Since its introduction in 2003, the Ford Escape has undergone a bevy of reinventions to itself, from urban cruiser to compact multi-purpose - and multi-road - utility vehicle. Not-so-long ago, the Escape recently went public with yet another modification to itself. Is its newest change helpful to the Blue Oval cause, or is it merely superficial?

The outside is the most obvious part of the new Escape. Critics will harp that the original bodyshell used in the 2003-2004 Escape (the first Escape introduced in the country) was retained, but there are a number of cosmetic changes to the aforementioned structure. The boxy headlights of the first iteration have evolved to triple-lamp trapezoidal halogens; now the SUV has retained the triple-lamp trapezoidal halogen setup, but less telltale and looking more like a seamless addition to the front fascia. The horizontal three-slat chrome front grille also "blends in" with the rest of the front area, with smaller gaps between the slats to make the front look more like a sedan or urbanity-only multi-purpose SUV than a look-at-me weekend warrior. The lower grille is bigger than before, with a wider "maw" to complement the grille and headlights. Under the side mirrors - or rather in close proximity to the side mirrors - are faux side vents that are more decorative than functional. The fender overhangs are more pronounced than on previous variants, and there's a roof rack for additional cargo loading. The rear has a symmetry of conveying a sedan-like image, with tailights that are similar to the ones on the AE 111 (the '99-'01 Toyota Corolla) and a faux mesh lower bumper grille that conveys a hinge of sportiness. One problem through - there are no visible underguards for the front and rear bumpers, a conundrum for those that wish to go through mud or hard earth and pebbly roads. The overall look can be confusing to some, but to this writer the look is fine. Then again, SUVs' exteriors - especially those from Ford - aren't exactly sexy.

The interior remains very much unchanged from the previous model. The a/t stick is still floor-mounted and the aluminum-lined center dashboard area still has the odd look. To be specific, the upper part has a large volume adjustment knob, a large on/off button, surrounded by a bevy of FM preset/CD play buttons with small fonts and a blue-backlit display. At least the audio entertainment quality now rivals that of aftermarket units. The dashboard gauges sport a new layout and font readouts. Speaking of the dashboard gauges, they now tote an aesthetically refreshing blue font gauge backlight that's a welcome change from the green, amber or red font gauge backlights common in most production vehicles. The folding front seat backrest-mounted trays (with integrated cup receptacles) were retained from the previous model, along with strong air conditioning, the large center console and a separate partition for the rear hatch and the rear hatch glass.

The knob for the aircon's blower speed (located to the leftmost side of the middle dashboard area) should be made bigger, while the temperature knob (located in the middle area of the dashboard) should be made smaller. People in tropical countries like to fiddle more with the fan speed than the aircon's temperature. Door storage is narrow (or close to zilch), which can be ingratiating should you leave spare change or small candy inside the door storage bins. There's two additional cupholders for rear occupants, but they're at the base of the center console and at the feet of the people seated behind. The rear backrests don't fully fold flat, which can be a problem if you're toting long and odd-shaped cargo.

The drive experience is somewhat of an upgrade from the previous model. You get into the powerband much early (roughly 2250 rpm) due to a short second gear and an a/t that's more than willing to downshift to second or third, even at one half throttle effort. Much like its precedessor, the gearing is uneven - second is short and third gear is tall - making overtaking on mountain passes risky. Top speed is relatively the same as the unit before it (184 kph), but the 9.65 km/l on four days of mixed driving is an improvement from the previous model. There's shift-on-the-fly off-road ability, but due to the poor off road grip of the test unit's tires (Goodyear Fortera 215/70R16s), you're better off on dry earth and pebbly roads.

Body roll is a given (but manageable), and the ride is comfortable. In fact it's at a level that's almost equivalent to executive sedans, firm but not floaty. The brakes grab hard quickly, the anti-lock system wakes up at three-fourths pedal effort, exterior lighting (even at the dim setting) rivals that of high intensity discharge units, the side mirror-mounted turn signals are a big plus (especially for onlookers and motorists opposite the SUV's front end) and the steering is a bit numb in terms of feedback but is enough to help the driver move through turns.

There are some negatives, though. The Goodyear Forteras display awful grip on tarmac, breaking traction at 70-75 kph and plowing at 80-plus kph. The parking brake is located near the shotgun passenger (front passenger) side and can be intrusive to the occupant on the aforementioned area. If you have a female prospect, she might actually think that you're trying to get to third base (or possibly home plate) instead of trying to get the parking brake to bite, which can ruin chances of a second date.

Mix virtually the same performance, interior and ergonomics as its forebears with an exterior that's been facelifted more times than those that frequent the Belo Medical Group, and you have a P 1.22 million Ford Escape that's the equivalent of Madonna in this day and age - an epitome of reinvention.