Test drove an 05 Mariner, then found out that I could buy this from my work (ex company car). The Escape is just as nice as the Mariner- make sure you test drive an Escape before you spend extra to buy a Mariner. Build quality far exceeds my expectations- solid materials, no rattles or squeaks. Drove 7 hours home and was very impressed with comfort. Seats are comfortable, plenty of room. The V6 is very smooth and gets good gas mileage. I was surprised with the power- the Escape will move when asked to. I had a Saturn Vue that was a piece of junk- slow, unreliable, flimsy, and uncomfortable. Not even a comparison here. Listen to Ford - "Drive One."
Cool looking copper metallic color, build quality, engine smoothness and power, fuel economy, comfort (front & rear seats), simplicity/ease of using controls. Little touches like the white face gauges are nice.
Make a moonroof and tow hitch standard on the XLT.