After a week behind the wheel of the Limited edition of Ford’s small SUV, we couldn’t help but be a bit sad. The reason: If Ford had been making vehicles like these 20 years ago, the automaker wouldn’t be in tough straits now.

Our overall impression of the Escape was that of a pretty good deal for the money. Our test vehicle carried a 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder engine which gives it a respectable 20/28-mpg rating for city and highway driving. Despite its four-cylinder powerplant, the vehicle’s 171 hp lets it accelerate into traffic comfortably enough. This is thanks in part to a six-speed automatic tranny that is new for this year. And it is one of the quieter four cylinders we’ve heard.

The sticker on our review vehicle was $27,770 which included $3,190 in such luxuries as a navigation system, heated front seats and mirrors, and a reverse-sensing system. Though it is an expensive upgrade, the nav system does have pizzazz. It offers Sirius Travel Link which includes real-time weather radar maps, sports scores, and even movie listings. It also can find nearby gas stations and plot a course to them for you. Or you can use it to find a restaurant and, via a hook-up with your cell phone, dial in a reservation. Finally, it plays DVDs and will rip MP3s to its hard drive.

The Limited edition Escape includes dual-zone climate system, heated front seats, and a back-up warning consisting of a rear proximity sensor that beeps when too close to obstacles behind. Leathertrimmed seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel help give the interior a feel that is several grades above that of an SUV for the proletariat. Limited versions include a chrome grill and 16-in. machined aluminum wheels that give the small SUV a fancy big-truck look. And the Michelin tires are said to have low rolling resistance to boost fuel economy.

The ride and handling are pretty good for a small SUV. Ford added an antiroll bar to the multilink rear suspension in this year’s Escape. MacPherson struts and coil springs are in the front. Steering is electric power rack and pinion. All in all, we thought the Escape performed well on bumpy roads and gave a smooth ride, perhaps due in part to the electronic-roll stability control that comes standard.

Other features we liked on the Escape include its capless fuel tank, outside mirrors that are big but with no wind noise, and easy to manage tip-fold-flat rear seats. Safety conscious buyers should also note the Escape earned Good ratings for frontal offset and side impact crash tests at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

One last comment: Detroit automakers have recently come to claim their quality levels exceed those of well-known Japanese vehicle makers. Based on what we saw in the Escape, we would have to say these claims aren’t empty boasts.

— Leland Teschler