I've been shopping for an Escape for a couple years now and finally made the plunge. I was going to buy the '07 new, when I saw the re-designed '08, but it was too late to order one as I wanted a 4x4 with manual 5-speed. Found a clean '07 4x4 stick 17K miles and love it. Very comfortable, excellent visibility. Mileage 23/27, and absolutely fun to drive. Handles great with lots of power for a 4cyl. The 2.3 has 25 years of refinement and it shows - especially with the stick. Interior is basic, but very functional.
Very fun to drive, 4wd is surprisingly good - very sure-footed hardly spins a tire before 4wd kicks in on steep slick muddy hill of TN. The 2.3L engine is a treat, the '09s have the new 2.5 with more power and better mpg. Sunroof availability with the manual trans would be nice.
With the big move toward better mpg, Ford should offer goodies like sunroof, XLT trim, etc with the manual transmission (better gas mileage and more fun). The shifter linkage is good, but could be improved for little expense. The new Escapes don't offer 4x4 with the 4cyl manual trans - how sad.