All the pieces of Ford's global strategy come together in the 2013 Ford Escape crossover SUV.
Engineered and designed to appeal to customers in Europe, China and every part of America, the Escape's advanced features and futuristic styling set it apart from other small SUVs.
Prices for the 2013 Escape start at $22,470 for a front-wheel drive S model with a 168-horsepower 2.5-liter engine and front-wheel drive. All Escapes have a six-speed automatic transmission.
A 178-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection and turbocharging -- the features Ford calls EcoBoost -- powers the SE model, which goes for $22,470 in front-wheel drive and $25,070 with all-wheel drive.
Despite having more horsepower and torque than the 2.5-liter engine, the 1.6-liter is the Escape's most fuel-efficient powerplant. That combination of power and fuel efficiency is the reason Ford makes a big deal out of EcoBoost.
A brawny 240-horsepower 2.0-liter is an option on the SE. Escapes with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder compete with other automakers' V6 small SUVs.
Escape SEL models add features, offer the 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter engines and start at $27,870 for front-drive and $29,620 with AWD.
The top Titanium model only comes with the 2.0-liter. Front-drive models start at $30,370. AWD raises the base price to $32,120. All prices exclude destination charges.
I tested a very well-equipped Escape Titanium with all-wheel drive, a navigation system, parking sensors, automatic parallel parking and more. It cost $34,805. That's a hefty price for a small SUV from a mainstream brand, although the Escape offers some features luxury models can't match.
The Escape competes with crossover SUVs like the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue and Murano, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
The Escape's prices are comparable to similarly equipped versions of those models.
The Escape Titanium I drove accelerated powerfully at all engine speeds thanks to 270 pound-feet of torque that are available from just 3,000 rpm.
The Escape also handles well. With a chassis based on Ford's sporty Focus compact car, the SUV tackles curves eagerly.
A couple of electronic aids modulate the brakes inconspicuously to keep the Escape stable and secure and to provide maximum grip and acceleration when driving fast on twisty roads.
The AWD 2.0-liter Escape I tested scored 21 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway and 24 combined in government tests. That's better than V6 versions of the Equinox, Terrain, Santa Fe, Murano and RAV4.
The 2.0-liter engine also produces more torque at lower engine speeds than those vehicles' V6s.
While Escapes with the 2.0-liter engine will compete with V-6s, the 1.6-liter goes after other models' fuel-economy leaders.
A brief drive in an AWD 1.6-liter Escape convinced me the engine has more than enough muscle for most drivers. Its 22 city/30 highway/25 mpg combined fuel economy rating compares well with all four-cylinder small crossovers except the extremely efficient new Mazda CX-5.
The two EcoBoost engines need premium gasoline to generate maximum horsepower, but they hit the window-sticker fuel economy figures with less-expensive regular. Using regular will probably reduce the 2.0- and 1.6-liter engines' horsepower about 3 percent, to around 232 and 173, respectively. Most drivers will never notice the difference.
The Escape's interior provides plenty of space for passengers and cargo. It's wrapped in soft and appealing materials, including optional leather seats in the car I tested.
The gauges and controls are easy to read and use. The Escape has the best execution yet of the MyFord Touch control layout, thanks to conventional buttons and dials for basic audio and climate controls. The touch screen and steering-wheel controls also work well. Ford's Sync voice-recognition system remains one of the best.
The center console could use a bit more storage. The deep bin under the armrest would benefit from a shelf or drawer so you don't have to dig around for items you bring in and out of the car frequently, like phones and glasses.
A unique power tailgate opens and closes if you stick your foot under the rear bumper, so you can load and unload the vehicle even when your hands are full and you can't use the key fob.
The Escape's styling is a radical break from the previous model's boxy, old-style SUV looks.
The sleek profile looks at home on European roads, where Ford will sell the vehicle as the Kuga. The deep front bumper gives the vehicle a slightly jowly look. It's unusually low to reduce aerodynamic drag under the body and boost fuel economy.
That fuel economy along with its features, performance and looks move the 2013 Ford Escape into the lead in the intensely competitive market for small SUVs.