equipment in the top-of-the-range Limited version tested) is zesty and mostly smooth, although possibly a little wanting for thrust at low revs. Steering is perfectly geared for urban dodgem driving; roundabouts, carparks, and the like. Other primary controls -- brakes, automatic gearshift -- are impressively light, as are secondary controls like doorhandles and rear folding seat. Itís plenty roomy, for people and luggage. Handling is sound. Ride is friendly, as youíd expect from a car-based, all-independently suspended vehicle.

Now, the bad things (and youíll note that most on this list are minor complaints):

The Escape isnít really a four-wheel-drive. Itís a front-driver with four-wheel-drive that kicks in when conditions demand. The rest of the time youíve got 200 horsepower mainly being delivered through the front wheels, which transmit an irritating amount of torque steer back to the driver. Fuel economy isnít great (11.6 litres per 100 km during speed-cautious highway driving) and is compounded by a small fuel tank. Brakes pull up sharpish enough, but in 2004 itís wrong to pay more than $30,000 for something equipped with drum rears. The Limitedís leather seats are of the gripless variety; unless you drive bolt upright (hello, bowling ladies!) youíll find yourself sliding down, down, down towards the pedals during long drives. Remember column shifts? The Escape has one, which in itself isnít bad, but itís placed so as to interfere with easy use of the radio/CD player (also, the steering wheelís large centre often obscures the dashboard gear display; three-point turns involve a lot of neck-craning to work out whether youíre in R or D or N). Big tyres contribute to more road noise than youíd anticipate.

Those are the good and bad things. Trouble is with the Escape is, it mostly falls into a bland ďmiddleĒ area. Start with the styling. In a market sector now producing some playful and innovative designs, the Escape stands out as a non-stand out. Itís the sort of car that would ideal for anyone in a witness relocation program. Interior-wise, youíre looking at a generic Ď90s layout. Technically ... well, the engine is loaded with a bunch of valves and camshafts, but the rest of the Escape is just your standard point A to point B human transportation module.

Even the name is middling and ambivalent. Do you want to escape in your new Ford, or escape from it? Far better to imagine yourself aboard a stunning Turcotinga or Resilient Bullet than in this unadventurous machine.

*The safety-first name Ford eventually chose, Edsel, didnít work. In fact, sales were so poor the company lost nearly quarter of a billion dollars and came close to collapse.

Posted by Tim Blair at May 10, 2004 05:06 PM

At the risk of giving any one any ideas, I think Utopian Turtletop would be a great troll name.

Posted by: Sortelli at May 10, 2004 at 05:18 PM

The bio Tim links to only says that she provided nineteen names to Ford.

Tim lied - poets died!

Posted by: Utopian Turtletop at May 10, 2004 at 05:42 PM


Posted by: Mongoose Civique at May 10, 2004 at 05:44 PM

Cars might change but stupid car company executives never do.

They still think a name will make or break a car.

The best names are often just letters or numbers: ID19, 356, DB6, 240Z, 280SE, XJ6, 120Y ...

Posted by: ilibcc at May 10, 2004 at 06:09 PM

I think the Edsel's failure had more to do with its design faults than its name.

And even the letter-number combo couldn't save the Leyland P76, which has gone down as one of Australia's great lemons.

But my all-time favourite car name has to be the Nissan Cedric.

Posted by: The Mongrel at May 10, 2004 at 06:21 PM

Nope, the best is still the Mitsubishi Starion. Legend states that this name came about because of the Japanses execs mispronouncing the word 'stallion'.

Though it was denied by the company, when you consider the Mitsubishi Colt, as well as the desire to play off the legendary Mustang name, it appears quite believable.

They did try and give an explantion of what starion meant (combo of 'star' and 'orion'), but it was wholly unconvincing.

Snopes has the story listed as 'undertermined'.

Posted by: attila at May 10, 2004 at 07:16 PM

The Koreans have been coming up with some pretty wacky car names lately, too. Such as the Leganza, which sounds like a slang word for "breast." Then there's the Rexton, apparently inspired by a 1970s male porn star.

And finally, the Atos, the only car on earth named for an anonymous blogger.

Posted by: vaara at May 10, 2004 at 07:41 PM

Utopian Turtletop - cool.

List of painfully stupid car names.

Posted by: CurrencyLad at May 10, 2004 at 09:21 PM

I'd say the Nissan Prairie was the most baffling name for a car,although the RX-7 is called the Savannah in Japan so maybe they find grassland ecosystems appealing for some reason.

The Nimbus was rather intriguing too, I assume it was meant to be an amalgym of nimble and bus, but it suggests fluffy clouds instead.

As for Edsel one Freudian theory for its failure contends that the shape of the grille subconsciously spooked men because it looked like a big vagina.

Posted by: C Valentine at May 10, 2004 at 10:29 PM

As for Edsel one Freudian theory for its failure contends that the shape of the grille subconsciously spooked men because it looked like a big vagina.

Umm, wouldn't that lead to record sales?

Posted by: R C Dean at May 11, 2004 at 01:22 AM

Oh, heck, I'd buy something called a Silver Sword. If nothing else, the hood ornament orter be just the ticket for pedestrians and bicycling Australian journalists...

Posted by: Richard McEnroe at May 11, 2004 at 01:32 AM

For some reason Ford is compelled to name their SUV's beginning with E.

Excursion (now defunct)

I never understood the Nissan Bluebird. That's as lame as it gets.

Posted by: Kevin at May 11, 2004 at 03:18 AM

R C Dean: I think most of those guys wanted small vaginas.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at May 11, 2004 at 03:52 AM


Anything that could take my silver Sword

Posted by: Crazy at May 11, 2004 at 05:14 AM