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It's been around the block, for sure, but the 2012 Ford Escape isn't your average 11-year-old crossover vehicle. It's one of the best-selling of its kind, despite its age, thanks probably due to a trucklike appearance, a reasonable base price, an available Hybrid edition, and a good track record for safety and reliability.
It doesn't hurt that the Escape looks like a 7/8ths-scale Explorer--first-generation, of course. While the other compact crossovers whizzing around the car world range from truly cute utes to avant-garde pieces of sculpture, the Escape still looks like a utility vehicle, with tall windows, bluff corners, and a chromey grille that's pure vintage Nineties, if such a thing can exist. The blocky looks, in context, are an appealing counterpoint to all the jellybean-shaped crossovers introduced in the decade since it was new. The truckishness carries over inside, in a less great way: all the shapes read cleanly and simply, but they're clad in plastics that put durability over a quality look and feel. It's downright grainy in there, and looks especially low-rent in lighter colors.
Some Escapes are greener than others. For those who want to live up the promise of the SUV body, there's a V-6 with enough thrust to carry a full load of people and stuff. That's not so much the case with the base four-cylinder; they're fine as solo commuter cars, and capable and refined enough for that kind of use. In either version, the six-speed automatic's up to the task, with very smooth shifting extracting better fuel economy from these engines than they've produced in the past. The Escape Hybrid is our choice above all, thanks to a gas-electric drivetrain that can cruise along quietly at highway speeds, weaving together battery and combustion power, trimming fuel consumption to 34/31 mpg in front-drive versions.
On any version, the Escape's handling isn't bad, but it shows how much automakers have learned about softening up ride and sharpening up handling in crossovers in the 11 years since the Escape took its first bow. The Escape feels tall, and body roll is a big part of its M.O. It also has more ride harshness than some more suave crossovers; we'd pass on four-wheel-drive versions for their comparatively stiff ride as a result.
The Escape's upright body grants it decent headroom, even though it has a relatively high floor. It could use a little more leg room so four adults can sit in real comfort, but the cargo area's pretty sizable, and the rear seats fold down almost all the way to boost storage capacity.The Escape is no longer the safety standout it had been, at an earlier time when robust, car-based crossovers weren't the norm. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2011 Escape "good" ratings for front and side impact protection, but calls it "marginal" in its new roof-crush test. And in the new federal tests, the Escape gets an iffy three stars out of five in all tests. The Escape has standard dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control with rollover protection. It also offers Ford's MyKey system, which gives parents control over the vehicle's top speed, volume levels and other features, but lacks features like a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors. Active park assist uses the Escape's electric power steering and sensors to guide the vehicle into a parallel parking spot, with the driver controlling braking.
Hybrids and gas Escape models 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. Leather seats, a sunroof, remote start, navigation, HD Radio and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system are major options.