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Ford Escape
Sticker price: $20,435 - $27,670
AOL 'market price': $19,538 - $25,681
Mileage: 28 mpg Hwy, 22 mpg City
IIHS Top Safety Pick: Yes

Ford has a way of introducing new or redesigned vehicles, but waiting to give them new engines or transmissions that really put them over the top.

Case in point: the 2009 Ford Escape. New engines and transmissions have made the new model really enjoyable to drive. Despite its truckish looks, it handles nicely on the road.

And the new 4-cylinder offers plenty of power while delivering good fuel economy. (In this bunch, the Escape ties the Rav4 as the most efficient. And we're not talking about the hybrid Escape here, either.) The engine is distressingly noisy when pushed, though.

While it doesn't offer third-row seats like the Rav4, the Escape's tall, boxy style maximizes its SUV utility. Seat comfort, particularly in the front, is a weak point, though.

The Escape's "Top Safety Pick" award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also applies to the closely related Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute as well as to hybrid versions of all three. Buyers also get the benefit of Ford's quality turnaround. Ford cars and crossovers are now as reliable as any on market, including Toyota's and Honda's.

NEXT: Volkswagen Tiguan

Last updated February 02 2009: 9:20 AM ET
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