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Like most modern crossovers, the 2015 Ford Escape is essentially a tall wagon—a sporty one, at that. It's rakish, sporty, and contemporary, and it stands as quite an about-face from what it was a few model years ago, when it made the transition from a much boxier form factor.
The Escape carries over to 2015 with only a few minor changes, and versus rivals that include the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, and many others, it continues to look (and drive) in a sportier, more car-like way, with crisp handling, strong, responsive powertrains, and reasonably good passenger space.
While the Escape's predecessor aped the larger Explorer in many ways, the current Escape is far more car-like—more like an upright, utility-vehicle version of the Focus on which it's based, really. On the outside, the 2015 Escape has an aggressive stance and broadly arched profile; inside, it's sporty, almost cockpit-like.
That look fits the decidedly sporty road manners of the 2015 Ford Escape. Although the Mazda CX-5 is a worthy rival, we can't think of any other compact crossover that comes close in offering such crisp, responsive steering, responsive handling, and great body control.
Add to that plenty of choices for what's under the hood. At the base level you can get a well-proven 2.5-liter four that's meant for fleets but actually smooth and well-suited for around-town duty. The mainstream choice of the lineup is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers straight-line acceleration about on par with the 2.5 (or those Honda and Toyota rivals) but its confident, torquey character thanks to the turbo setup mean that it doesn't need to downshift as frequently on the highway, from our experience. Those who want the most performance should head to the 240-hp, 2.0-liter EcoBoost version, which can get to 60 mph in less than eight seconds and has the powertrain punch to really make the most of the Escape's handling. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission for the lineup, and it works just fine, with a manual toggle on the shift knob.
The Escape definitely rides firm, but it's not over-the-top harsh. Across the lineup you'll find interior appointments that are on par with the best in this class, and better than most other models in this price range. Stylistically, not everyone will warm to the swoopy, plasticky interior treatment, which tends to rob the interior of space (for those in the front seats). Otherwise, considering the sleek exterior, the Escape allows a generous amount of interior space. Front seats are slim and rather firm, and there's just enough space for adults—just two of them, realistically, due to width—in back. The tall body and flat cargo floor open up to loads of cargo space, and the rear seatback flips its own headrests down for simple, one-motion folding. And with a clever power-hatch option, you can simply swing your foot under the bumper to open it.
The 2015 Ford Escape includes a standard rearview camera system, which aids visibility when parking; otherwise its safety feature set is pretty typical for the class. It's earned mostly top-tier scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), although it earned an embarrassing (and perhaps worrisome) 'poor' result in the small overlap frontal test. And in federal crash tests, it's earned four-star overall ratings (with five stars for side impact).
Noteworthy features offered in the Escape include the complex (but improved) MyFord Touch; a navigation system; HD and satellite radio; Bluetooth with audio streaming; pushbutton start; leather seating; all-wheel drive, with or without a 3,500-pound-rated towing package; and a panoramic sunroof. The top Escape Titanium remains the top model in the lineup and, while it offers a lot of features, can approach the $40k mark, fully loaded. A Titanium Technology Package adds HID Headlamps, a blind-spot system, park assist, and rain-sensing wipers.
The only things keeping the Escape from being at the top of our list in its class is its real-world gas mileage (we've seen less than EPA Combined ratings in every test drive, even in gentle conditions), and the overly complex infotainment interface. The Escape might not feel quite as roomy as some models in this class, like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, either. But many parents will find these things trivial after zipping around town in the Escape. It’s a versatile crossover that handles like a small car—and possibly even better than that mid-size sedan—and it's too good in that respect not to keep on the shortlist.