Ford Escape is the best-selling of all the small, affordable sport-utilities, and it's a solid choice among these so-called cute utes. The Escape offers agile handling, a smooth ride, and comfortable seating for four average Americans. It also offers brisk acceleration when equipped with the optional V6 engine. It's compact but practical. Folding down the rear seats reveals a flat, moderately sized cargo area. Best of all, its prices are relatively low, up only an average of 1 percent over 2004 prices. For 2005, Escape has a fresh new face, new headlamps, and a brightened interior. The new base 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is a big improvement over the old 2.0-liter, and it's available with an automatic transmission for the first time, a benefit of its increased power. The 2005 Escape offers a fully automatic four-wheel drive option that operates transparently in the background. The standard manual transmission is new, with lighter shifting efforts and shorter throws. And a revised suspension improves the ride. But the biggest news is that the Escape Hybrid has finally arrived, using a special version of the 2.3-liter gas engine teamed with an electric motor. It's designed to deliver quick response while delivering excellent fuel economy.