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2004 Ford Escape Compact Sport Utility Vehicle

Description: Compact Sport Utility Vehicle
Base MSRP Range: $18,710-$26,240
Invoice Price Range: $17,391-$24,243

Ford's crossover sport utility foregoes the usual body-on-frame structure of a truck-based SUV in favor of a monocoque platform which unites chassis and body in a cohesive unit that's extremely rigid in motion. Escape manages to combine the optimum aspects of a car and a truck.

The easy-to-handle driving traits and low seat position for easy entry mimic a conventional four-door sedan, but the rugged exterior styling and five-door boxy conformation work like a wagon, while an optional AWD system delivers traction on paved roads as well as dirt trails. Power comes from a 201-horse 3.0-liter V6 with four-speed automatic or a 2.0-liter four-pack that runs to 127 hp with manual five-speed shifter.

Trim levels amount to XLS, XLT and deluxe Limited. Several packages are new, such as the Limited Luxury Comfort Package -- with premium leather upholstery, a reverse sensing device, heated side-view mirrors and MACH audio kit -- and the Base Limited with monochromatic treatment outside and leather seats inside plus a CD changer in the dash for six discs.

Ford will also offer Escape in a new hybrid issue for 2004 labeled, logically, Escape Hybrid. In addition to a gas-fired engine, this wagon gets a 300-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery and operates on either gas or battery power to achieve in-town fuel economy figures in the range of 40 mpg.