Pros: Looks better than 2004, feels solid/safe, decent gas mileage.
Cons: Gauge cluster ugly, stereo controls confusing, ultra-cheap floor mats, scary fuel gauge.
We purchased our XLT Escape at Galpin Ford in Los Angeles through a friend at the dealer and got the car for $200 over dealer cost + 3.9% financing. We didn't have to do the wheeling and dealing either just said hi and he showed us the computer monitor with all of the numbers...it's great to know a car dealer person!
This year's Escape fixes some design flaws, adds some new flaws, and updates the styling. First, the lower plastic-y panels around the outside of the car have some parts painted a lighter shade of gray making the car look more upscale (I know, it's just paint, but the designers got it right on this one). Speaking of paint we got the redfire metallic/pearl color which adds to the upscale look. The paint is a great deep color and not like the flat basic colors of the previous years. Also, the head lights and fog lights are now round. The headlights look much better than the 04 and earlier, adding to the upscale feeling and overall enhancing the look of the vehicle. Our car also came with the No Boundaries package which is basically a trailer hitch with 3500lb. towing capacity, folding roof rack with a wind deflector that says "Escape" (more about this later) and side steps along with bigger wheels and tires.
Inside, there's power everything with auto down driver window, 4 largish cup holders, and leather seats. The leather on the seats is so-so, but we got it for not much more (about $300) so it was kind of a freebie. The Escape no longer has the shifter on the steering column (yay!) and now has a center console that sits between the driver and passenger with the shifter there. Also on the center console is a large storage bin that we use for a tissue box, little notebook, and other stuff. New for this year is the full side curtain air bag system that complements the front air bags. This system is different than a basic side airbag that just protects side from hitting the door. This system blankets the entire window with a cushion of air in the event of an accident. The side curtain airbag was the sole reason the Escape got a "good" rating in side impact crash tests. While we hope never to use these things, it's good to know they're in the Escape. There are a few minor quibbles about the interior:
1) Gauges. While outside of the car looks more upscale, the gauges definitely was where the penny pinching shines through. They look like they came out of the Ford Focus reject bin. The 2004 gauges, while not great, are much better than the 2005.
2) Stereo controls. The sound of the premium single CD/tape player audio system is pretty good and confirms my hunch that the Americans still have a one-up on the Japanese as far as the boomin'-system factor goes (I also own an Acura RSX Type-S with the factory subwoofer system that sounds like a sleeping mouse compared to the Escape's stereo). That said, what bugs me about the Escape's stereo is the seemingly random placement of the buttons on the front of the stereo. There is almost no pattern or logic to the way the controls are placed. It's not that big of a deal since we're going to upgrade the stereo eventually, but we've had the car for about 6 weeks now and I still have trouble figuring out the stereo while driving.
3) Floor mats: absolutely cheesy. They feel like felt from bad pool table. Ford should have included some nice all weather rubber mats (like the ones we bought for the car a week after buying it).
4) Fuel gauge: This thing freaked me out when I first bought the car. I though, "holy cow, this thing eats gas!" It just so happens that the first 3/4 of the gas gauge goes rather quickly (about only 1/2 of the tank) and then the last 1/4 of the gauge represents the last half of the tank. It's scary at first to think that the gas stations are going to grab you by the ankles and shake you down for every penny, but after you get used to it, the car actually gets decent mileage.
Other neat stuff about the car: the rear hatch can be opened in two ways: Just the window or the whole thing. The "Just the Window" feature is great for pulling a jacket out of the back without having to open the whole trunk hatch. The back seats fold completely flat. It's not quite as innovative as the folding flat seats of the Toyota Matrix, but it gets the job done. Basically, you pull out the front of the rear seat and stand it up against the back of the front seats. Then you remove the headrests from the back of the seats and fold the backs down. It's a neat feature to have when you have to carry lots of junk. There's also a trunk cover that can be retracted so you can hide your stuff when parked at the market or something. The remote door lock feature is the least annoying of any car that I've owned so far. You just push the button once and it locks. The exterior lights give a quick flash and the interior lights slowly fade away to let you know that the doors have locked..no beep! If you're not sure, you can hit the "lock" button again and the horn will give a quick beep. Unlock is similarly as quiet...just push the button and the driver door unlocks. The interior lights fade back up too...very cool effect. If you hit the "unlock" button again, the other doors including the rear hatch unlock.
Now about the No Boundaries roof rack: The No Boundaries roof rack was something we wanted to go without to save cost (the package retails for about $1000), but since our friend at the dealer gave it too us for no cost, it was a win-win situation. The rear bar of the rack is actually a twist lever. You can twist it and pull out the inner frame of the rack past the back of the car. The rack then folds down over the rear hatch and locks to the rear bumper (which has special hooks built in for the rack). You can then load some bicycles with relative ease (imagine trying to load a bicycle on top of an SUV). The whole system is well designed and works great. Also the silverly, tubular rack looks great on top of the car when not in use (the alternative are the basic black beams that are humdrum, but are functional).
So far we've taken one 4 hour trip with 5 people in the car and the Escape was a stellar performer. It held all of our stuff and people comfortably. We also found on this trip that while the book doesn't say you have to use premium gasoline, we tried it and got much better gas mileage than with the cheap or mid-grade gas.
We also found the car to have pretty good performance even when loaded down with stuff...it's no sports car, but it'll get you and your stuff home.