Say you've bought into the whole downsized, smaller-footprint lifestyle, but you're just not patient enough to spend eight or nine painful seconds achieving highway speeds. Well, two of our mainstreamers can be had with sufficient juice to hit 60 mph in the sixes, with handling upgrades to keep you smiling when the streets turn serpentine. Ford offers its 2.0-liter, 240-hp, 270-lb-ft EcoBoost engine as a stand-alone $1095 option on SE and SEL models, but you have to pop for the top-shelf Titanium model to replicate the handling results the 19-inch wheels gave our all-wheel-drive test car. Ordering Subaru's 2.0-liter, 250-hp, 258-lb-ft flat-four turbo requires a step up to the XT model, which corrals a suite of related performance hardware into a $3000 upgrade. Which turbo CUV is best?

Ford's big EcoBoost engine represents an acceleration-performance bargain. If you take a base SE and add $1750 for all-wheel drive and $1095 for the 2.0-liter engine, you'll spend $28,810 -- an 11 percent price premium that improves weight-to-power by some 23 percent and boosts 0-60-mph on-ramp acceleration by 24 percent. That's pretty decent return on investment, and 3500-pound towing (best in class) gets thrown into the deal for the price of a $395 Class II hitch. The EPA reckons your fuel economy will drop by 11 percent, but our real-world mileage registered just 0.3 mpg less than the thirsty 1.6 front-driver's in 180 miles of freeway cruising and 250 back-road miles.

So the 2.0-liter is the logical engine of choice in an Escape, but remember that you'll have to spend another $2385 for the Titanium model to get the 19-inch footwear that helped our Escape trump the rest of the field by a half-second on our figure-eight course.

Numbers aren't everything, however, and on the back roads Kiino dinged the Escape for excessive roll and understeer in tight corners, while Jurnecka found it offered "less control, making the 2.0 feel a little clumsy." Others complained that the transmission's S mode still allowed decidedly unsporting mid-corner upshifts, and grumbled about the substitution of a +/- toggle on the shifter for proper paddles. We universally adore the Escape's exterior styling and innovative features such as the hands-free tailgate, but in the end, we had trouble swallowing the $34,735 as-tested price, given the "low-rent and gimmicky dash that reminds [Kiino] of Darth Vader's helmet."

If you're drag racing other CUVs, the Forester XT trips the lights 0.4 second ahead of the Escape, going 7 mph faster. It's also a pretty good performance bargain: The XT gear adds 12 percent to the price and boosts 0-60 performance by 31 percent. Sure, towing stays at 1500 pounds, and EPA combined fuel economy drops by 7 percent relative to the 2.5-liter Forester, but our real-world mpg was identical to the Escape 2.0's (20.8 mpg). And while the Escape wins a figure-eight race, our panelists preferred the Subie's twisty-road dynamics. "Suspension's a little more buttoned-down; steering feels solid. All around a little more fun to drive," declared Evans. "Imparts a confidence-inspiring feel," concurred Kiino. "Holy mid-range pull, Batman!" exclaimed Nate "Robin" Martinez.

Clearly, Subaru's efforts paid off in upsizing the wheels, tires, and brakes; tweaking the springs, dampers, and roll rate; reinforcing the rear suspension cradle; and giving the CVT three programmable settings -- I for "intelligent" (optimizing fuel economy), S for peak wide-open-throttle acceleration with six artificial gear ratios to paddle through, and S# for sharper throttle response and sportier feeling paddle shifts through eight ratios.

On the downside, Subie's glitchy telematics/connectivity system, controlled either by a low-res Atari-era touch screen or cumbersome voice recognition, is pathetic compared with Ford's second-gen Sync. The Aha radio app is inferior to Pandora and the nav-traffic rerouting system cries wolf every 90 seconds in L.A. traffic, so you end up stumbling into real jams. But at the end of three days, all six of our testers proclaimed the Subaru the high- zoot cute-ute they'd sooner park in their garages.


2013 Ford Escape Titanium 2014 Subaru Forester XT
BASE PRICE $31,195 $32,995
PRICE AS TESTED $34,735 $36,220
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/240-hp/270-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 2.0L/250-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve flat-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic Cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3791 lb (57/43%) 3663 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 105.9 in 103.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in 180.9 x 70.7 x 66.4 in
0-60 MPH 6.8 sec 6.2 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.2 sec @ 88.8 mph 14.8 sec @ 95.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 123 ft 111 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.85 g (avg) 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.3 sec @ 0.60 g (avg) 27.8 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 21/28 mpg 23/28 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 160/120 kW-hrs/100 mi 147/120 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.82 lb/mi 0.78 lb/mi
MT FUEL ECONOMY 20.8 mpg 20.8 mpg