Since its introduction, the Ford Escape has been one of America's best-selling small SUVs. Considering how many other vehicles are available in this segment (many of them well established before the Escape's debut), this may come as a bit of a surprise. But Ford has a keen knack for designing SUVs that appeal to a wide range of buyers.

With the original Escape, Ford successfully combined the styling and four-wheel-drive capability of a traditional SUV with the size, practicality and driving characteristics of a midsize car. For the urban dweller in need of something comfortable, versatile, fun to drive and capable of doing some light-duty off-roading or towing, it fit the bill perfectly. Of course, the Escape's low price certainly boosted its appeal as well.

Although it received a significant freshening for 2008 that brought notable improvements to the interior, the Escape soldiered on with its original platform until 2013's complete redesign. The latter rebirth vaulted the Escape toward the front of the compact crossover class, as it offers an appealing combination of styling, performance, fuel efficiency, features and comfort. Prior to that overhaul, however, many rival compact SUVs offered more refinement as well as a more rewarding driving experience.

Current Ford Escape

Fully redesigned for 2013, the current Ford Escape stands as one of the top entries in the very competitive compact crossover segment. Sharing its basic platform with the highly regarded Focus, the newest Escape boasts a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase and a 1.3-inch increase in width over the previous version, which translates into a roomier cabin.

That cabin boasts higher-quality materials and a second-row seat that's much easier to fold down compared to before. Loading cargo is further eased by the available "hands-free" power liftgate that opens when one sweeps their foot below the rear bumper. The Escape also features Ford's Sync and MyFord Touch systems that minimize button clutter via voice commands and a large center touchscreen.

There are four trim levels: S, SE, SEL and Titanium. The S comes with full power accessories, air-conditioning and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. Highlights of the SE include a turbocharged engine, keyless entry keypad, a 4-inch multifunction screen, the Sync voice control system, reclining rear seats and satellite radio. The SEL adds one-touch up/down for all windows, the MyFord Touch electronics interface, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, heated front seats and an upgraded sound system. Springing for the Titanium adds a more powerful turbocharged engine, 19-inch wheels, remote start, keyless ignition/entry, upgraded leather and a Sony audio system.

Many of the higher trims' features are available on the lower trims, while other options include a power panoramic sunroof, a power liftgate, a navigation system and a Parking Technology package (with automated parallel-parking assist, front and rear parking sensors and a rearview camera).

Under the hood is a choice of three engines, all matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. One is the carryover 168-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, while the others are turbocharged: a 1.6-liter, 178-hp four-cylinder and a 2.0-liter, 240-hp four-cylinder engine. The 1.6 flies the fuel-sipper flag (there is no longer an Escape Hybrid) while the 2.0 offers performance on par with the old V6 along with higher fuel economy.

Underway, the Escape impressed our staff with its well-rounded road manners. The 2.5 and 1.6 engines provide adequate thrust, while the 2.0 is downright spirited. The latter flattens hills with less effort than the other two and is quieter and smoother to boot. The Escape's body roll is minimal while tackling a winding road and the ride, though on the firm side (especially in the Titanium trim with its larger wheels) is compliant enough to take the edge off the bumps and ruts of poorly maintained city streets. Downsides to the new Escape include an unexpectedly high price when fitted with options and the MyFord Touch interface, which is finicky to use.

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