The Escape had a nice, comfy ride as I recall. Good power with minimal lag, but to me the Forester felt sportier and faster. Maybe because it's lighter, I don't know. The Forester also has better visibility due to smaller pillars.
The Explorer is like the Edge in that it has no standard HVAC controls. We rented an Edge for a week on a vacation, and to me that touch screen is a dealbreaker.