Solid, sophisticated, and athletic, the fun-to-drive Ford Escape delivers agile handling and an impressively supple and composed ride. Its cabin is one of the quietest in the class and it feels solid and substantial, a pleasant change from some of the bantamweight-feeling competition. And a long list of desirable and high-tech options can make the Escape feel like a competitor for some luxury-branded small SUVs.
Three different engines are available. Basic Escapes have a 2.5-liter four-cylinder; all-wheel-drive is unavailable with this choice. Most Escapes will have one of two different EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinders, a 173-hp, 1.6-liter or a 231-hp, 2.0-liter. Both deliver responsive performance and the same 22 mpg overall; given the budget, we'd opt for the larger engine's added oomph and refinement.
The Escape is not without its shortcomings, however. Poor performance in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's small overlap test is a concern. Despite the marketing hype, Ford's EcoBoost engines don't provide the fuel economy or performance of some rivals with bigger, non-turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The cruising range is limited, the driving position is narrow, and the low rear seat lacks support. Controls improved considerably with the addition of Ford's optional Sync 3 infotainment system in 2016, replacing the ill-received MyFord Touch, but the basic radio and climate controls could still be simpler and better-designed.
Finally, the Escape is expensive for what you get. A typically equipped mid-level SE all-wheel-drive lacks some features, like a sunroof, that are commonly found on similar SUVs that cost less. A long list of features and options, including a hands-free tailgate and self-steering parking assist, can make the top-level Titanium trim a credible competitor for upscale small SUVs such as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.