I bought this a month after buying a BMW 330i, thinking Id drive the Ford in the winter and on the beach near my parents home in MD. A year later, my wife dumper her unreliable VW and absconded with my Escape. She loves it. The reliability difference between the BMW and Ford is stark. The Ford, with 115k miles has required only one repair. We recently replaced the stabilizer bar links (2 at $12/each + $40 for labor). All other maintenance has been routine or wear- related (oil changes, fluid flushes, brakes, etc). We love the reliability. It handles extremely well in snow, and light off- road conditions. Most maintenance is relatively inexpensive.
Reliability, handling, and value. I believe this to be the best SUV for the price. The only SUV that I enjoy driving more is the Range Rover (the Toyota Highlander is a close second). We replaced the OEM tires with Goodyear Fortera Silent Armors; the car handles far better and drives quietly.
Interior finish is cheap and unattractive. Gas mileage is mediocre for such a light truck (we see about 17 city/23 highway, we got slightly better before the 10% alcohol mixes were mandated here). The Escape is not capable of handling challenging off-roading (reserved for Jeeps and Land Rovers).