Ford Escape
By: Frank Markus

We Like: Euro-chic styling and handling, turbo oomph.

We Don't Like: Hammer-down gas guzzling, rough-road rattles, fancy-pants price too big for its britches.

Ford's light, lively 2013 Escape was a heavy favorite going into this competition. It had already vanquished the CR-V and CX-5 in a comparison test on the strength of its sleek and fresh styling, astute packaging, and high feature content. (Options include self-parking and a hands-free power tailgate.) That comparo featured a 1.6-liter EcoBoost Escape, and the top-spec 2.0-liter turbo included here delighted us with its even sprightlier scoot and sharper handling. Against its competition, the Escape stands out as the enthusiast's choice. "Takes a nice set after the initial body roll; from then on it's all grip and grins," said boss-man Loh, adding, "So sporty, I wish it had paddles." Nobody loves the (better-than-nothing) manual-shifting toggle switch, and we wish the S mode included sport programming to hold lower gears while cornering, but driving dynamics might be the Escape's strongest selling point.

While the 2.0-liter AWD version scampered right up our rutted and sandy hill, the FWD 1.6 struggled more than other two-wheelers. Some blamed its Conti "Amateur" Contact tires. Others pointed to a traction control system that's buried in a Settings menu, making it hard to switch off. Both trucklets rattled and shook violently over bumps. "The NVH was shocking, as if body panels were about to start popping off," said Lieberman. (They didn't.)

A roomy cargo hold and rear seat and a 2000-pound towing capacity (even for the 1.6-liter) earned high points for performance of intended function. Where the Escape really fell down was in the efficiency and value categories. In our real-world looping, the tidy Escapes earned the fourth- and sixth-best fuel economy ratings of 17.7 and 16.2 mpg for the 1.6 and 2.0, respectively. (The gigantic Mercedes diesel managed 18.5 driven just as ardently.) With a 15.1-gallon tank and an overly conservative gauge, the Escapes were begging for fuel long before the other contenders. It seems EcoBoost is an either/or proposition, and we always opted for the Boost. On the value front, these well-equipped test cars fell short of our refinement expectations for vehicles straddling the $30,000 mark. So while we still believe the Escape to be the best vehicle in its class, it doesn't grab the Golden Calipers.

2013 Ford Escape Titanium
BASE PRICE $31,195
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/240-hp/270-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3791 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 105.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in
0-60 MPH 6.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.2 sec @ 88.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 123 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.3 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 160/120 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.82 lb/mile