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2014 Ford Escape SE 1.6: Quick Drive

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Many American families are skipping over mid-size sedans in favor of compact crossovers. And while it only takes some crawling around the interior of these models—and some weekend errands—to ascertain why, there’s an inconvenient truth about them: Many of these smaller utility vehicles just aren’t very enjoyable to drive.

As we recently found in a weeklong drive, the front-wheel-drive version of the 2014 Ford Escape SE not only looks a bit more like a tall, sporty hatchback but lives up to that spirit from the driver’s seat.

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It’s different than the rest of the Ford Escape lineup, too. We’ve driven several versions of the latest Escape with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and all-wheel drive, but there was something very different about how this front-wheel-drive 2014 Ford Escape SE rode, drove, and maneuvered.

Feels perky, nimble…and a lot lighter than it is

First off, the FWD Escape SE has a curb weight of about 3,500 pounds, but it somehow feels a lot lighter. The ratios work very well to convey that perky feeling, too, with a low first gear making this model very sprightly from a standing start, nice evenly spaced intermediate gears that the transmission seems to make great sense of at partial throttle, and a nice tall sixth gear for relaxed cruising.

The smooth-idling, smooth-revving 1.6-liter EcoBoost four makes 178 hp, but its peak 184 pound-feet arrive at just 2,500 rpm; it runs on regular-grade gas, and there’s really no lag to speak of provided you’re above the 2,000-rpm mark. Steering is nice and confidence-inspiring—it and feels as nicely weighted as that in the lighter, lower Focus.

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Thirstier than we anticipated

Unfortunately, the powertrain just didn’t deliver what we expected at the pump. Our Escape SE carried EPA fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg city, 32 highway; but over a week of driving and about 130 miles, we didn’t see anything close to it. Our trip-computer-indicated average of about 22 mpg fell well short of the 30-ish mpg we saw in a comparable week of driving in a base-engine Mazda CX-5 last year. Granted, the Escape does feel perkier.

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