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First impressions can ring true, but if you're betting the 2011 Ford Escape is a trucky, cramped fuel hog, you're all wrong. The Escape may look the part of a 7/8-scale Ford Explorer, but its car-based running gear makes it a crossover at heart--an aging heart, but at heart nonetheless.
Blocky looks and a functional cockpit are an appealing counterpoint to the wave of jellybean crossovers that have washed over the market in the ten years since the Escape was brand-new. The upright stance gives the ute decent headroom, despite the relatively high floor. It could use a little more leg room so four adults can sit in real comfort. We'd also wish for a better sense of quality in the Escape's plastics and upholstery, if we didn't know the entire vehicle is up for replacement in 2012.
The Escape comes in a few varieties, more green in balance than not. The V-6 option is probably the best fit with its visuals--it's blessed with enough thrust to carry a full load of people and stuff. The four-cylinder versions aren't quite so lucky, but as commuter cars, they're capable enough, refined enough, and more miserly than expected. Handling isn't bad, but the tall Escape has more body roll and a bit more ride harshness as you push it aggressively.
The Escape Hybrid is the pick of the litter, thanks to a gas-electric powertrain that can cruise along at highway speeds, weaving battery and combustion power together while it trims consumption to 34/31 mpg in front-drive versions. Hybrids and gas Escape alike can be fitted with the most up-to-date infotainment features in the class, which ends up being the Escape's saving grace: you can control the audio system and your phone through the SYNC system, plug in your iPod via USB to access your personal music library, or dial up some Sirius satellite radio for beamed-in radio--or traffic information, sports scores and weather reports.