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2016 Ford Escape
The 2016 Ford Escape compact SUV generally gets high marks and a new communications and entertainment system.

Prices: $24,000-$31,500 (approximate)

The popular Ford Escape is sleeker than the previous-generation boxlike 2013 and earlier models and is a four-door hatchback with front- or available four-wheel drive (4WD).

Ford says there's seating for five, but the center of the rear seat is too stiff for a fifth occupant. It's best to use it for the fold-down center armrest, which contains two cupholders.

The interior is quiet, with supportive front seats, and  ice-blue gauge lighting for the speedometer and tachometer needles is attractive. The digital speedometer tucked in the middle of the regular analog  speedometer is a good touch.

The step-up to slide inside calls for a little extra effort, but occupants sit high and have a good view of surroundings in the quiet, nicely done interior.

However, rear door openings are a bit narrow, and door storage areas are best suited to holding a beverage. But there's  a roomy, covered console bin and nicely placed console cupholders.

The cargo area is impressive for a small SUV, and rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to greatly enlarge the cargo area. An optional power hatch is handy.

Engines are a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 168 horsepower, a 1.6-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine with 178 horsepower or a 2-liter turbo
EcoBoost with 240 horsepower and the highest torque rating.

My test Escape 4WD had the 2-liter EcoBoost engine. It was smooth, responsive and relatively quiet under hard acceleration. The 0-60 m.p.h. and highway passing times were a breeze.

The Escape is agile, and steering is precise. Brakes have a nice linear pedal action. My test Escape deftly handled curves, and the ride was supple on most roads. All that made it enjoyable to drive, although some roads brought out body "bounce."

The biggest news for the 2016 Escape is Ford's new SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system that replaces the heavily criticized MyFord Touch system. Ford says the new system brings "cutting edge" technology to the Escape.

The SYNC 3 gives drivers a new interface that uses capacitive touch screen technology similar to tablets and smart phones. The new One Box Search feature, with the available navigation system, allows users to look up points of interest  or enter addresses in much the way they use an Internet search engine.

The  SYNC 3 system is an improvement and worked well during my limited use of it.

But is this what's it's come to? Must we review a vehicle's technology rather rather than the vehicle?

My 2014 Escape was too new for Ford to release the complete price range or miles per gallon figures for all versions.. But, judging by 2015 Escape data, figure on a list price range of approximately $24,000-$31,500.

Estimated fuel economy is 21/23 miles per gallon in the city and 28/32 on highways. Only 87-octane fuel is needed for all engines, although 91-plus octane is recommended for the 1.6-liter EcoBoost.

Power flows through a six-speed automatic transmission. It's smooth, but one must use an awkward toggle switch on the side of the shifter to allow manual shifting. Toggle switches would be an improvement here.

 A Ford info sheet for my test top-line Escape SE 4WD model listed  at  $27,400, but options including the 240-horsepower EcoBoost engine ($1,195), power tailgate ($495), navigation system ($795) and Chrome Package ($1,445) gave a bottom line price of $33,095, including an $895 freight charge.

The Chrome Package, offered only for the SE, has items including chrome door handles, side-mirror "skullcaps, roof rails, leather-accented seats and 19-inch wheels--up from from the Escape's standard 17-inch wheels.

Standard SE equipment includes air conditioning, power driver's seat, tilt wheel with cruise and audio controls, AM/FM/CD with MP3, power locks,  windows and mirrors, halogen headlights, remote keyless entry, rearview camera and a 60/40 split rear seat.

Safety items include a reverse sensing system and perimeter alarm, which I found helpful in tight parking spaces. Air bags include one for the driver's knee.

The Escape naturally gets a sales boost because it's in the hot small SUV/crossover market, but it must continue to be above-average to match or beat its competition.