The base Escape is a lot of vehicle for less than $21,000. It's cool that Ford offers a stick shift, but unfortunately it's not a very good one. The stiff, short-travel clutch pedal felt especially strange at the end of a workday during which I had driven our Four Seasons Volkswagen Jetta TDI (one of the smoothest-driving cars I've ever piloted). On the other hand, the clutch didn't feel nearly so weird compared with the Caterham R400 Superlight (which I also drove recently), which has a clutch-pedal travel of about two inches or so.
The Escape rides nicely and handles well, although the steering feels pretty numb. The very basic interior looks and feels better than those of earlier Escapes, but you won't be fooled into thinking you're in a $40,000 vehicle.
One major quibble: the first time I drove this Escape, I could not for the life of me get the rear hatch to open ... not with the fob, not with the door handle, nothing. Luckily, the problem had corrected itself by the time I actually had things to load into the cargo compartment.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor