The Ford Escape is the best-selling compact sport utility vehicle in the United States. Now it's available in a hybrid version. And, no, you don't have to plug it in.
What is a hybrid? It's a vehicle that draws power from the combination of a traditional gasoline engine and an electric motor and special battery pack. The Escape Hybrid is the first such SUV available in the United States, and also the first hybrid with available all-wheel drive and 1000 pounds of towing capacity, and allows buyers to enjoy the benefits of a small SUV while greatly enhancing fuel economy and lowering emissions.
By combing a four-cylinder gasoline engine with the boost from the electric power pack, the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid provides acceleration much like the regular Escape equipped with an optional V6 engine, but the Hybrid returns twice the fuel economy in city driving and nearly double on the highway.
Many people are pleasantly surprised to learn that hybrid vehicles such as the Escape never have to be plugged into any sort of electrical outlet. The vehicle's battery pack is automatically recharged by the gasoline engine and by regenerative braking, technology that takes the otherwise wasted energy generated by braking and sends it to the battery pack.
There is a price premium that must be paid for equipping a car with a hybrid powertrain, but there also are federal and perhaps even state or local tax benefits available to help offset that cost.
The Escape Hybrid is available with front-wheel drive ($26,380) and all-wheel drive ($28,005). It comes in one well-equipped trim level. Options include leather seating, upgraded audio equipment, side-curtain airbags and a navigation system.
For comparison, the standard two-wheel-drive Escape with a four-cylinder engine has a base price of $19,265 and the top of the line, all-wheel-drive version with a V6 engine starts at $26,365, about the same price as the two-wheel-drive Escape Hybrid that provides similar acceleration and perhaps even better overall dynamic performance.
The most expensive option on the Escape Hybrid is the Energy, Audiophile and Navigation system package ($1,850) that includes an upgraded Audiophile audio system, CD-based satellite navigation and a display on the nav screen that illustrates instant and recent fuel economy and the way energy flows between the gasoline engine, electric motor, battery pack and wheels.
If you're among those who want a hybrid, you likely will opt for this package because it graphically and immediately demonstrates the benefits you derive from the technology. By paying some attention to the graphs, you'll find yourself becoming an even more environmentally friendly and fiscally efficient motorist.
A safety package ($595) includes side-curtain airbags that cover all seating areas as well as side airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. Such airbags can provide life-saving protection in a collision.
Other options are a leather comfort group ($575), an appearance package ($625) with front and side fascias, Ford's MACH audio with 6-disc changer ($565), a 110-volt AC power outlet ($110), a retractable rear cargo cover ($75) and rear carpeted floor mats ($25).
The 110-volt AC power outlet can be a practical option, whether you plan to tailgate or camp, or might want to plug in an air compressor or other equipment. Many accessories from Ford dealers or aftermarket companies are available for the standard Escape and they also fit the Escape Hybrid.
Ford says the Escape Hybrid is the cleanest of all sport utility vehicles, and while the automaker is talking about the hybrid powertrain system, the adjective also applies to the Escape's exterior design. The design is clean: Simple and practical without unnecessary flourishes and flares, contemporary and not likely to look outdated within just a few years.
The standard fog lamps set toward the outside portion of the lower front fascia provide a nice balance to the car's face and visually widen the Escape Hybrid's stance.
Like many SUVs, the Escape Hybrid has a two-tone appearance, with body panels and lower fascia in complimentary colors. Those who want a monochromatic look can order the appearance package and specify silver clearcoat metallic paint.
Five-spoke alloy wheels are 16 inches in diameter and wear 235/70-aspect tires tuned to provide a smooth and comfortable ride, not for severe off-road duty.
One very useful exterior feature is the way the glass backlight opens separately from the rear hatch door, providing a quick and easy way to load or unload small packages. We also liked the fact that the top of the rear bumper cover is wide enough that we could set a 12-pack of soda on it while loading other groceries through the open rear window.
Visually, the Escape Hybrid is barely changed from the standard Escape, and most people won't even notice that your SUV is different that the rest. There are small Hybrid badges just behind the front wheels and also on the rear hatch. The hybrid also has a vent built into its left rear quarter-panel glass; this vent helps cool the battery pack.
Escape Hybirds come with flint gray interiors, either in a nicely patterned premium cloth or leather. The driver's seat has standard six-way power adjustment controls. Also standard are an in-dash six-CD changer, a tilting steering wheel with cruise controls on the wheel, a message center and a special set of hybrid gauges.
Gauges have black figures on a white background and are easy to read in even bright daylight. At night, the colors reverse, with white numbers against a glare less black background.
The biggest difference is seen on the tachometer, which reports the revolutions per minute of the engine. In the Escape Hybrid, the tach needle has a sub-zero setting that it uses to indicate that the car is running only on electric power, such as while sitting at a stop or even while traveling on the road in certain conditions.
Switchgear is easy to find and to use.
Seats provide an elevated vantage of the road ahead. They also are comfortable around town or on trips. The rear seat has ample room and a 60/40 split back that provides several options for expanding the size of the flat rear cargo floor.
The Escape Hybrid we tested was equipped with the optional energy, audiophile and navigation systems. The navigation system includes a Home button that can lead you back to whatever location you set as your home base, or you can easily program it to take you to various destinations.
When you switch over to the energy reporting screens, the next navigation instruction remains as the bottom line on the display, sort of like the line at the bottom of the screen in some television newscasts. This can be a handy feature for those who aren't sure of their route but also want to keep an eye on fuel economy is shaping up.
The screen isn't as large as those in some other vehicles, but its graphics are extremely clear and we had no trouble reading even the smallest details, either at night or while wearing sunglasses in bright daylight.
To launch the 2005 Escape Hybrid, Ford drove one on every paved street in Manhattan, all 576 miles of them, on a single tank of fuel, averaging 36 miles per gallon in the process, exactly twice the EPA's estimated mileage in the city cycle for the Escape V6.
The EPA rates the Escape Hybrid at 36 miles per gallon in town and 31 on the highway. The reason the city number is greater than the country number is because in slower driving, the electric motor carries more of the load, plus the gasoline engine simply shuts off while you're sitting at a stoplight.
Be gentle with the gas pedal and the car can travel a short ways just on electric power, but don't worry, the gasoline engine restarts immediately if you step firmly on the gas.
We didn't baby the Escape Hybrid to see how high we could get the mileage meter to go. We drove it like we would drive any other vehicle, but still averaged better than 35 miles per gallon around town. The standard Escape equipped with a four-cylinder engine is rated at 22 mpg in town and 25 on the highway.
The Escape Hybrid's optional Energy system provides instant fuel economy on a thermometer-style image at the left side of the display screen with your average economy and a stock market-style chart of fuel use for the last 15 minutes filling most of the screen. By paying some attention to the screen, you find yourself trying to get better and better fuel economy, which is probably the reason you bought this vehicle in the first place.
While saving fuel, you're also reducing emissions. Ford notes that the Escape Hybrid qualifies for super-low (SULEV) or advanced technology partial-zero (ATPZEV) emission vehicle status, and says you can drive the Escape Hybrid 15,000 miles and generate only one pound of smog-forming emissions.
The Ford Escape Hybrid is unique among hybrid vehicles in that its battery pack comprises a tray of what appear to be dozens and dozens of C cells, except they are high-tech nickel-metal hydride batteries and provide 330 volts of power, equivalent to 87 more horsepower. The battery pack is in a sealed box located beneath the rear cargo floor and does not intrude on the Escape's cargo-carrying capability. The battery pack also is warranted for eight years or 100,000 miles.
The batteries do add some weight to the rear of the vehicle, but in the case of the Escape that weight makes the hybrid better balanced than the standard V6 Escape. The Escape V6 has 61 percent of its mass carried by the front wheels. The Escape Hybrid is better balanced. Only 57 percent of its weight is in front. That means this version is more neutral in its handling, staying flatter through corners and under braking. This should provide better maneuverability in emergency situations and enhance front tire and brake wear as well.
The Escape Hybrid's gasoline engine is a 2.3-liter, inline four-cylinder that operates under what is known as the Atkinson cycle, a technology designed to enhance the quality of fuel combustion. The Atkinson cycle sacrifices some horsepower, but keeps intake valves open longer and operates under a higher compression ratio.
The 2.3-liter Duratec four in the standard Escape provides 153 horsepower, 20 more than the Atkinson cycle engine, but the electric motor gives the hybrid power very similar to the Escape V6, which is rated at 200 horsepower.
To waste as little of the engine's power as possible while transmitting it to the drive wheels, Ford equips the Escape Hybrid with a continuously variable transmission. This transmission doesn't have standard gears. Instead, it has metal bands that adjust to best match the engine's performance. Thus there is not hesitation as gears shift, just smooth acceleration.
The CVT does offer a low range setting for increased traction. All-wheel drive gives the Escape Hybrid capability in foul weather and off-highway.
Ford Escape Hybrid competes in a set of vehicles that includes the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Santa Fe and other compact sport utility vehicles. But the Escape Hybrid is unique with its fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly gasoline-electric powertrain. The powertrain provides performance on par with a V6 engine, but without the nose-heavy tendencies that often come with putting larger engines in front-drive vehicles.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Larry Edsall is based in Phoenix.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|
|Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD ($26,380); 4WD ($28,005)|
|Hybrid powertrain with 2.3-liter inline 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine, permanent magnet electric motor, regenerative braking system and 330-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack|
|continuously variable (CVT)|
|Safety equipment (Standard):|
|dual front airbags, LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system, perimeter alarm|
|Safety equipment (Optional):|
|safety canopy with side air curtains and front side-impact airbags, 24-hour roadside assistance|
|3 years/36,000 miles plus extended warranty of a minimum of 8 years/100,000 miles on CVT, hybrid battery pack and DC converter)|
|Kansas City, Missouri|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):|
|Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD ($26,380)|
|fog lamps, privacy glass, power windows/locks/mirrors, lift gate with flip-up glass, roof rack with 2 crossbars, rear defroster and two-speed rear wiper, six-way power driver's seat, AM/FMM with in-dash 6-CD changer, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, message center, air conditioning, illuminated entry, four-wheel dics brakes with anti-lock system, remote entry, 16-inch aluminum wheels, 235/70 all-season tires|
|Options as tested:|
|appearance package ($625), energy/audiophile/navigation system ($1,850), safety package ($595), rear floor mats ($25), 110-volt power outlet ($110), leather comfort group ($575), retractable cargo cover ($75)|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:|
|Price as tested (MSRP)|
|front engine (rear battery pack), front-wheel drive|
|2.3-liter, 16-valve, dohc Atkinson Cycle inline four plus 65-watt (87 hp) electric traction motor and 28-watt (38-hp) motor for recharging battery pack|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):|
|133 hp @ 6000 rpm (plus electric motor)|
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):|
|129 lb.-ft. @ 4500 rpm (plus electric motor)|
|continuously variable transmission|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:|
|65.5 cu. ft.|