The third generation Ford Escape started production in the 2013 model year and rolls into the 2015 with few changes. It’s sold around the world, known as the Ford Kuga in Europe and indeed has a distinctively European design flair.

Our fully loaded Titanium model with its sunset metallic paint really looks striking with its aluminum accent fascia trim and black plastic rocker moldings. Its optioned 19” wheels at $595 while intricate and perhaps delicate in design really look at home in this rugged setting.

Also optioned here is the $1735 Titanium Technology package which gives the Escape among other things, automatic HID headlamps which look a bit more upscale than the standard halogen lights. That package also gave the handy blind spot detection system and active park assist.

Inside the Escape is a comfortable set of leather seats front and rear. The seating position is high enough to give you that SUV feel, but you don’t feel perched atop the Escape in that old SUV way. In this trim grade the front seats are heated, but the steering wheel isn’t.

The dash and instrument panel is very similar in design to most contemporary Ford’s which owe much of their design from the European kinetic design themes. It’s edgy and and eye catching, but still offers up excellent placement of vital controls.

Center stage is the MyFord Touch infotainment system which has gotten much criticism for being difficult to navigate and use while on the road with its multi-layered menu pages. Fortunately this year additional hard controls were added for routine functions like radio volume and tuning, a good thing.

Also a good thing is that the audio system does offer excellent sound and can crank up pretty loud before you start getting distortion. The $795 navigation system optioned here is one of the better in its delivery of visuals and audible directions as well.

The backup camera has a nice set of handy lines that can guide you including a center line for backing to a trailer. What’s missing is the variety of views that some of its competitors now have like Nissan with its around view and Honda with their lane watch feature.

Rear passengers will enjoy reasonable space for this class with a seat cushion high enough that your knees aren’t raised to high. Rear seat HVAC vents and reclining seat backs are a nicety too, but the lower cushion does not slide as in some competitors.

The cargo area is generous with 34 cubic feet available behind the rear seat. When folded down you get a flat floor with nearly 68 cubic feet of space. Folding those rear seats is also pretty easy to do here with little fuss.

Now for the fun part, taking the Escape off into our small desert off-road test area where we can see if it has at least some capabilities off the pavement. This isn’t hard core rock crawling, but I like to see how these compact crossovers handle what they are marketed to us for.

In our one wheel up and one wheel down test, the Escape showed that its all-wheel drive and traction control system can articulate well. The test frees one front and one rear wheel of traction, testing the robustness of its traction.

Onto the paved mountain roads, the Ford Escape benefits in the areas of power from its optional 2.0 liter turbo-charged four cylinder engine which comes in at $1195. Offering 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque it well exceeds the output of the V6 once offered here.

The power-train offers up a nice fat power curve that was welcome on the mountain roads. The torque curve is something you can feel and the six-speed automatic transmission seems to be right there with crisp downshifts when you ask for more power.

It handles and rides a lot like a Mazda CX-5 crossover, which makes some sense as Ford and Mazda were once joined at the hip. While the two companies are separate, many of the engineering teams still share the same ethos when it comes to tuning.

What that means is a sporty handling character with sharper steering and a stiffer suspension than many in this class. It offers a tight responsive feel in curves and in transitions. The downside is that with its 19” wheels and low profile tires, the ride can be a bit brittle at times.

The 19” wheels are a stand alone option. The Escape comes standard with 17” wheels on lower trim grades and the Titanium gets 18” wheels included at the outset which look very similar to the 19” rollers we have here.

When the pavement ended and we rolled out onto a desert washboard road the Escape lost its composure with the vibrations and harshness resonating into the cabin pretty strong. Because the Escape is tuned more for pavement handling, it doesn’t offer as much isolation from the rough stuff.

Our Ford Escape with its 2.0 liter EcoBoost engine and all-wheel drive is rated by the EPA at 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. In our week we achieved 27 mpg combined which is a bit more than promised.

For 2014 the Ford Escape achieves good results on most of the IIHS crash tests with the exception of the new small-overlap front where it only achieved a poor rating. Thus, the Ford Escape is not currently rated as a Top Safety Pick.

As we scored it up for the week the 2014 Ford Escape gets four out of five stars. The main areas getting criticism were the chassis which is balanced more toward on-road driving and the MyFord Touch infotainment system which is still more difficult than its peers to use.