In March we drove the Ford Escape and five other compact SUVs on an 800-mile road trip from Southern California to Phoenix. On a detour that took us into the mountains rising sharply from the desert floor around Palm Springs, the stylish Escape proved to be the most fun to drive of the bunch (a group that didn't include the other fun compact SUV, the Mazda CX-5). The 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine pulled the Ford up the mountain with ease and the suspension played along brilliantly. While better steering feel isn't something we usually wish for in a compact SUV, in this case it would have made a nice drive even nicer.
But who cares, right? The appeal of the compact SUV is not in its corner-carving prowess but in its cargo versatility, elevated seating position and, for some buyers, extra ground clearance and available all-wheel drive. The Ford Escape checks all of those boxes, but as one of the smallest of the small SUVs it's among the least accommodating. Most of its competitors offer more passenger room, more cargo room and, as spotlighted on our road trip, more places for little things like phones, drinks and gum. The Escape still qualifies as a versatile compact SUV, it's just not quite as versatile as most of the others.
Other notes from our 2014 Compact SUV Comparison Test: The Escape's big panoramic moonroof is exceptionally quiet when wide open at highway speeds, we suffered a few expected annoyances with Ford Sync when playing music off the phone (but we encountered some sort of hiccup with most of the systems), and the sporty seats are tighter than the others but ultimately proved comfortable.
The Ford Escape won't serve every compact SUV shopper's needs, but others won't find anything better.
Ready to build and price your own? Or would you first like to hear what Escape owners have to say? Our powerful Ford Escape Editors' Page is your best next stop.