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When I took delivery last week of a much-anticipated contender in the mini-SUV category, the Ford Escape, I just knew it would be a huge hit with my wife and teenage daughters. It was painted in that chromium yellow extrovert color that's such a rage at the moment. It had this rounded, tailored exterior, which was tastefully two-tone with gray plastic underpanels. I liked the looks right off the bat, so I knew they'd rave over it.
After all, it's the female "demo"—especially the teen and college set—that's made such a phenom out of these micro sport/utes. Toyota got the ball rolling years ago with the RAV4 based on its Corolla econobox. Then Honda showed up with its Civic-based CR-V. Chevy has Tracker; Suzuki has Vitara; Isuzu has Amigo; Nissan has Xterra.
For once, Ford, truck maven that it is, arrived late to the party. Never fear: The Ford Escape is here—in tandem, it must be said, with Mazda's forthcoming Tribute. Both are based on a shared platform that trace a sinuous pedigree back through the Mazda 626 sedans and the Ford Probe/Mazda MX6 coupes.
So I was surprised when I picked up my eldest child at volleyball practice, and she greeted my arrival...with nothing. No "Wow!" No "Cool!" No nothing.
Just the day before, virtually the entire volleyball team had swarmed the Nissan Xterra I was testing. Like Kubrick's jittery simians eyeing the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, they touched the Xterra everywhere with skittish reverence. "Uhmagod, no way!" they chirped. "An Xterra. This is so cool! Uhmagod." But the very next day, they scarcely noticed the Escape. If it had been a hologram, they'd have walked right through it.
I'm simply bamboozled. If you're pulling for the underdog—as I'm prone to do—you're bound to be sympathetic with the company-saving sales success of Nissan's down-'n'-dirty Xterra. It's a rugged looking, brute feeling, cabbed-over pickup truck whose premium price still hasn't shortened waiting lines at dealerships—the 2WD Xterra SE I drove cost $23,398 as tested; a 4WD version would cost $2000 more.