That's what I did, driving from Cleveland to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in time for the ‘500' time trials, then on to St. Louis, and home again. Returning from a 1,300-mile trip reasonably refreshed says something positive about Escape's CQ.

Turns out the Escape is a lot of vehicle for a small SUV (103-in. wheelbase). Acceleration, however, is mediocre (0 to 60 mph in 10 sec), courtesy of the 3.0-liter Duratec V6 and 4-speed automatic transmission. Maybe Ford should have shifted from four speeds to five. And EPA-estimated gas mileage of 17/22 (city/hwy) is less than stellar on the 4WD model.

Comfortable leather-trimmed buckets, intuitively located (how ever bland) controls, and a good view of the road make driving a comfortable, if not exhilarating, experience. Of course, the ride is not as smooth as a sedan's, but when you hit a pothole you don't have to check to see if you've lost any fillings. Handling and braking are satisfactory. And as SUVs go, this one's easy on the eyes.

This year's new look borrows from the recently redesigned Edge and Expedition. But the chassis and powertrain are virtually identical to last year's version. The new grill is more aggressive; the beltline and hood are higher; and the headlamps are Edge inspired. And Escape comes with flip-up glass in the tailgate, fog lamps, 60/40 (tip/fold flat) rear seats, CD/MP3 player, power 6-way drivers seat, a/c, speed control/tilt wheel, intelligent 4WD, 4-wheel independent suspension, electronic power-assist steering, and automatic headlamps. For safety, side and dual front airbags, Advancetrac with roll stability control, 4-wheel ABS, Securilock Pass anti-theft, and tire-pressure monitoring are all standard.

And because the manufacturers like to spoil us guys in the press (and why shouldn't they?), ours sported 17-in chrome-clad wheels ($695), six months of satellite radio service ($195), leather comfort package ($695), and a so-called convenience group: Class II tow package and console compartments for two pairs of sunglasses ($345). Another $695 buys an in-dash 6-CD player. Those amenities, and destination delivery charge ($665), bump the base of $23,630 to $27,215.

I see some bumpy roads ahead in Ford's drive to maintain its lead in this market segment.

— Patrick Mahoney