The Escape come in three different powertrain flavors--four-cylinder, V-6, and Hybrid--and for those who want to live up the promise of the SUV body, the 240-hp V-6 is the pick as it has 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.
With the 171-horsepower four-cylinder on board, the Escape struggles to hit 60 mph in about nine seconds, if we're splitting the difference between Ford's conservative estimates and those from the enthusiast mags. The manual transmission isn't particularly pleasing to row, according to some reviewers; we've been unable to track down a test vehicle in this configuration. But 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. It feels more refined and somewhat more responsive than base four-cylinder versions as well. It can run only on electric power up to about 25 mph, and with that in mind and the energy-consumption screen dialed up on its dash, getting the Escape into its highest state of efficiency can become an interesting driving game, for the true geeks among us.
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 dozen 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.