Fuel efficiency is Job One these days in the automotive business and Ford couldn’t have picked a better time to tweak its best-selling Escape SUV.

The top-selling compact SUV in Canada, the Escape gets a more powerful and fuel-efficient Duratec 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder engine for 2009, combined with a six-speed automatic transmission. A five-speed manual transmission is also offered on the XLT model.

Along with a more aerodynamic body style and new low low-rolling resistance tires, fuel economy has been improved slightly over the previous model, which boasted a smaller 2.3-litre engine. The new engine produces 171 hp, up from 153 in the old model.

Also upgraded for 2009 is an optional 240 hp 3.0-litre V6 engine. The displacement is the same, but the horsepower is improved by 20 per cent.

A third engine option is the 2.5-litre I-4 hybrid model, producing a net of 177 hp.

Trim levels include the XLT, both front- and four-wheel drive and Limited. The XLT is well equipped with standard features such as AM/FM stereo single CD player with MP3 capability, SIRIUS satellite radio, automatic headlamps, front fog lamps, 16-inch cast aluminum wheels, power widows/door locks, heated side view mirrors, keyless entry, steering wheel mounted cruise control, six-way drivers seat, front side airbags and roof rack.

A neat new feature on the Escape is a capless fuel-filler system called Easy Fuel. The system automatically seals shut when the hose nozzle is removed and eliminates the possibility of forgetting to replace the gas cap, or not screwing it back on properly.

The exterior look of the Escape is unchanged from last year, however a few chassis changes were included for 2009 including a new rear stabilizer bar and revised shock absorber turning. In addition, the steering system has been retuned for better control and tighter cornering capabilities. To help the stopping capabilities, the ABS brake system was also retuned.

Inside, the Escape is also largely unchanged after significant changes last year. However, seating has been upgraded through the use of soy-based foam in place of the old petroleum-based products. Materials and fit and finish are impressive and the cabin has a modern, up-to-date look.

On the road, the Escape is easy to manoeuvre and has a car-like driving feel. The four-cylinder engine is quiet at cruising speeds, but noisy on hard acceleration.

2009 Ford Escape XLT
Type: Compact SUV

Price: XLT 2.5-litre FWD manual $24,499; XLT 2.5-litre FWD automatic $25,599; XLT 3.0-litre FWD $27,199; XLT 2.5-litre 4WD $27,999; XLT 3.0-litre 4WD $29,599.

Engine: 2.5L I-4 (171 hp, 171 lb/ft), 3.0L V6 (240 hp, 223 lb/ft), 2.5 L I-4 Atkinson cycle hybrid (153 hp, 136 lb/ft) with electric motor (94 hp, 152 lb/ft)

• Improved fuel economy
• Capless fuel filler system

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