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ESCAPE HATCH: Ford’s impressive CUV looks sharp, performs great, earns record sales

2013 Ford Escape
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American car buyers are flocking to compact crossover sport-utilities.

Despite all the snow and cold in the eastern U.S., and the resultant overall auto-sales downturn in January, CUV sales have been able to maintain most of their traction while other categories suffered.

The segment attracts a wide swath of the vehicle-buying public, drawn to the vehicles’ maneuverable compact size, over-the-traffic vantage point, handy hatchback configuration, generously sized cabins and increasingly improving fuel economy.

Empty nesters, small families, dog owners, small-business people: All find useful and appealing features in the ever-expanding offerings.

Ford’s popular Escape, thoroughly redesigned for 2013, is a great leap forward from its aging predecessor, itself a strong seller. With its modern, edgy styling, much-improved performance and handling, and a cutting-edge interior with a full panoply of available amenities, the Escape is locked in a seesaw sales contest with arch rival Honda CR-V, with Toyota’s RAV4 not far behind.

Our top-drawer tester, a Titanium four-wheel-drive model, carried the most powerful of the three available engines: a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, twin-cam powerhouse with 240 sprightly horsepower and a generous 270 pound-feet of torque. Ford is right proud of its EcoBoost line of turbo motors, citing their power, and economy and driveability.

While 28 mpg highway might not seem all that great, opt for front-wheel drive and that figure jumps to 30. And unlike most turbos, Ford’s are more than happy to drink regular-grade fuel.

escapeinteriorOur tester did prove to be quick, smooth and eager, abetted by a beautifully smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.

The Escape rides and handles with a decidedly European feel. There’s a firmness that might be a tad off-putting to drivers accustomed to softer suspension settings, but the payback comes in sharp cornering and a confident sense of control.

Cabin comfort is excellent front and rear, as is visibility.

Go easy on options, though, or you’ll find yourself in the mid-$30s when it comes time to pay up.

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