2013 Ford Escape 4WD Titanium: Accolades from many corners, just not this one.
Starting price: $30,370 for the Titanium, $22,470 for a basic front-wheel-drive model. (I tested a prototype, so a window sticker was unavailable.)
Marketer's pitch: "The smarter way to get there."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com calls it "a winner in the segment of small crossover utility vehicles thanks to athletic driving dynamics, an inviting cabin and plenty of useful high-tech features."
Reality: Useful, versatile, and attractive, but the Escape didn't satisfy me as did the bare-bones Mazda CX-5 or the Kia Sportage.
First entry: I have to say I found the cabin on my tester a little overdone. It felt overdesigned, the trim seemed garish, and the position of the MyFord Touch screen didn't suit me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, so I note again that Edmunds.com called it "an inviting cabin." Maybe it's just me.
Pack it up, move 'em out: You'd think I'd be in a better mood, as that nest was emptying out when I had the Escape. It came to Driver's Seatland just in time for the return of Sturgis Kid 2.0 to college in Washington.
The Escape proved itself worthy, by swallowing a dorm fridge, foot locker, some crates, and a laundry basket and still leaving room for Sturgis Kid 4.0 in the back.
On the road again: The acceleration from the 2.0-liter in-line four is great, and probably enough to earn its accolades from other sources. The six-speed automatic transmission did its work without drawing attention to itself.
But I found the handling to be middling at best. This is where I'd steer buyers to the CX-5 or even the VW Tiguan, if they can take a little risk, reliability-wise.
Driver's Seat: The driving position seemed a little odd. The accelerator sat fairly high in the foot well, requiring me to sit closer to the wheel than I might have liked to soothe my aching leg.
The seats were very bolstery, more than Mrs. Passenger Seat cared for. I found them comfortable but firm.
Distant control: The heater controls are very low and hard to read. The fan is operated by button rather than dial, making it even harder to find. So simply adjusting the AC means taking your eyes off the road for a while.
The heater vents are long, swoopy, and hard to direct. The open and close function is nice, though, and allows passengers to reduce or increase air volume.
Friends and stuff: Rear legroom is OK, but nothing to write home about. Passenger space is chummy for three.
A cubby in the armrest helps keep some items at hand. And while two cup holders keep your drinks steady, no dedicated phone holder came on the tester.
Night shift: Cabin lighting seemed dim. Lights in the four corners brighten the passenger areas but don't help with seeing in the center, where I think they are most needed.
Where am I? The MyFord Touch with Sirius and navigation operated better than previous incarnations. I had no issues with freeze-ups or blank screens.
But the navigation got lost several times. I'm accustomed to this happening in the hinterlands of Chester County, but in the Escape it started in D.C. north of Union Station and lasted almost into the area around Howard U. This is worse than I'd seen in any other vehicle, except the 2011 Ford Explorer.
It's nice having text messages read to me, though, especially when you ask Mrs. Passenger Seat to test it out and you get to listen to Ford Lady tell you in a disembodied voice how handsome and wonderful you are, without any of the sarcasm.
Fuel economy: The Escape showed 24 m.p.g. during my highway-heavy testing, which was a little worse than I would have expected. But it was a four-wheel-drive model. The Sportage hit 27 and the CX-5 31, both in front-wheel drive.
Where it's built: Louisville, Ky.
How it's built: The Escape is redesigned so Consumer Reports has no reliability rating on it yet. But the Focus on which it's based is less than average in this department.
In the end: The Escape has plenty of support from other sources, but it didn't strike me as outstanding. And the price goes up pretty quickly when adding options.
Now they tell me: In response to last week's review of the Infiniti JX35, a Nissan spokesman said turning off the smart cruise control is as easy as holding the cruise button for a few seconds.
Contact Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or email@example.com.