Even in its lower, SE trim level, the Ford Escape is a handsome SUV — if you prefer the Fiesta and Focus design language over the language seen on the Explorer and Edge. Although my impression is positive overall, I couldn't get past the gray trim along the wheel arches, which is a bit of a blight. This element isn't exclusive to the Escape, but for some reason it sticks out here, perhaps because the conspicuous sonar sensor for the optional active park assist calls attention to it.
The interior is a mixed bag. There are a lot of soft surfaces, and the upholstery is high quality in the various Escape Titanium trim show cars. Ford's leather seats don't always come across well, but here the various layers and accent stitching work well. The rough-hewn cloth upholstery on another show car also works.
Less impressive is some of the plastic on the dash and center console. On the SE trim level, it's the kind of glittery gray finish we've criticized in the Honda Civic. (It also appears sparingly in the new Honda CR-V.) In the Titanium, it's a solid gloss gray that's better but still uninspiring. The standard interface recalls those of the Fiesta and Focus -- many unlabeled buttons on the dashboard and steering wheel that aren't the easiest to learn. The Escape optionally incorporates the controversial MyFord Touch system, but thankfully Ford says the touch-screen aspects have been improved, and the controls on this model include more physical buttons than the most extreme execution on the Taurus.
The spaciousness is good for this vehicle class. The backseat has lots of headroom, and the legroom is workable, if snug, even when the front seats are moved fully back. The backseat doesn't adjust forward and back, though the backrests do recline.
As advertised, the backseat's head restraints fold at the push of a button, allowing the backrests to fold flat when you pull a separate lever. Pretty simple, though the 2012 CR-V just a few paces away has reduced this procedure to a single step. (It's hard to keep up in this market.)
The cargo floor is continuous once the backseat is folded, and Ford optionally provides a two-position cargo floor. It's simply a second ledge that allows the floor panel to rest a few inches below the level of the folded seats. You probably wouldn't want it there all the time, like when you're sliding something like furniture in, but it allows you to eke a little more height and volume out of the cargo area when you need it.
Getting at the cargo area is the most entertaining aspect if you option the hands-free power liftgate, aka the hokey-pokey feature. If you have the key fob on you, you can stick your foot under the bumper and shake it all about. The liftgate opens. That's what it's all about.