Just thought I'd share my experience with the Escape to help you make a decision...
My family had an early 2001 model (built November 2000) in which we logged 100K+ miles. We used it for towing on a few occasions (5'X8' & 6'X12' enclosed cargo trailers from U-haul) and we never had any issues with climbing grades (I live in the Appalachians) or braking performance. Towing the 6'X12' was a little uncomfortable for me as it seemed rather large in comparison to the Escape, but the we managed just fine. Each time I towed, I turned Overdrive off and kept my interstate cruising speed around 55-60MPH. I was very comfortable pulling the 5'X8' trailer with it. That Escape did have the factory hitch and it did come in handy when moving to/ from college.
I have never towed anything with my 2010, but I assume it would tow at least as well as our 2001 did with its extra 40Hp and the 2 extra gears in the transmission.
Speaking of the infamous 6F35...
I had the initial transmission recall reprogramming (1015b) done in early June 2010 on my 2010 Escape V6 4WD when it had about 8000 miles. I now have 67,000 miles and I haven't had any transmission issues. My transmission is slow to engage Drive after I back out of the driveway first thing in the morning, but I very much doubt this is damaging to the transmission. Like I've said before, I move slower when its early and cold too. There is new transmission programming (dated December 2011) available at dealers that addresses harsh shifts when cold, shift flaring, and a few other issues. I think that pretty much every member who has received the latest update seems pleased with it. I plan on requesting that my dealer perform the TSB next week when my Escape goes in for service.
Like you already mentioned, you are FAR more likely to come across stories of people complaining about a problem with a product than you are to come across stellar reviews. Even if you found 1,000 separate legitimate cases, that's still only a drop in the bucket of the 225,000+ Escapes Ford sold last year.
Lots of luck with your vehicle shopping. Despite the minor issues my family has had over the years with our Escapes, we have enjoyed all 3 of them and continue to recommend them.