A quick look at the roster of powertrains for the 2014 Ford Escape can lead to confusion, but let us help you here: While there's nearly a 75-horsepower spread between base versions and top turbo models, it's not as vast a difference as it might seem, and much of the lineup checks in with fuel economy in the same ball park.
When it was redesigned for last year the Escape was offered in four trim levels; but for 2014 that has been whittled down to three (with the loss of the SEL model). The base carryover 2.5-liter four-cylinder, coupled to the same six-speed automatic found in all other 2014 Escapes, comes fitted only with front-wheel drive; it makes 168 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, and an EPA-estimated 22/31 mpg, and it's a perfectly fine, agreeable combination. Only ten percent of Escapes will come with this engine--primarily fleet vehicles--Ford estimates, and the automaker still hasn't provided us with an extended drive of this version.
The Escape SE includes a 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine with direct injection. It spools up 178 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Performance is close to that with the base engine, but fuel-efficiency is better; the 1.6 get EPA ratings of 24/33 mpg, trouncing the non-turbo four.
At the top of the Escape lineup for performance is the 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four, putting out 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Performance here is much stronger than it is in much of the compact-crossover set; we'd liken it to the Kia Sportage SX or the Range Rover Evoque, yet with a little more refinement than either of those models. And it delivers 22/30 mpg.
Escapes shift power to the front or all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. It's mated well to the turbo engines, and the shift points strike a good balance between straight-line acceleration and gas mileage. Shift paddles are one thing that's sorely lacking; instead you get a +/- rocker switch on the shift lever and a sport-shift mode that doesn't quite live up to its name.
The 2014 Escape comes with front-wheel drive in nearly all of its forms, but if you're not in the Snow Belt you shouldn't think of all-wheel drive as necessary. A new layer of cornering sophistication comes with torque vectoring, which uses anti-lock braking to clamp an inside front wheel to tighten corners when slip is detected. With all-wheel drive (AWD) you get some added heft. In the Escape's case, the relatively simple AWD setup splits power between the front and rear wheels to shift power up to 100 percent to the end that still has a grip.
If there's clear evidence of a break from the Escape's boxy, utility-vehicle past, a blast along twisty roads is proof enough that this Escape's almost worthy of a new nameplate. You won't find trucky motions; instead there's a tightly damped ride, and weighty, fast steering that's not too overly blessed with feedback. It can feel too tautly strung at times, since the seats are no longer thickly padded, the Titanium's wheels and tires are big 19-inchers, and since there's almost no body flex to absorb ride impacts in the way the old Escape's doddering body structure used to soak up those things.