My wife and I have owned the 2006 Escape for three months and broke it in on a 1800 trip up to the Pacific Northwest during the holidays. The weather was awful, but it gave us an opportunity to test this vehicle under stress conditions -- hard rain, wind, fog, bad pavement, etc. It responded well with the situation, especially in heavy traffic during storm activity, when other cars unexpectedly stopped or abruptly turned in front of you. The mileage was quite good in such an adverse weather condition -- about as high as 27-28 mpg.
I like the overall sporty look of the Escape and my wife (who is quite short) feels less intimidated driving this SUV than the other monsters out there. It's like driving a car, she says, not a truck (my other vehicle is a Ford Ranger).
My wife finds the center console of cup holders, parking brake, etc. to sometimes hamper her right side while driving, though I haven't had a problem.